Sifting through synthetic materials

The next generation of steep-slope materials has arrived

If you have visited model homes or attended building product shows recently, including the 2005 International Roofing Expo, you might have noticed many building material manufacturers have begun to produce "synthetic replicas" of traditional building materials, including wood siding, fencing, decking, dimensional lumber for fascia and soffits, architectural millwork, tile, brick, stone and roof coverings. And some of these manufacturers have seized the opportunity to focus on synthetic products that imitate traditional high-end steep-slope roofing products, including natural slate, cedar shingles and shakes, and clay and concrete tile.

Webster's II New College Dictionary defines "synthetic" as "artificial" or "manmade." For the purposes of this article, "synthetic" as it pertains to steep-slope roofing materials refers to manufactured products that replicate asphalt shingles, concrete and clay tile, metal panels, slate, and wood shakes and shingles that contain recycled plastic and/or rubber as a key ingredient.

Synthetic roof coverings are making a presence in the roofing market because of several factors. These include the ongoing efforts of various recycling organizations and energy-conservation groups to cut down on landfill waste and reduce manufacturing energy costs. The recycling effort, coupled with the maturity of thermoset and thermoplastic polymer technology, has provided an abundance of recyclable raw materials used to manufacture synthetic roof coverings. An informal survey I conducted in March of seven synthetic roof covering manufacturers shows recycled plastic and rubber materials account for 60 percent to 90 percent by weight of finished synthetic products.