How Supply Chain Issues Are Affecting Roof Construction

The supply chain crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every industry in the U.S. An increase in demand and labor shortages paired with this supply-chain bottleneck have created a perfect storm resulting in the deficit of everyday goods.

The construction industry supply chain has not been spared. About 30% of building materials imported to the U.S. come from China, where the pandemic dramatically slowed down manufacturing efforts.

As a result, engineers, architects, and builders have been forced to adapt accordingly.

“While it sounds cliche to say, ‘It’s been an unprecedented time,’ I can’t find another way to describe how the pandemic has impacted construction. As if labor shortages and the rise in material costs for almost two years haven’t been enough, we are now grappling with challenges around manufacturing and transportation, which affect the entire supply chain of building materials,” commented Daniel Connolly, owner of Connolly Engineering, a structural engineering, design and evaluation services firm serving the NYC and Hudson Valley Area.

The Impact on Roofing Materials

The supply chain challenges are impacting all aspects of construction.

Specific to roofing, Connolly relayed that the current climate is changing how long-span roof systems are designed and constructed.

Components of traditional roofing systems typically include:

  • Standard steel bar joists: For decades, steel bar joists were ubiquitous with long span roof framing. Bar joists are highly efficient and economical framing members for long open spans.
  • Tapered insulation: This engineered insulation consists of a superior closed-cell, lightweight expanded polystyrene (EPS). The material is an excellent long-term roofing solution with excellent dimensional stability, compressive strength, and water resistance properties. It also allows the roof framing to be erected level minimizing fit up eros and provides pitch for drainage. 

Connolly relayed that these important materials are either no longer available, and if they are, are priced way too high.

“Amazon reportedly bought out all domestic production of steel roof bar joists, and we’re being told they won’t be available until the middle of 2022,” he said.

Tapered insulation is difficult and expensive to obtain as well. This building material has not only been impacted by pandemic-related supply chain issues, but even more due to the record winter temperatures and deep freezes that recently occurred in Texas. These conditions triggered power outages and the production of  basic petrochemical products used to make goods such as tapered insulation was directly affected.

The effects of Mother Nature and the supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic have led to a perfect storm.  

Response to Market Conditions

“Given the supply chain issues, we’ve been forced to look at other ways to frame long span roofs. As an engineer, it’s my responsibility to come up with an alternative building solution that’s going to be safe and as cost effective as possible. What’s happening with roofing is a prime example of how we’ve had to get innovative during a very challenging time,” commented Connolly.

Connolly said that he is now looking at alternatives such as castellated beams, which have been in use since the second half of the twentieth century. These members have a regular and repeating pattern of hexagonal holes, and are made by cutting the pattern lengthwise across one beam creating two halves, offsetting, and then welding them together to create a single deeper, expanded beam.

Cellular beams (see pics below) are similar in nature, and are now available as an alternative. Castellated beams, however, still have their own advantages that make many architects and engineers prefer them.

“Castellated beams are getting a fresh look again and making a resurgence because of industry price and availability issues. They offer many of their own advantages such as offering a desirable weight to strength ratio at a very affordable cost,” stated Connolly.

Additionally, steel buildings are now pitching the steel, which has been done in the past, but often avoided due to the increased potential for fabrication errors.

Castellated Beams

Cellular Beams

Partner With the Experts

Despite the supply chain issues facing the construction industry, Connolly Engineering can serve as an experienced and dedicated engineering consultant to guide you through these challenges. 

Now more than ever you need someone on your side to be able to successfully navigate budget, time, and material constraints that may pose a problem to your construction. 

Connect with us today to learn more about our work and how we can bring leadership and innovation to your project.