My experience in the specialty residential roofing industry goes back to the early 1980s when I was working summers during high school and college in the factory my father had started. I started working for the company, now Isaiah Industries, full time in 1986 and have never looked back. While we have always been a metal roofing manufacturer, we have always kept a close eye on plastic or polymer roofing materials, watching to see how viable that technology became over time.
We saw several attempts at large plastic roofing shingle panels in the 1980s. These products often utilized the GE Noryl resin which was still in its reasonably early years of commercialization at that point. None of these products did well. We saw issues with a breakdown of the plastic under ultraviolet light. We also saw issues with the large-scale panels not staying locked together on the roof, especially if there was any unevenness at all to the roof’s surface.
Recent years have seen more and more (plastic) polymer roofing and rubber roofing shingles, slates, and shakes come to market. My opinion remains “buyer beware” of these products. Yes, I have a certain partiality for metal roofing that has been time-proven for even hundreds of years at this point. However, I do respect the unique beauty of the polymer products and how appealing they can be.
I think we will all agree that when that severe storm rolls through our neighborhood at 2 a.m., we care more about the performance of our home’s roof than how pretty it is.
So, for that reason alone, for homeowners who might be contemplating a polymer roofing shingle, slate, or shake roof, I offer the following things for thoughtful consideration:
Most roofs, even new construction, have some bumps and lumps. Roof decks are rarely perfectly smooth and flat. Most polymer shingles available today go down in overlapping tiles. Unlike metal roofs, there are no interlocks between the tiles, top nor bottom. This means that, in areas where the roof deck is uneven, there is no way to conform the panels to the roof’s shape, which may cause unsightly gaps that are very vulnerable to weather intrusion.
If I were considering these products, I would insist on seeing actual or accelerated weatherization test results going out to replicate at least 20 years, and preferably longer.
Polymer shingles, having nothing but a large overlap, can be prone to water intrusion. Review installation manuals and videos on products you’re considering and assess the dependence that the system has on underlayment for water tightness.
Polymer products are largely oil-based and also involve a decent amount of embedded energy for production. Additionally, the overlapping panels mean that raw material is used for significant portions of the roof system that are not even visible – a very inefficient use of raw materials. Most of these products also have no significant energy saving benefits.
When I read the warranties of most of these products, I walk away wondering how much confidence the manufacturers have in their own products.
Here are some questions to ask as you review the warranties on these products:
Again, I say all of this with no apologies for the appreciation for the time-proven beauty and benefits of metal roofing. Also, I want to stress that, with any roof system, proper installation is critical. However, as an industry veteran, I have significant concerns about the polymer roofing shingle, slate, and shake industry … and I encourage homeowners to be very careful in their diligence. Hopefully, this article helps you to that end.
Todd's expertise comes from his years of experience in metal roofing manufacturing. As president of Isaiah Industries, based in Piqua Ohio, Todd runs a several of the world’s leading manufacturers of residential metal roofing; Classic Metal Roofing Systems, Kassel & Irons, and Green American Home. His personal goal is to educate homeowners of the long-life benefits of metal roofing.
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