The Skies are Clearing for Roofing Pros
Just a few months ago the prospects for the short term future of the construction and roofing industry were cloudy. Caught in a perfect storm of adverse circumstances, contractors continued serving property owners and developers but with uncertainty about what would come next. While a number of economic indicators are still unsettling, the main culprit in all the disruption in the markets – COVID19 – has generally been beaten into submission, and now optimism is on the rise!
2020-2021 Perfect Storm conditions
- COVID19 and Supply Chain Disruptions
- The Sharp Rise in Lumber Costs
- China-U.S. Import Tariffs
- Suez Canal Catastrophe
- The Big Texas Freeze
- The Chronic Labor Shortage
- Inflation Escalation
COVID19 and Supply Chain Disruptions
Mainly due to COVID19 lockdowns, production of needed materials for construction and roofing fell behind customary supply volumes, and transportation hit a series of speed bumps affecting efficient distribution. COVID19 social distancing forced paradigm shifts in how contractors needed to approach clients and protect crew and employees from the spread of the virus.
In true American fashion, contractors made adjustments as required and continued to serve the needs of their customers. As 3rd-quarter 2021 approaches, a modicum of normality seems to be returning, whatever “normal” is in this day and time.
The Sharp Rise in Lumber Costs
One of the most troubling aspects of the perfect storm that struck construction and roofing operations is the cost increase of lumber. Housing construction was thriving prior to the pandemic, but in May 2020, as the spread of COVID19 ensued, lumber costs spiked, prompting some builders and developers to hold-off framing projects even after laying foundations. A year later, prices hit an all-time high – USD $1,688/1000 board feet. Compare that to pre-pandemic prices when lumber’s composite price hovered around $350!
China-U.S. Import Tariffs
In 2016, Donald Trump assumed the office of President and quickly set out to fix trade imbalances with foreign countries, particularly China, which were dumping products onto North American markets at cheap prices, including steel and aluminum. So, in 2017, the U.S. Commerce Department increased import duties on these construction-critical materials. The President’s long term goal was to stimulate the production of such products by U.S. manufacturers and reduce our addiction to cheap, sometimes inferior imports. For a time, the tariff measures caused supply shortages in the U.S., later exacerbated by universal slowdowns from COVID19. Since the tariffs were instituted, other countries like Vietnam rushed to fill the supply gap, as long as they could prove their products were not sourced in China but from substrate within their own borders. This served to alleviate the supply problems to a degree but issues still exist and prices for building materials on a whole have climbed 20% since April 2020.
On March 23, 2021, the Ever Given – one of the largest cargo ships in the world – managed to wedge itself across the Suez Canal creating an unintended blockade 1,300 feet wide! (Picture the Empire State building floating on its back.) More than 12% of global trade moves through the Suez aboard ships that can carry 20,000 containers. Every day approximately $9 billion worth of goods set out to crisscross the world’s oceans from this point. The canal was blocked for 6 long days. The catastrophe had a cascading effect that would last for weeks, depleting supply chains already hamstrung from a shortage of shipping containers devoted to transporting consumer goods from an explosion of online sales as millions worked (and shopped) from home.
How Roofing Technology Helped Contractors Through COVID19
Remote, DIY roof measurements from satellite, aerial, drone, and blueprint images
Social distancing etiquette was simple to adhere to for contractors using iRoofing. From anywhere, anytime they’re able to measure any roof from afar, create a professional roof report, instantly turn it into a detailed, custom estimate and send it via email to their client. No initial visits to the property necessary and no climbing a ladder to measure manually. iRoofing is the only software that focuses on helping contractors bid more jobs and close more sales.
Virtual Sales Presentations
With the iRoofing digital pitchbook feature, contractors are able to present dynamic, personalized company and project presentations, including everything a property owner wants and needs to know. With its Ultimate Guide to Selling Roofs from Afar manual, iRoofing helped thousands of contractors maintain impressive sales pitches and meet with customers in an exciting new way – virtually via Zoom, Join.me, Skype and other forms of web conferencing.
Saving Money by Working Smarter
iRoofing software translates to more efficient daily project management. The software reduces the number of trips to visit customers, as many tasks are easily done from the contractor’s office, home, or anywhere they can connect to WIFI. The time savings and the reduced mileage and wear-and-tear on company vehicles equates to greater profit on every job. That was especially important through the duration of the pandemic and in light of uncertainties with the economy.
New Roof Simulations Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before
The many features of the iRoofing app include a sophisticated Roof Visualizer. Now property owners can see exactly what any roof material will look like on an image of their very own home. The easy-to-use visualizer contains tools that allow the size, scale, angle, and shading of the roof to look utterly realistic. All the roofing products from leading manufacturers are housed in the app’s database, so a contractor can pick and choose whatever roof material and color a client wants, then render it flawlessly on the image of their home. This feature helps close deals faster. iRoofing’s Roof Visualizer is yet another hi-tech task that can be produced and presented from afar using any Android or iOS device.
The Big Texas Freeze
In February 2021, a massive electricity generation failure in Texas, in part due to frozen wind turbines, caused shortages of water, food, and heat. While the comfort and safety of millions of people were negatively impacted by the unexpected freezing temperatures, shipping and transportation was also on ice. The storms of February 10–11, 13–17, and 15–20, 2021 caused extensive delays across the country’s enormous package-delivery network. FedEx’s Memphis hub, capable of sorting nearly half a million packages an hour, was significantly disrupted. UPS package deliveries were slowed, and the Postal Service was forced to close processing hubs and facilities all over Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. Roofing contractors and roof material distributors, relying in part on these delivery services, now found many products slow to obtain.
The Chronic Labor Shortage
It’s a story that seems as old as the Canterbury Tales. There’s a labor shortage in roofing and construction, ostensibly because most young workers rather bang on a keyboard than on 3-tab shingles. A Roofing Alliance study in 2020 suggested that the labor shortage in the roofing industry is serious, with 90% of U.S. roofing contractors reporting challenges maintaining an adequate work force to handle the jobs on their books. One might think that since the economy is crawling out from under the strains of COVID19, we don’t need more workers until the economic recovery is in full swing and consumer confidence returns, but that’s not the case. Super low mortgage rates have kept demand for housing relatively healthy despite some unusual fluctuation recently. (Month-over month housing starts fell in April 2021, for example.) Federal government stimulus checks are also giving people a little breathing room.
Now, if material prices stabilize and the supply chain returns to its true form, expect a boom in building that will demand more workers than ever before. To entice this needed labor force, roofing and construction companies will have to pay higher wages. The Associated General Contractors of America measured all wages and salaries in construction and the data shows an increase of 3.2 percent in the last year, bringing the average hourly wage to $30.73. The hike in wages helped alleviate the sector’s labor dearth to a degree. But, the roofing and construction industry must find a way to attract more workers through vocational training programs and by building a greater appeal for good-paying careers in the building trades. That could be a lengthy process as Generation Xers tend to aspire to occupations involving sitting down inside of a cubicle or in their post-COVID work-from-home digs.
What happens when costs for raw materials rise; when demand outpaces supply; and when freshly minted money rolls out of the U.S. Treasury in unprecedented fashion? Inflation sets in, that’s what happens. Prices for everything from gasoline to granola are going up and up, as trillions of dollars are poured into the U.S. economy. Only time will tell when fiat currency and rising costs of other goods and services impact individuals’ investment in their property. Usually, increases in wages and salaries lag far behind inflation, so the appetite for roof replacements, new siding, luxury roofing, home remodeling and new home construction may temporarily soften.
It’s Time to Look Up
The worst is over, it seems. There will be a few trials and tribulations as roofing contractors and the rest of society continue to emerge from the quagmire created by COVID. We were kicked again while we were down courtesy of freak accidents, weather events, and political maneuvering. But now Murphy’s Law is officially off the books! Today, North Americans are chomping at the bit to excel once again at what we do best – enjoying the fruits of our labor. We’re getting back to work, we’re getting back to earning and spending, we’re the kings of our castles and all those castles need handsome, leak-free roofs! Welcome back, normalcy!