Should You Switch to Commercial Roofing?

As the owner of a roofing company, you get to decide what roofs you choose to work on.  One of the questions we get frequently is “should I switch to commercial roofing?”.  Though this is a personal decision, there are many benefits to consider with commercial roofing, as well as a couple of drawbacks. 

First and foremost, perhaps we should discuss what are the main differences between the two. 

Commercial vs. Residential Roofing

residential roofingIn the most basic definition, a “commercial” roof is one that sits over a business, rather than a personal home or multi-tenant building.  For most, that would include industrial buildings, strip malls, hospitals and the like.

Residential homes tend to have steeper slopes, and are primarily shingle, tile or metal.   In this case, your clients are families, with little or no knowledge of roofing or how business truly works.  Residential roofs tend to be smaller than commercial roofs and can be very labor-intensive.  On the positive, there are a lot of them.

Commercial buildings are frequently flat roofs, and may involve single-ply membranes, coatings,  EPDM, gravel, metal and other options, including the same shingles and tile you see in residential roofing.  Your clients are business owners or property managers.  Though they also may have little knowledge of roofing, they do understand business.  That can be a real plus when a material shortage or weather issue causes delays.  They are generally significantly larger than residential roofs and the work involved can be far less labor-intensive. Also, the profit margins are better in most cases. However, there are fewer commercial buildings than homes in the U.S.

Benefits of Commercial Roofing

Free Guide: How to Switch to Commercial

Commercial Roofing Book

    Now that we’ve clarified the two different types of roofing, let’s look at the benefits of commercial roofing compared to residential roofing.

    Income.  Researching Google shows a nationwide average cost to replace a shingle roof on a residential home of about $4.50 per square foot.  Researching the same concept, single-ply roofing comes up with an overall average around $6.00 per square foot.  Now, consider the average home of about 2,000 square foot vs. a commercial building of 20,000 square foot and you can see the huge difference ($9,000 vs. $120,000).

    Labor.  Installing shingles on a steep, residential slope is very labor intensive.  Each shingle (even 3-tab) must be individually nailed into place, taking its toll on your team’s back, knees and other joints.  Conversely, coatings are simply sprayed or rolled on.  Membranes are rolled out in sheets, then connected.  There are even machines that can help with the process.  This reduces both your labor costs, your time and the physical demands on the body.

    Time.  In this case, we are talking about your time.  Due to the significantly higher profit margins involved in commercial roofing, most commercial contractors actually work less and do far fewer jobs than residential roofers.  This allows for more personal time.  Time you can spend fishing, with the family, traveling or even growing your business more, if you prefer.

    Competition.  Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not differentiate between residential and commercial roofing companies.  However, anecdotal data points from our commercial roofing contractor friends and associates report a substantially lower level of competition for jobs. 

    Drawbacks of Commercial Roofing

    commercial roofingThere are a few drawbacks when considering switching to commercial roofing.

    Cost.  There is specialized equipment to purchase, materials are more expensive, and you will usually need to invest more in marketing to get started.  However, you may consider used equipment (think eBay) or rentals if they are available in your area.  You may even be able to borrow some items from a commercial colleague (our commercial roofing network shares equipment among members all the time).  Material costs are offset by increased profits and marketing can be set up in stages to help reduce the impact on your company’s bottom line.

    Education.  There is no doubt you will need some training and education.  Though a roof is a roof, a roofing system is not the same thing.  To apply coatings & SPF or install membranes properly requires training, experience and knowledge.  The place to get this education is in classes and hands-on workshops, not on the top of your new client’s roof. 

    For additional information on commercial roof systems training, or to learn more about transitioning from residential to commercial roofing, talk to the experts at Choice Roof Contractor’s Group by calling 800-670-5583. 

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    Written by: Diana Warwick
    Diana Warwick
    Diana Warwick grew up in a construction family. Over the decades, she has watched the industry change and evolve. Now, a recently retired RN, Diana is living her dream as a professional researcher and online author. Her strong research background, coupled with years of construction knowledge and innate curiosity, has led to her development as an integral part of a full-service marketing company that specializes in commercial roofing.