SBS polymer-modified asphalt roof shingles aren’t new: Malarkey Roofing’s Alaskan polymer shingle was introduced in 1986, followed by Atlas’ StormMaster in the early 90s. But many viewed these as niche products. That’s changing. The category has been enjoying a surge of popularity, with new manufacturers entering the game in recent years.
These products, which now are offered by at least five manufacturers—Atlas, CertainTeed, IKO, Malarkey, and GAF—begin with the standard asphalt used in roof shingles. Manufacturers then blend it with styrene-butadiene-styrene (SBS) polymers to add rubber-like characteristics. The end result is more flexible, can be installed in lower temperatures, and retains surface granules better than standard shingles.
Manufacturers claim that altering the asphalt makes the shingle tougher. CertainTeed, for instance, says that when tested against standard asphalt, its SBS modified NorthGate shingle showed “a 40% improvement in tear strength, a 40% improvement in nail pull-through resistance and a 15% increase in granule retention.”
The main calling cards of SBS modified products are better resistance to wind and hail. For instance, GAF says that its Timberline ArmorShield II earns a Class F wind rating from Underwriters Laboratories (the best score possible) and is warrantied against wind gusts of up to 130 mph. Stan Bastek, director of marketing at Atlas Roofing, says that his company’s StormMaster shingles achieve a Class 4 impact rating.
Those advantages are thanks to the properties offered by the styrene/butadiene blend. “Styrene is strong and hard; butadiene is a rubbery chain. Combining them gives you something strong that’s also stretchy and will recover like a rubber band,” says Greg Malarkey, senior vice president at Malarkey Roofing.
He goes so far as to call SBS modification “a disruptive technology” because of the performance it offers. It’s somewhat of a stealth disruption in that these shingles are estimated and installed like any other asphalt shingle.
The disruption has been slow; despite the technology being available for 30 years, demand has only seemed to really pick up in the last few, and manufacturers are proceeding cautiously. When CertainTeed rolled out the NorthGate line last year, it limited distribution to the Northwest and Hawaii. But Alex Pecora, the company’s director of residential product marketing, says that sales have been strong enough that it recently expanded to 14 additional states and provinces.
SBS’s growing popularity begs the question: Why now? Part of the answer is a general trend toward higher-end roofing products. Another is insurance rate hikes—especially for homeowners in areas prone to high winds or hail. Take Colorado, often called “hail alley,” where insurers have paid out $10 billion in hail damage claims over the last decade. Roof damage is the second biggest cost, according to Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. “Homeowner insurance rates have gone up by more than twice the national average in recent years,” she says. “In some cases we have seen double-digit increases.”
Some insurers are incentivizing homeowners who use impact-resistant shingles. SBS-modified products fit the bill: They’re less brittle than standard asphalt, so they will bend rather than break, and are less likely to suffer impact damage.
Incentives vary by insurer and over time. Shane McDonnell, owner of Reliable Roofing Systems in Colorado Springs, Colo., says that insurers began offering big incentives in his area—as high as 30%—a few years ago. “We saw a lot of demand for SBS shingles because those discounts let homeowners recoup the extra 15% to 20% cost in a few years,” he says. However, those discounts since have been lowered or eliminated.
The result, says McDonnell, is that homeowners are less eager to spend the extra money on SBS products. One exception is homeowners who are re-roofing in order to increase their home’s resale value. “Having a hail-resistant roof gives them a bit of an edge in this market,” McDonnell says.
Additional Selling Points
One way to address price resistance is to emphasize life cycle cost. Malarkey claims that all things (such as shingle thickness) being equal, an SBS polymer-modified roof should provide about 10 years’ additional life span over a standard asphalt one.
To understand why, you need to look at the way manufacturers process asphalt. Raw asphalt softens at a temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Manufacturers raise the softening point by oxidizing it at around 550 F. “The downside is that the oxidation process pre-ages the asphalt, so the shingle won’t last as long,” Malarkey says. SBS polymers raise the shingle’s melting temperature, eliminating oxidation and increasing service life.
Looking ahead a few years, an additional selling point could be the ability to fine-tune shingles to various environments. “Today we have access to 1,000 polymers, so we can create shingles with all kinds of different properties,” says Malarkey.
He says it’s possible to make different polymer bases for Anchorage, Alaska, and Albuquerque, N.M.—or even for the sunny and shady sides of roofs. The distribution and sales channels have a way to go to catch up with these capabilities, but Malarkey predicts more demand for customization in the future.