Tile Talk: Get Creative

Lack of Building Materials Creates Havoc on Roofing Markets

by Richard K. Olson, president & technical director, Tile Roofing Industry Alliance









(Editor’s Note: Richard K. Olson is president and technical director for the Tile Roofing Industry Alliance. The association represents industry professionals involved in the manufacturing and installation of concrete and clay tile roofs in the United States and Canada, and works with national, state, and local building officials to develop installation techniques, codes, and standards for better roofing systems. Olson can be reached at rolson@tileroofing.org.)


For most of the country, May will bring the start of increased construction activity, and with it, a surge in demand for raw materials used in all aspects of construction. For roofing professionals it means higher prices for lumber, labor, and accessories for the roofing envelope. The COVID-19 fallout of lost workers, lower outputs, and reduced inventories have escalated delays and created serious material shortages that are unprecedented.

Roofing professionals will now be required to broaden our thinking for considerations of what is allowed, available, and feasible for our projects to meet the demanding building deadlines. Industry associations are trying to pass along relevant information from collective networks about restrictions, limitations, and alternative products to assist in advanced planning. Our suppliers have equally been confronted with raw material shortages, reduced output, and labor increases contributing to the vast backlog of orders, which stress the ability of construction projects to meet timelines imposed by builders and consumers. These cost impacts and lack of available resources have escalated the reduction in new homes being completed. In response to cost containment, there is a trend for consumers to prioritize purchasing of existing housing to avoid volatility in construction. In many major markets, the lack in current inventories of homes for sale are driving prices well above asking prices. For the projects available, the roofing professional is challenged to provide competitive bids without escalation and delivery flexibility clauses.

Industry associations recognize market challenges before the roofing professional, but we offer caution to avoid creating shortcuts or material alterations that do not comply with local building codes. The use of non-compliant materials for sheathing, underlayments, flashing, and fastening will come back to haunt those that consider such options. Building codes have established minimums to provide effective performance for everyone’s protection. The use of materials not in compliance will fail inspection and will ultimately be your responsibility for choosing them. It is up to the contractor to understand what is fit for use and what is code compliant. This may be a good time to consider and discuss upgraded systems to provide better long-term performance and cost-effective options for meeting your current project’s needs. While slightly more expensive, they do provide increased performance for the building owner and are sometimes more readily available.

Roofing professionals can review projects and summarize our needs into categories for further research. From that list we can perform due diligence in securing supply chain options for what is available and compliant within the recognized codes. Although time consuming, it is important to contact supply chains and manufacturers to better understand the timing, costs, and restrictions we may be facing. The shortage of plastic and petroleum-based products from the Texas freeze has created shortages of certain flashing, underlayment, and foam adhesive products used in most roof assemblies. For our tile industry, we continue to monitor this challenge and help our contractor base to identify alternative flashing and fastening options that might be considered. When talking with your suppliers, there should be discussions about future availability and cost increases yet to come. Bidding projects in May and June may take us out to the end of 2021, and future cost increases should be properly addressed in our bidding process.

With the reduction in H2B visas and the COVID-19 relief payouts, we are simply not able to find the pool of employees needed for the roofing industry. This has equally affected manufacturing, distribution, delivery, and contracting crews. With the current administration seeking to continue these relief programs, it will only escalate the battle for workers and most likely create a more transient workforce that follow the top-paying contractors. The need for ongoing training will continue as new employees are identified and require basic instruction on roof assembly considerations.

Looking forward, we expect the demand for products and services will continue to challenge the roofing professional for at least another year as the economy and capacity of resources work through the post COVID-19 effects. The Tile Roofing Industry Alliance continues to work with our collaborative partners in Washington, D.C., and localized states to help advocate for improved immigration and regulatory requirements vital to our roofing industry.