BY ROY HARRYMAN
This article originally appeared in The Kansas City Star.
A Kansas City manufacturer isn’t content to put a roof over your head. It wants you to be able to generate power there, too.
“We’re trying to turn it so that space is working for the building owner,” said Travis Wallace, director of marketing and customer support for Performance Roof Systems.
In August, the commercial roofing manufacturer installed a roof that is equipped with thin film panels that convert the sun’s rays into power that is used in the plant. On weekends, the electricity generated from the panels is sold back to the grid.
But the installation isn’t primarily about generating power. It’s meant to be a demonstration for contractors and customers interested in the firm’s new solar energy roofing system.
Although power-generating roofs are uncommon in the Midwest, the company is positioning itself to be at the leading edge as interest grows here and nationwide.
“They are one of the leaders, certainly for a company their size,” said Craig Silvertooth, executive director of the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing in Washington, D.C. “They were one of the early adopters on a lot of environmental practices.”
Silvertooth said power-generating roofs are more common on the east and west coasts. But the recent extension of federal solar power tax credits could help expand their presence.
Performance Roof Systems’ parent company has already installed power-generating roof systems in Europe. It recently took a group from the American roofing industry on a tour of facilities in Belgium and France.
“You can sense the excitement not only in the (building) owners but also in the contractors,” said Wallace.
Chip Manson, president of Western Roof, a commercial roof installer in Kansas City, is eager for the solar roofing market to heat up.
“Those (options) allow a contractor to really set himself apart from others,” he said. With the sluggish economy, “everybody’s going to be duking it out for work.”
Performance Roof Systems is owned by a Belgian holding company comprised of three families. In Europe, the company and its main product are known as Derbigum. It’s in the process of making its North American name the same.
About sixty employees at the Kansas City location work in the company’s 97,400-square-foot manufacturing facility and its North American headquarters.
The firm generated revenues of $35 million in 2007, with the parent company’s overall revenues reaching $147 million worldwide. It plans to add 20 employees in America in the next three years, half of those in Kansas City.
Although the company’s power-generating roof, called DerbiSolar, is new in America, the business has long emphasized an environmentally friendly approach to manufacturing. Wallace said the company’s vision has been to build sustainable products, systems and relationships.
“We’ve just always practiced that,” he said. “For us it’s always been the right thing to do.”
Derbigum roofs are made from a proprietary asphalt-polymer blend that is manufactured in sheets. Their smooth surface is reinforced to resist deterioration caused by the elements.
“The technique we use in our brand, we have had out in the market in weather conditions for 30 years,” said Wallace.
Locally, Derbigum roofs sit on landmarks such as Union Station, The Westin Crown Center, H&R Block’s headquarters and the Midland Theater.
The company offers warranties ranging from 15 to 30 years. At the end of a roof’s lifespan, it may be able to be re-covered instead of replaced. Performance Roof Systems offers an option to add a layer over the existing roof. This saves a building owner the expense of re-roofing as well as hauling materials to a landfill. Wallace said this option can extend a roof’s life up to 30 additional years.
When Derbigum roofs must be torn off, the company offers to recycle them at its Kansas City facility.
Manson said his clients have been eager to take advantage of the re-roofing option.
“That has really benefited some of our customers,” he said. “That’s the sustainability of it.”
Silvertooth lauded the recycling program, noting that roofing materials constitute 10 percent of landfill debris.
“They are one of the leaders in the industry in tackling the problem of recycling,” he said. “Roof systems have historically been one of the big culprits as far as landfills go.”
In addition to the re-roofing program, the company offers a white, reflective roofing system that lowers roof temperatures and reduces energy use. It also has a “green” certification program for its installers, vouching that they use environmentally friendly practices throughout their business.
“There’s a lot of talk about ‘green’ coming out of the business community these days, but frankly much of it is simply lip service to an identified trend,” Silvertooth said. “Performance (Roof Systems), on the other hand, has backed up its rhetoric with tangible resources.”
BY ROY HARRYMAN