Economy drives demand for sustainable, affordable roofs
To the average viewer, Ruff Roofers’ recently completed project in Annapolis looks like a historic slate roof. The color, surface texture and hand-chiseled edges replicate natural slate shingles. The roofing product, however, is synthetic slate–shingles made from recycled materials that are designed to deliver a 50-year, maintenance-free, sustainable roof.
“It is a more sustainable option compared to real slate mainly for two reasons. First, it is manufactured mainly from recycled rubber and plastics, and at the end of its useful life, it can be recycled again. Second, it requires less maintenance throughout its lifespan,” said Matt Higgins, Project Manager at Ruff Roofers. “Synthetic slate can really be suited to any type of project. We have installed it everywhere from large universities and government buildings to single-family homes.”
The sharp rise in roofing costs combined with growing concern about sustainability and carbon footprint are nudging more clients to seek out roofing solutions that are both environmentally and budget-friendly.
Assorted products aim to meet those needs. On average, synthetic slate roofs cost about two-thirds of natural slate and weigh substantially less (about the same as luxury asphalt shingles), making the product suitable for a broader range of buildings. Faux cedar and other shingles are made partly from recycled content, including plastic, wood fiber and rubber. There are certified sustainable wood shakes, a growing variety of corrugated roofing and standing-seam metal roofs which can last 50 years or longer and are almost completely recyclable. Some metal roof products are now made from recycled materials.
“There are more and more products on the market now that come from recycled content and warranty durations are ever increasing as manufacturing technologies improve,” Higgins said. “The crux of sustainability is longevity and the key to that is workmanship. Preventative maintenance is a large part of this as well. Even with a top-quality roof installation, external factors can have an unforeseen but significant impact on a roof system. It is crucial to be proactive with routine inspections.”
“In this market, the most sustainable approach to roofing is a preventative maintenance approach that extends the useful life of what you already have. It is also definitely the lower cost alternative,” said Jeffrey Streib, Sales Director for Cole Roofing.
Twice-a-year inspections and maintenance by roofing crews or trained facilities staff can clear dirt and debris, maintain critical details that prevent water from entering roof systems and prevent damage and premature failures.
“For a nominal cost, the maintenance program will clear drains, check flashing and other vulnerable areas, identify problems early and solve them before they become catastrophic,” he said. “Once a roof is nearing the end of its useful life, the team could also update flashings and put a coating on a roof, as long as the membrane is still in good shape, well adhered and there isn’t any moisture trapped underneath. The installation of a coating can extend the life of many roof assemblies another 15 to 20 years, possibly even longer with some high-quality reinforced coatings.”
On a metal roof, preventive maintenance, seam reinforcement and a coating can add 15 to 25 years to the lifespan of a roof.
Cole Roofing, along with its sister company, Gordian Energy, is helping some new construction projects reach higher sustainability goals. The combination of R-30 insulation, a vegetative roof and rooftop solar “dramatically reduces the carbon impact of a building” by simultaneously improving its energy efficiency and providing it with a sustainable, on-site generated energy source, Streib said.
Vegetated roof designs, including those that Cole Roofing is currently installing on some buildings in the Baltimore Peninsula development, also help manage stormwater runoff and mitigate urban heat island effects. Solar-integrated rooftops can better equip developments to handle growing electricity demands from increased heating and cooling demands as well as EV adoption, he said. Some projects also qualify for tax incentives by including vegetation and solar on their roofs.
“For many property owners, their roof is an untapped asset,” Streib said. “Combining green roofing and solar panels on a building can deliver significant benefits.”