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Roofing costs climb

| Saturday, July 19, 2008

When it comes to home roofing, everything is going the logical direction.

Up.

Prices of asphalt shingles, the most common commodity in area jobs, have risen more than 30 percent since the beginning of the year. High gasoline prices make the shipping of costly slate even more expensive. Workers need raises. Even nails cost more.

"Nails?" Robinson roofer Lou Holzer says with a sigh. "Oh, yeah, nails are up."

Right now, roofing seems like a tough proposition. It is hard to escape the need to do work when shingles are falling or water is dripping, But with asphalt being a petroleum product, it is rising like gasoline. That means job estimates can change quickly.

Roofer Al Murray from Al's Roofing in Greensburg says he will hold a bid 30 days before having to revisit it.

James Kirby, the associate executive director for technical communication for the Illinois-based National Roofing Contractors' Association, says it is common for contractors to hold an estimate for only seven to 10 days.

He says the best way to beat the next price increase is to "settle up quickly."

Jason Saragian, a spokesman for Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning says his company's prices have gone up 30 percent since January, with the latest being just this week.

Steve Toth from Oakmont's Toth Roofing says one local supplier has increased his charges for asphalt shingle 40 percent in five increase so far this year.

"And there's no end in sight," he says.


Making the decision

John and Pat Jennette of North Fayette finally made their roofing decision,

A tree fell two years ago and did some damage. Leaking this year helped to make up their minds.

"We had been holding off because of the costs, but we finally couldn't do without it," she says. "We just had to go for it."

The decision was made a little easier because in examining costs each year, they had stayed up with them, and Holzer's bid was where they expected the price to be.

"He did a good job, it's over, and now we can move on," she says.

Roofers such as Holzer, Toth and Murray can see the tough position consumers are in.

Jobs that were $5,000 in 2007 mostly likely are $7,500 this year, Murray says.

Holzer, from Holzer & Jesko, can remember when squares -- 100-square-foot quantities of asphalt -- were $100.

Now, it is easy to talk with roofers about $300 squares. All of the roofers point out that asphalt shingles are the prime construction source in this area.

Murray says it makes up 90 percent of jobs in this area. Nationally. Kirby says a 2006-07 survey by his group showed asphalt was used in 50 percent of new jobs and 60 percent of re-roofing jobs in the United States.

He says, however, those figures are skewed by widespread use of slate in the Northeast and clay in the Southwest. Between those two areas, he says, shingles are even more dominant.

Contractors talk about how slate, of course, isn't affected by the asphalt increase, but is linked to high fuel costs in other ways. It is heavy and takes many trucks to haul it around.

Toth says he knows of one supplier who is being charged a $200 surcharge on material deliveries to cope with ever-rising gasoline prices.

That is sending slate prices up to $900 a square at times.

Gary Mitchell from Accurate Roofing in Overbrook says he tries to cope with that matter by buying large amounts of supplies in advance. He bought more than 500 squares of asphalt shingle at the beginning of the year. By working with that supply, he is able still to charge his roofing rates from last year.

Similarly, Holzer says he is able to put money down for shingles and have his supplier hold them at that price for a couple of weeks, a way to sidestep some of the ever-regular price increases.

Toth also says he is generally able to honor an estimate for 30 days.

It is tough to deal with ever-increasing prices.

"If you think you are going to need a roof in the next five years, you might want to do it now," Mitchell says.


Trying to cope with costs

Murray says there are other ways to save a few dollars. Doing an "overlay" will save money -- for now.

An overlay consists of putting new shingles on top of old. That saves time, because old shingles aren't removed, hence. there is no fee for disposing it.

There are drawbacks, he points out, and they are big enough that he recommends against overlays.

First, most municipalities will permit only one overlay. Second, when the total job is done, all of the shingles are thrown away, so the disposal is more costly. Third, and most important, he says, the structure of the roof isn't examined, so a homeowner doesn't "know what shape the wood is in."

Nonetheless, an overlay can save some money -- perhaps $800 for a routine job, he says.

"That doesn't seem like a lot, but when you only have so much you can spend and the prices are coming in high, it can be attractive," he says,

Roofing professionals say the cost of asphalt shingles is being driven up mostly by the petroleum used in making asphalt.

Then, the storms that have ripped through the Midwest have created a higher demand for shingles.

"And that doesn't even talk about hurricane season and the demands that work will make," he says. "But it is the increase in raw-material cost that is the biggest cause in the price going up."

James Baker, director of industry affairs from the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association, also believes the downturn in the housing market has led to an increase in roofing jobs.

Homeowners put some money into their homes as they hang on to them.

Saragian and Baker say the emphasis of professional research has been to find a way to make shingles that include less asphalt, without weakening them.

"We look at a way of coating the shingles rather than saturate them," Baker says.

Saragian says one of Owens Corning's newest products also tries to provide a "wider nailing zone." That could mean faster work by contractors and, perhaps, a savings that way.

That probably doesn't mean costs ever will come down, though.

Roofer Toth sees any relief being rather minor.

"It's like gas going up 12 cents and then coming down four -- and we're all cheering," he says.

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