Roofing industry wrestles with entrenched supply chain problems
The pandemic may be easing across America but supply chain challenges for the roofing industry are persisting and threatening to worsen this year.
“It seems the roofing industry has been hit harder than others when it comes to material supply issues,” said Bill Cole, President of Cole Roofing Company. “Items that previously had two-week lead times now require over 13 months to obtain… Meanwhile, we continue to get bi-weekly price increases. Early last summer, manufacturers stopped guaranteeing pricing and went to a price-when-shipped model.”
Those ongoing price increases combined with extraordinarily long wait times have meant that prices on some items have tripled between the time an order was placed and the day it finally shipped, Cole said.
Several factors have contributed to the supply chain problems: the Covid-19 pandemic, extreme weather events that knocked out the power grid and damaged petrochemical plants in Texas, and a widespread shortage of methylenediphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) – a chemical used in the production of many polyurethanes.
“A whole system that was built on just-in-time delivery completely crumbled,” Cole said. “Some manufacturers have stopped taking orders just so they could clear out the backlog. Others went out to market promising that by the second quarter this year they would be able to deliver. They are now less certain that they will be able to meet schedules due to overwhelming demand.”
Especially hard hit have been supplies of polyiso insulation boards and the metal plates and screws used to attach them beneath roofs.
“All three of those components have had awful lead times – 12 months plus,” said Sam Frank, Owner of Four Twelve Roofing. “Every week, I hear from a supplier who was expecting to receive a truckload of plates and screws, but then got a call that the shipment wasn’t on the truck or it was much smaller than they ordered.”
Industry watchers warn those supply chain problems and price increases could be worsened by a new factor. The Russian war against Ukraine is expected to drive up oil prices and, consequently, the price of petroleum-based roofing materials.
“A lot of suppliers are telegraphing to roofing installers that we should expect price increases this year. We are hearing that some suppliers have gone easy with price increases so far and this year they are going to start raising prices more,” Frank said. “So one of the things we are telling customers is if you need to do a roofing project, do it now rather than waiting until September. Material prices will be more in September, without a doubt.”
Those price increases and shipment delays have been happening at a time when the roofing industry has hit “a high-water mark” of activity, Cole said.
Cole Roofing is busy with a wide variety of projects, including work on the massive Port Covington development. Four Twelve Roofing has grown to 60 employees, expanded from primarily residential work into a growing roster of commercial projects, and expects to double the size of the business in 2022.
To satisfy customer demand amid challenging circumstances, roofing companies have had to develop heightened capabilities. Those have included devoting much more time and resources to sourcing materials and maintaining detailed, current information about supply chain conditions.
“We tried to do some math on that topic and concluded that we are spending about 1000 percent more hours working on material acquisition than we were previously. It’s astronomical,” Cole said.
Increasingly, roofers have needed to get involved early in projects to provide guidance on how to source materials or alter designs to complete roofs within acceptable schedules and budgets.
“I give my team a ton of credit. These guys are problem solvers in their hearts,” Cole said. “They will search for options to shrink the time or cost for roof materials and lay out the cost benefit of every option. They will look at good options to help the project – for example, maybe sloping a deck, using temp roofing or changing products.”
Although the range of roofing products hasn’t changed significantly in recent years, roofers have been educating clients about the potential benefits of lesser-known products.
“One trend we are seeing in the industry is a lot more people doing coatings on roofs,” Frank said. Unless a roof is severely damaged, “products such as a white silicone coating, can be a really good option for some customers. Some coatings are rated for as long as 50 years so, in theory, they are lifetime roofs and typically they are about half the cost of installing a new roof. The other nice thing about coatings is they limit the risk and liability of the project. One of the biggest liabilities for roofing companies is removing the roof of a building that has tenants inside.”
Effectively delivering those problem-solving services, however, hinges on getting involved in project planning very early.
“The world is just not used to spending that much time planning for a roof,” Cole said.
Project teams, however, are adjusting to the current, challenging realities, he added. “General contractors now know that they need to order their roofing insulation first. Previously, it had never been the first thing they need to buy, ever. But it has become the long lead-time item.”