Assessing asphalt

Asphalt roof systems remain significant players in the industry

During the past decade, a number of new roofing materials have entered the low-slope marketplace, providing building owners with a bewildering array of choices. Many single-ply membranes, such as EPDM, TPO and PVC, and spray polyurethane foam now cover buildings that originally had asphalt built-up roof (BUR) systems. Even "traditional" hot-applied asphalt is meeting increased competition from its own ranks. Modified bitumen membranes and cold-applied bitumen materials also compete for building owners' attention.

In addition, during the past two years, the low-slope commercial roofing market has experienced unprecedented cost pressure relative to raw materials. Asphalt is no exception: volatility in pricing, as well as its perceived availability, have created a swell of concern as to whether hot-applied systems will remain a sound economic choice in the future. The reality is that at any time, asphalt must provide a sufficient return relative to fuels and other possible outputs. As long as this is the case, it is logical to assume refiners will continue to produce asphalt. The good news is recent cost pressures on asphalt have had little effect on overall installed cost of these systems to building owners. Generally, the cost of asphalt remains a small percentage of total installed cost.

Despite these increased challenges, millions of square feet of commercial buildings still feature hot-applied asphalt BUR systems. There is a solid core of building owners, along with a network of roofing professionals, who continue to advocate hot-applied asphalt systems.

Some things that drive continued demand for BUR systems include the desire by building owners for long roof system life cycles and the fact BUR systems are easy to maintain and perform well in severe weather.

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