Not long after Bob Priest bought Burr Roofing 21 years ago, he found himself at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Darien, Conn. A local funeral director stepped forward to introduce himself. “You know, Bob,” he said, “our businesses are very much alike. It isn't a matter of if, it's just a matter of when.”

Roofing is no small business. According to “Roofing Materials in the U.S.,” a report published in November 2006 by Specialists in Business Information (SBI), demand for roofing products will exceed $15 billion by 2010, with asphalt shingles and sheet metal leading that growth.

Projections offered by other organizations researching the roofing industry are in the same ballpark. The Freedonia Group, based in Cleveland, projects $14 billion in annual demand for roofing products by 2010, with more than two-thirds of that in residential roofing; and growth of 4.4% in demand for roofing products between now and 2015. Ducker Worldwide, an industry research group based in Troy, Mich., suggests that “despite the expected decline in the new-construction segment, re-roofing activity will remain strong.”

Universally, analysts agree that residential roofing's growth in the immediate future will come from “the home reconstruction and remodeling sectors.” Translation: Re-roofing will drive the industry for the next several years. “The larger re-roofing segment will offer better growth opportunities in the residential market through 2010, a reversal of the 1995 to 2005 trends,” says a report published by The Freedonia Group. “In fact, the share of re-roofing is expected to climb from 67% in 2005 to 74% in 2010.” The report suggests that products designed to mimic wood and slate, as well as “environmentally friendly products such as recycled roofing materials and composite shingles” will post gains.

Analysts agree, however, that for most re-roofing, asphalt shingles will continue to be the material of choice. Ducker Worldwide's associate partner Katie Janness says her organization's research shows that 85% of residential roofing materials are asphalt shingles, though the market share of asphalt shingles and wood shakes has slightly declined. Metal, Janness says, “is continuing to grow, particularly in the residential market.”

But while asphalt shingles remain the prevalent material, the type of shingle now being installed on most homes has changed. Reed Hitchcock, executive director of the American Roofing Manufacturers Association, says that up until about 2001, roughly half of shingle sales were flat, or “3-tab” shingles, and half laminates. Since that time, demand has tilted to the laminates, which provide a better-looking and longer-lasting roof at comparable installation cost. Hitchcock notes that today shingle sales are two-thirds laminates and one-third 3-tab.

Some contractors interviewed for this article claim not to be able to remember the last time they installed a 3-tab roof, and if they can, it was only because the homeowner insisted that what was already there be replaced with the same product. Laminates are popular with homeowners for many reasons, Hitchcock says, among them that they can “give the home a slate look, even a wood look, at substantially less cost.”

IMMUNE TO RECESSION Everyone who owns a house owns a roof, and sooner or later that roof will leak. Contractors who specialize in re-roofing rely on many factors to create demand, weather being foremost among them. Housing turnover is another big one, since renovations to existing homes often take place before or after a home changes hands. But existing home sales are down: In December the National Association of Realtors was projecting existing home sales of 5.92 million units for 2007, down from 6.48 million units in 2006. Add to that the absence of major weather “events” such as name-brand hurricanes, factor in the drought that has plagued the Southeast, and many roofing companies saw slower sales in 2007.

“Two years ago we had so much work we couldn't get on it fast enough,” says Steve Gotschi, owner of Dryhome Roofing & Siding, in Sterling, Va. Today, Gotschi says, his biggest challenge is “getting the phone to ring,” a situation brought about by what he calls the “perfect storm” of drought, tight credit, and homes of declining value that owners are afraid to spend money fixing up. These conditions have made for fewer leads in many local markets. Priest says his are off by 6%.

“Money markets have tightened,” notes National Roofing Contractors Association vice president Bill Good. “So if you need a new roof, you may put it off and get the old roof patched up. Whereas if you had easier access to money, you'd just go ahead and do it.”