It is not likely to reach the commodity volumes of asphalt shingles, but manufacturers of polymer composite roofing are excited about its prospects.
Optimism for the segment is high as several building products makers recently have joined the mix.
Composite shingles are typically injection or compression molded, and made of polyethylene or polypropylene combined with recycled rubber and a mineral filler.
The category comprises three architectural styles: a slate shingle look-alike, a polymer shake that mimics cedar, and a composite barrel tile designed to replace concrete or clay.
There are about a dozen companies in the category, led by the likes of Joplin, Mo.-based Tamko Building Products Inc.; Carlisle, Pa.-based Carlisle SynTec Inc.; and Wixom, Mich.-based Tapco Group.
Polymer composite roofing shingles make up a $150 million industry in North America - one that is projected to grow 6 percent annually for the foreseeable future, according to ``Residential and Commercial Roofing 2007,'' a research report published in January by Exton, Pa.-based consulting firm Principia Partners.
The polymer roofing segment grew 12 percent in dollar value, year over year, from 2006 to 2007, the study said.
Of the three product styles - slate, shake and tile - slate is the most common to date.
``One of the selling points of synthetic slate is that it's a lower installed cost,'' said John Pruett, director of Principia's building products segment, in a telephone interview. ``Natural slate is so heavy that you have to have this roof frame to support its weight. With synthetic slate, you don't need the same structural framing requirements.''
New to the roofing industry entirely is Columbus, Ohio-based Crane Performance Siding, which used the International Builders' Show, held Feb. 12-16 in Orlando, to quietly launch its new roofing products - a composite slate and a composite barrel tile.
``This just expands the portfolio,'' said Jim Ziminski, president of Crane Performance Siding. ``It has attracted much more attention than anticipated.
``Our core business is cladding, and it will remain that. But on the exterior of the house, one of the major square-footage areas of the house is the roof. As the market has slowed, it has forced builders and designers to be more unique and thoughtful in their designs. We think there's going to be more of a move toward that, and we want to participate.''
Not new to the roofing industry is Valley Forge, Pa.-based CertainTeed Corp., but it has launched a composite slate product called Symphony. Minneapolis-based Diversi-Plast Products Inc., whose Trimline division is known for its roofing ridge vent products, also has debuted within the past six months its new composite slate and barrel tile roofing.
The company still is developing its shake product, said Gary Urbanski, Diversi-Plast's sales and marketing manager.
Urbanski said most sales opportunities to date have been in high-end re-roofing applications, not in traditional tract-built, new construction communities.
``There will be a place for composites,'' he said, but added that there are two kinds of customers in the world, and one makes for a tough sell. ``At the Builders' Show, two people will look at the barrel tile, and one will say, `Boy, that looks great. I hope it's cheaper than concrete.'
``We're never going to be a replacement tile when you look at the cost. There's a good opportunity to be more mainstream, but I think it will always be considered a specialty item.''
Demand for polymer shake roofing is being driven by building code changes as a result of cedar shake's flammability, and due to its low-maintenance properties vs. traditional cedar. Customers pay a premium for the polymer variety, but the price gap is lessening with the price of cedar on the rise, said Jerry Hannah, specialty roofing products manager for Tamko's central district.
Urbanski said there are three ``distinct value equations'' for the three types of composite roofing, and shake probably has the most market-share potential.
``The cedar shake that's out there, it's not really a long-term product,'' he said. ``There are issues with colors and code changes. It needs maintenance.''
The budding industry still has to face many of the challenges common to new products, Urbanski said.
``This is considered a young industry,'' he said. ``There are a lot of new entrants. In the next two to four years, there are going to be some products that will last, and some that won't. There will be products that probably will have some unforeseen issues, and some that won't.
``We just look at it almost as one roof at a time.''