The sound of rain beating on a metal roof could sound like pennies from heaven for roofing contractors if the market continues to expand as it has. Metal roofing is growing almost 1,000% faster than the overall market, according to Tom Black, executive director of the Metal Roofing Alliance, an industry marketing group made up of manufacturers and ancillary suppliers.

A recent study by Dodge/McGraw Hill Construction estimates that metal roofing is growing by 20% a year, while the overall market grows at only 2%, Black says. The metal share of the replacement market expanded from just 3% in 1998 to 8% in 2002, he adds, and the pace appears to be quickening. Currently some 200 million squares of metal roof are installed annually on residential and light commercial buildings, the lion's share as replacement roofing.

DURABLE AND VERSATILE Homeowners have plenty of reasons to like metal roof systems. Metal offers superior durability — most manufacturers offer 30- to 50-year warranties — compared with asphalt. Styles include cedar shake, slate, tile, shingle, and vertical panel, as well as numerous finishes and colors, so a metal roof looks like a traditional roof rather than something you'd see on a barn. Metal roofs can even save on home heating and cooling costs, the Alliance says.

Contractors have reasons to start installing metal roof systems too. For one, a metal roof is a premium product that can be twice the price of a traditional roof, so it can generate substantial revenues. For another, expertise with metal roofing can set you apart from the competition.

“If a contractor is good at selling value to consumers, he can be very successful with metal roofing. He'll immediately differentiate himself from 98% of the other roofing companies in the market, and that can mean better margins,” Black says.

Plus, the industry is challenged by having too few qualified contractors, Black says. “Many will list every type of product, but they don't really know how to install metal.”

LEARNING CURVE What's it take to come up to speed on installation? “That would depend to some degree on the type of metal roofing you want to install,” Black says. “Vertical panel roofing involves a little more [of a] transition period. We find that the best metal roofers may have been carpenters before they became roofers. They measure twice and cut once, and there's more of that involved in metal roofing. You're not just using a utility knife to cut a shingle in half. You have to be more careful.” But, he adds, roofers already work with metal for flashing and other critical roofing elements.

Most manufacturers offer training, as does the National Roofing Contractors Association, which is currently completing a metal roofing training module, Black says.