During 10 competitions over 12 days, 5 acres of PVC will cover speed skaters and spectators at Utah's Olympic Oval.
It will be a silent performer at the 2002 games, but it speaks loudly to an industry trend: Demand for plastic roofing products is projected to reach 11 million squares in 2005 on annual growth of 4.3 percent. Plastic is racing past all other roofing materials, according to a recent report from Cleveland-based Freedonia Group Inc.
Moreover, the roof on the Olympic Oval falls into the fastest-growing roofing category for low-sloped commercial applications: white reflective, single-ply roofing. Falling into the category known as ``cool roofs'' under the Environmental Protection Agency, these roofs have solar reflectivity of at least 65 percent, according to industry officials. By industry estimates, cool roofs alone can produce $1 billion in direct energy savings each year.
``Polyvinyl chloride and thermoplastic polyolefin membranes are the fastest-growing segment of the low-sloped commercial roofing industry at this point in time,'' said David Roodvoets, technical director of the Needham, Mass.-based Single Ply Roofing Institute.
Manufacturers of PVC and TPO single-ply roofing are experiencing tremendous growth in a roofing industry that is otherwise down. Four companies contacted by Plastics News reported an increase in sales last year. Although none would disclose exact sales, all expect significant increases this year.
PVC, TPO hit the roof
PVC so far is the dominant thermoplastic material for single-ply roofing membranes, but the younger TPO is making inroads. PVC made its debut in the application in the 1960s and has ASTM standards. TPO was not used in a single-ply roofing application in the United States until the early 1990s, and ASTM standards are forthcoming.
``There is a draft standard,'' said Krishna Srinivasan, vice president of research and development with Wayne, N.J.-based GAF Materials Corp. ``Hopefully, we will have that within a year.''
Either way, manufacturers and industry officials agree that thermoplastic roofing has key advantages: It is lightweight and easier to install, so contractors and building owners save on labor. The membranes also are leakproof, waterproof and heat-weldable for greater seam strengths. There also are disposal advantages: Because the membranes are more durable than other materials, they have to be replaced less often, and they are more fire-retardant. Also, building contractors can apply logos.
For Maumee, Ohio-based GenFlex Roofing Systems, business growth meant switching from a calendering operation to extrusion with a 100,000-square-foot facility in Muscle Shoals, Ala., that opened in April.
The company produces both PVC and TPO membranes on two Davis-Standard lines. ``Wide-struder'' technology allowed the company to begin producing a 12-foot TPO membrane.
``The finished product quality is better,'' said Jim Burkett, national product and marketing manager. ``We look for the market to grow, and we look to expand the facility on an as-needed basis.''
Canton, Mass.-based Sarnafil Inc., which produced the roof on the Olympic Oval, will add a line to its manufacturing facility in the same location. The $10 million investment will increase the company's capacity by more than 100 million square feet annually, said Brian Whelan, Sarnafil's vice president.
``It's under construction, and we're expecting to begin production at the beginning of next year,'' he said.
Parent company Sarna Polymer Holding Inc. of Sarnen, Switzerland, introduced its PVC membranes in the 1960s.
GAF Materials Corp. invested in what it considers to be the next generation of single-ply: TPOs. The firm opened the doors in March on a TPO facility in Mount Vernon, Ind., said Jon Gardner, marketing director for low-slope products. Officials did not disclose the facility's capacity.
GAF of Wayne, N.J., does not manufacture PVC membrane but does sell it under a private label, Gardner said in a July 30 telephone interview.
Saginaw, Mich.-based Duro-Last Roofing Inc. is having a tremendous year selling PVC membranes, said President Tom Hollingsworth. The company reported an all-time sales record in June. With four facilities throughout the country, it has no expansions planned at this point. The company has production capability of more than 200 million square feet per year.
``We have enough to handle,'' he said.
Manufacturers and industry officials may not agree on the material to use, but they do agree on one point: The No. 1 factor driving the market is the need for energy-efficient products.
Credit the California energy crisis and a weakening economy, officials say. Energy-efficient white reflective roofing is gaining ground in the Sun Belt states especially.
In California, the government has given an incentive in the form of the Cool Roof Retrofit Program. Under a state bill signed last September, $10 million was allocated to building owners or property managers who installed a cool roof before this summer. This past April, $14.5 million in additional funds were earmarked for property managers or building owners who install low-energy-usage building materials.
To qualify for the retrofit program, products must be labeled under the EPA's Energy Star program. Sarnafil, Genflex, and Duro-Last all have products labeled under the program. Gardner said GAF's TPO product will have it shortly; the product currently is undergoing certification.
Low-sloped roofing products labeled Energy Star have to be 65 percent reflective and maintain 50 percent reflectivity after three years, said Rachel Schmeltz, Energy Star Roof Products program manager.
According to Lisa Gartland, an industry consultant in Sacramento, Calif., a traditional asphalt roof in that community can reach 150°-190° F in midafternoon. Cool roofs manufactured from materials such as PVC and TPO can downgrade the peak temperature to 120° F or lower.
There also are environmental considerations such as improving air quality, officials said. People may be taking the ``urban heat island effect'' more seriously. In city areas where buildings and pavement outnumber the trees, temperatures can be 2°-10° F warmer than surrounding areas of the city, Gartland said.
``Roofs are generally the hottest feature in a landscape,'' she said. ``By cooling those, you can significantly reduce the surface temperature in a city.''
As for the opportunities she sees ahead for cool-roof installation, she said that less than 10 percent of the California market has been cooled.
``So it's a huge change we're trying to effect,'' she said. ``We thought that if we doubled the amount of cool roofing put in this year, we would have really accomplished something."