Staying on top

Five trends to watch in Alberta's commercial roofing sector

Two words capture what's been on the mind of Alberta's roofing industry lately: sustainability and durability.

This can cover everything from the age-old reliability of metal roofs to the new-age appeal of vegetative systems, but the following trends all point in the same direction. They reveal an industry interested in exploring the latest green technologies, while creating work that will stand up to the test of time (and just as importantly, Alberta's extreme weather).

1. Vegetables matter

According to Charles World, business development manager for Flynn Canada Ltd., it's a rare public building that doesn't incorporate vegetative roofing these days.

"We're doing a rather large, extensive roof at the Federal Building in Edmonton that incorporates plant material that's grown in Alberta and specifically suited to our climate," he says. Using sedums-a hardy grass native to the region-and thicker growing mediums, these vegetative roofs are made to withstand Alberta's cold temperatures.

Yet some roofers are also anxious about their handiwork being damaged in the process of going green. Trevor Sziva, technical officer for the Alberta Roofing Contractors Association, says his organization is in the midst of drafting standards to ensure some basic quality metrics are in place soon.

"The main intent of those standards is going to be to reduce the risk of roof membrane problems after the green roof is installed," he says.

2. Cool it down–but not too much

Torch-applied and hot-asphalt-applied membranes carry with them a host of concerns: obnoxious odours, higher insurance costs, greater fire risks, etc. It's little wonder why so many in the industry are sensing a shift away from these systems.

"Due to safety, there is a movement away from hot roofing materials," World says. "There's been a few cases where whole projects have burned to the ground."

Just don't expect the hot-applied systems to disappear completely, Sziva cautions.

"Some people are saying torches will be gone, asphalt will be gone down the road here, but people tend to forget that we have winters and our roofing industry is, for the most part, a year-round trade," he says, noting many alternative systems face temperature restrictions. "If we don't have these options available to us, we're not going to have a whole lot of roofing going on in our neck of the woods."

3. Metal never goes out of style

"Metal is making some pretty good inroads in the community," says Larry Shoesmith, president of Pilot Group Inc., and an Alberta sales agent for Firestone Building Products. "It's going to last a building owner well over 30 years if the details are done properly."

These sturdy, aesthetically pleasing roofing systems are gobbling up more market share each year, agrees Chris Tobias, building envelope solutions manager at Firestone. At the same time, he hesitates to call metal roofing a full-blown trend. For one thing, it isn't so much a new development as an old one-a very, very old one.

"It's arguably one of the longest-lasting roofing systems out there versus other roofing systems," he says. "Look back at the dawn of days and they were using gold and copper and whatever they could get their hands on."

4. Through thick and thin

The norm for EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer [M-class] rubber) membrane thickness remains 1.15 millimetres, but recent years have seen a shift towards 1.5 millimetres or even 2.3 millimetres. The difference might sound slight, but the change can have big consequences for the longevity of a roofing system.

"The manufacturers are promoting their thicker membranes over what they would have sold maybe five years ago," says Sziva, pointing to the increased durability as the primary cause for the change.

Shoesmith agrees, suggesting that thinner EPDMs are "best suited to budget-conscious, developer-driven projects where the developer will keep the building for less than five years because the whole intent is to just build it, own it and flip it."

5. Dollar-store solar

Thanks to a robust system of government subsidies, Ontario has seen an explosion in solar photovoltaic roof systems in recent times. And surely what's good for Ontario must be good enough for Alberta?

"All these big open roof areas in Calgary are basically doing nothing, and when you can put a photovoltaic system up on the roof, it can generate some of the power you require, or maybe even all of it," Shoesmith says.

Sziva notes that rooftop solar faces some challenges in the province, including wind and snow effects, among others. Still, Shoesmith sees the possibility of drafting on Ontario's momentum. As the technology spreads, he expects the cost to come down everywhere.

"When calculators first came out, you couldn't buy a simple calculator for less than $50," he says. "Now you can pick them up at the Dollar Store."

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