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Articles: Asphalt Shingles Still on Top
By: Dennis McCloskey
Homes and Cottages - Issue 4, 1999

In 1922, people around the world were shouting from the rooftops about the amazing accomplishments of Albert Einstein. While the brilliant German physicist was basking in the glory of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in physics, Harry Silverberg Sr. was starting a business in Toronto - with very little fanfare.

Silverberg may not have been a genius, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that Toronto was becoming a booming metropolis in the early '20's. Its citizens needed shelter, and those shelters required something over them. Seeing an opportunity in the housing market, he formed a company to operate in the areas of residential furnaces and eavestroughing. And, if you'll pardon the pun, his overhead was low. He ran the business out of an old metal double garage at 1325 St. Clair W. in Toronto, and he took work wherever he could find it.

Today, Silverberg's company, Dominion Sheet Metal & Roofing Works, is still family owned and operated. The sons and grandson moved out of the garage long ago to a head office building on Cartwright Avenue. In the past 77 years, the company has diversified into a dynamic and still - growing business that has put roofs over the heads of more than one million people in Toronto and the surrounding areas of Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa.

When I noticed that my neighbours all around me were replacing their asphalt shingled roof last summer, I decided I'd better get to the bottom of this - so I went to two of the top guys in the business for advice. Bill Deeley is Dominion's assistant general manager of new construction and has been in the roofing business since 1962, the last 14 years with Dominion. Norman Shore, a 21 year company veteran, heads up the renovation/re-roofing and custom homes department.

They told me roofing is a sub-trade business. Dominion works with as many as 375 sub-contractors and hourly workers during the peak season of April to November. "We don't shut down in the winter," says Deeley. "We're on the job 12 months of the year and the secret to our growth is our diversity." He says there is a division of the company that specializes in every aspect of residential and industrial/commercial roofing and sheet metal.

Since I wasn't interested in talking about aluminum siding or even cedar or slate shingles on this particular visit, I asked the men if it's time to replace my 15-year old asphalt roof with new asphalt shingles. "Each roof is different, and should be inspected every couple of years. In the past, there was a 10-year to 15-year warranty on shingles, but it's now 20, 25 and 30 years," says Shore. "Asphalt is the industry standard and it represents 90 per cent to 95 per cent of residential material. Dollar-for-dollar it's still your best bang for the buck."

He adds that the price is commensurate with the warranty and notes that some shingles are sold with a 50 year warranty. Deeley and Shore say the warranties on asphalt shingles have improved over the years for a number of reasons, including better base sheets, more industry regulations, improved granular surface, and general improvements in the asphalt. They also suggest that consumers are better educated about their roofs and the products that are available.

Shore says a good sign that it's time to replace the roof is when the shingles start to "curl" of "claw" in the corners (curve inward or upward.) A shingle degrades quickly when the mineral granules on the surface wear off, either through abrasion or erosion. Other warning signs to watch for include cracks, tears and small holes in the shingle.

The popularity of asphalt shingles is due to several factors. Besides being widely available and inexpensive to purchase and install, they are relatively lightweight, fire resistant and easy to maintain. They last longer than most people own their homes and there's a wide choice of colours and texture.

For example, Building Products Company (BPCO), of LaSalle, Quebec and Edmonton, offers a 30 year warranty on its Tradition shingles that come in nine colours - from antique grey to dusty rose and midnight blue. Deeley says you'll notice different colours in various regions of the country, although the earth tone colours of brown, black, green, grey and oakwood (a mixture) are fairly common throughout most of the land. However, he estimates that 85 per cent of Quebec home-owners choose black for their asphalt roofs, while Toronto residents tend to favour two-tone brown, black and oakwood. "Forest green is still the colour of choice in cottage country," he says.

Where does the colour come from? Asphalt shingles have a surface coating of granulated minerals pressed into the part of the shingle exposed to the sun top help prevent cracking, drying and loss of its suppleness. It's the granules that give the shingles their colour, and since most shingle-making companies manufacture their own granules, virtually any colour is possible, from bright blues to yellows and reds.

If you haven't bought them for a long time, you should know that shingle are sold by warranty and weight. The three tab asphalt strip shingle is the industry standard, with its two grooves dividing the exposed face of the shingle into three sections.

The standard unit of measurement for roofing materials is the 'square' (a square is 100 square fee of roofing.) A bundle of shingles consists of 21 shingles, and Deeley estimates that an experienced roofer can install 60 bundles on a good day. That's a lot of rooftops when you consider that a company like Dominion has 80 roofing projects going in the winter and more than 100 in the peak period.

I checked out products made by BPCO, which is one of two Canadian companies that supply Dominion with shingles. (IKO Roofing Products, of Brampton, is the other home-grown firm, while other suppliers are based in the U.S.) It's difficult not to be impressed with the quality of the modern shingle. BPCO's Tradition shingle, for example, is made with an organic felt base of select, high-quality fibers, coated top and bottom in specially formulated asphalt. Fire-retardant ceramic mineral granules are deeply embedded in the top-coating asphalt, using BPCO's Granule Embedment Maximization (GEM) process. Instabond adhesive strips are factory-applied across the top of each shingle. And that's not all. These shingles have an ultra-thick layer of weather proofing materials for longer life.

Deeley makes an interesting point when he says the basic components of a house are the foundation, the structure and the roof - with the roof representing the least expensive cost but arguably playing the most important role. "Why wouldn't you buy the best material, with the greatest longevity, that you can afford?" he asks rhetorically. "After all, it's the roof that protects everything under it."

His partner takes that logic one step further and wonders why people will spend top dollar on a durable and aesthetically pleasing roof, but fail to look after it. "A roof should be maintained like a car," Shore suggest. "The caulking can dry out, the asphalt saturant can deteriorate and the flashing should be checked periodically." Shore recommends that homeowners invest in an annual roof tune-up that could extend the longevity and appearance of the roof. Dominion offers an 18-point tune-up that replaces all missing shingles, fastens loose shingles, seals flashing on dormers, repairs ridge caps and damaged valleys, seal around smokestacks and sanitary pipes, cleans and seals eavestrough, seals around air vents and chimneys, secures loose nails, replaces missing gutter screens and conducts a car variety of other repairs and inspections, all for $229.50 (plus GST) for any size asphalt shingle roof.

When I indicated to the two roofing experts that I have climbed on top of my cottage roof on tow occasions and have fallen off an equal number of times (into the snow) they talked about the importance of safety in the rooftop business. "It's a major factor and we adhere strictly to the laws governing the use of safety belts, lines and lanyards," says Deeley, who promotes industry safety on behalf of the company as a member of the Canadian Roofing Contractors Association. "Roof pitches can be extremely steep and there aren't many bungalows being built these days," he says. "A 9-in-12, or 10-in-12 pitch roof is simply not walkable," he says, adding that the safe use of ladders, hook attachments, roof brackets (or jacks) and scaffolding is absolutely critical.

Safety concerns are also significant because of the complexities of the job on the roof. When you're not measuring, caulking, preparing or installing underlayments, you're dealing with the vagaries of working around skylights, vents, chimneys, turrets, barriers protrusions or other roof intersections.

What king of sophisticated tools do the people at Dominion use to do the job? " A simple roofing hatchet is our primary tool," says Deeley. "One side for nailing and the other side for cutting." The two men are not big fans of power nailers, suggesting that a roofer can do a better job hand-hammering the self-sealing shingles with small, double-dipped galvanized nails. And they certainly do not use staples, noting that the holding power of staple is not as good as a nail.

Other tools used by roofers include such basics as shovels (for tearing off old roofing materials), pry bar, claw hammer, knives, tin snips, caulking gun, measuring equipment like a carpenter's square, measuring equipment like a carpenter's square, measuring tape, chalk line, plumb bob, level, screwdrivers, tool screwdrivers, tool belt with nail pouch, and an assortment of chisels and saws. Tarps are used to collect the material discarded from the roof and a magnet bar picks up nail and other junk as it is pulled around the yard after a job has been completed.

As much as I learned from the two Dominion Roofing experts, I could not leave without asking them to explain a couple of cryptic remarks each of them during our conversation. As one point, when Shore says he encourages prospective customers to get other written quotes from competitors, he adds: "When they ask to see an example of a job we've done, I tell them we've successfully covered 600,000 roofs in the past seven decades throughout southern Ontario. But I'd steer them to a job in which we screwed up." He waited for my expected startled response before adding: "Anyone who tells you they do a perfect job 100 per cent of the time is not being honest. If one out of 100 of out jobs is not satisfactory, I send prospective customer to that site to find out how we handled the complaint. Our policy is: If we make a mistake, we fix it. I want people to see how we deal with any mistake, deficiency or problem that might occur. How we handle those problems is what sets up apart from everyone else."

Not to be outdone in the enigmatic comment department, Deeley (who says he has lost jobs over a $25 different in price) says: "The lost sale is sometimes the best sale." When asked to explain, he says people sometimes make the mistake of accepting the cheapest price without comparing apples with apples: "But they won't know how good we are until they see how bad the other guy is."

With that attitude it's easy to see why these guys are on top of the world.



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