Skilled Labor Shortages in Low-Slope Roofing

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Challenges securing and retaining labor have impacted the construction trades for decades, and roofing is no exception. Roofing contractors need to deliver a quality, watertight, low-slope roof system profitably with limited labor resources. And while effective labor management can be the difference between a successful contractor and lost business, there are limited tools and support available to contractors for estimating labor costs and better controlling and reducing labor expenses. 

In addition to addressing these challenges by developing products that require less skill, time, and effort, CertainTeed commissioned an independent, third-party labor study. This study, Factors Impacting Low Slope Roofing Costs, sought to quantify the impact of jobsite practices and roofing product/system selection on labor efficiency.

Third-party building envelope consulting firm, Trinity ERD, observed the installation of 45 roof systems across the United States using six different roof covers, measuring time to complete each task, such as a drain, 100 sq. ft. of field, one foot of base flashing, etc.  Trinity then applied the national average of each task to a 500,000 sq. ft. sample project to simulate a comparison of popular roof assemblies, had they been installed on the same roof.

The findings of this study revealed that, all contributing factors being equal and ideal, a two-ply, self-adhered modified bitumen roof system has the potential to install twice as fast as other products, including TPO and PVC.  Equally as important, the study revealed a list of critical contributing factors to the labor efficiency of any and every roofing project, a few examples being crew communication and training, job management, and weather. These factors, when not addressed or optimized, can override the labor savings a product may offer.

I had the pleasure of speaking to former U.S. Representative and chief executive of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) Reid Ribble, who has traveled throughout the country speaking with roofing contractors about this issue. 

Looking for solutions to help preserve the industry, Reid reviewed our independent five-year nationwide labor study. At first, Reid was hesitant about our findings, particularly that the two-ply self-adhered modified bitumen system could install faster than all other systems documented.

While he conceded that data is data, he assessed that the important takeaway from the labor study was that roofing is situational. Not every roof will have the same number of penetrations, nor will every contractor have the same level of experience with various products. Further, not every product will install in the same amount of time on every roof, for every crew.

In agreement with Reid, low-slope roofing is entirely situational and there is no one product that fits every project need. To that end, product selection should be made with a variety of project factors in consideration.  And in complement to working with building owners or specifiers to select the right product for the project, contractors must recognize how heavily factors like tool management, crew training/teamwork, the presence of a quality manager, and on-the-job communication impact the amount of time needed to complete a project. 

Sharing the study’s findings with contractors is an exciting step for improving productivity – and ultimately profitability – for commercial roofing. 

Watch the video below to see my full conversation with Reid Ribble. For more information on the Labor Study, visit https://www.certainteed.com/commercial-roofing/laborstudy/

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