Shingles in short supply

Shingles in short supply

May 14th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Tornadoes and shingles go together like oil and water.

That point was illustrated immediately following the April 27 storms, when tarp-wrapped roofs throughout the Tennessee Valley became as common a sight as capsized trees.

With roofing companies fully engaged repairing the massive damage done to house-tops by trees and twisters, a new problem has reared its head: a shingle shortage.

"I've got three manufacturers who won't even give you delivery dates," said Ed Danner, owner of the Chattanooga-based Roofing and Supply Co.

The roofing rush began three days after the storms subsided - storms that took a Tamko Building Products factory in Tuscaloosa, Ala., out of action, a further blow to shingle stockpiles.

Danner and his fellow suppliers are pulling out all the stops to keep his inventory stocked, from "finagling," to "pulling from Peter to pay Paul," he said.

"We're trying to pull supplies from as far away as Minnesota," he said, noting his overall stock levels had fallen by half in recent days.

The big shortages of shingles, nails and the felt that goes down underneath could go on as long as another 10 days, he said.

Rebuilding all the damage regionwide could take anywhere from six months to three years, builders said.

Jim Smith, an insurance company consultant who has evaluated damage to several schools in the area, said in many cases it would be "a challenge" to have the schools ready by next year.

"If the roof comes off, you get water in there and it takes months," he said.

In addition, the building suppliers don't appear to be increasing production to meet demand, roofers say.

The tendency to keep production low stemmed from lessons learned during the housing market meltdown, which slashed demand for most building products.

While shingle companies dither, metal roofs are available now, said representatives for Chattanooga-based Premium Metal Roof Systems and Best Buy Metals.

"If people order it today, we'll have it Monday," saleswoman Meralla Sharp of Best Buy Metals said Friday.

Orders have gone up 40 percent after word went out that metal roofs could withstand higher winds than their asphalt-based cousins, Sharp said.

But the shingle suppliers decision not to saturate the market may prove wise, said Art Boehm at East Brainerd Lumber.

Even with the bucketfuls of insurance and federal money arriving in the area, many residents may simply choose to purchase an inexpensive foreclosed house rather than spend months rebuilding, Boehm said.

"The economy's in the toilet so much, a lot of people are not going to rebuild," he said.

The price of construction has risen further during the crisis, Boehm said, even though most states have price gouging prohibitions on the statute books.

"Suppliers will be told by the government they cannot raise their prices because it's considered price gouging, so they keep scheduled increases throughout the summer, so they can say, 'We had this on the books before the storm,'" he said.

Roofer Dereck Pickle called the higher prices following the storm, up to 20 percent in some cases, "basically criminal activity."

Pickle believes the overall U.S. housing market has slowly picked itself back up in recent months, which could keep prices high for some time.

"I don't think we'll ever recover and come back down to pricing where it makes sense. It's going to ruin the industry," he said. "It's a major problem, but they backed off making them and they're in no hurry to make more," Pickle said.

So-called architectural shingles and especially "weatherwood"-colored asphalt tiles are in especially short supply, he said. Roofers who can't find them either lose the job or are faced with the difficult job of talking the customer into using a different color.

"But when there ain't none, there ain't none," he said.