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Posted by McElroy Metal ● Apr 21, 2021 8:00 AM

Why is Standing Seam Metal Roofing So Expensive?

Have you ever researched a product and decided on a top-of-the-line product only to learn the price is much higher than you expected?  And worse yet, perhaps more than you budgeted for the purchase? Unfortunately, the sticker shock saga for high-end products can happen to anyone.

Town of Aberdeen Recreation Center Aberdeen, NC ThumbnailIn the metal roofing industry, buyers are often surprised at the cost difference between standing seam metal roofs and exposed fastener roof panels.  In fact, it’s one of the more common questions we receive. The reasons for the price differences fall into three primary areas:  material, manufacturing, and installation.

Material Differences

Gauge Differences - It’s important to compare apples to apples in any price comparison.  But when comparing standing seam and exposed fastener roof systems, many buyers inadvertently compare apples and oranges.

Panel gauge is a good example. While exposed fastener panels are available in many gauges, 29 Ga is the most common.  Conversely, 26 Ga. and 24 Ga are more common for standing seam panels. 

As a general rule of thumb, material costs increase approximately 20% per gauge.  So you could be looking at a 40% cost swing on material alone if comparing 29 Ga. exposed fastener panels and 24 Ga. standing seam.

Consequently, it’s always essential to ensure you’re comparing similar gauge panels (apples to apples) when exploring cost options between standing seam and exposed fastener panel systems.

Manufacturing Differences

Sealant Cost - Most standing seam panels include what is referred to as an “in-seam” sealant in the connection between the male and female legs.  Panel costs typically include these sealant costs.  While the sealant material does increase the panel price, it is a far more economical option than field applying the sealant during panel installation.  Factory-applied sealant is also well recognized for being more consistent in shape and isn’t subject to the occasional skips during application like a field-applied sealant.  

Line Speed - While field-applied sealant presents a host of benefits just discussed, it does impact the manufacturing process.  Manufacturing line speed is reduced by approximately 50% over that for exposed fastener panels to gain a consistent in-seam sealant bead.  Consequently, the manufacturer’s throughput on any given shift is effectively cut in half and it’s reflected in higher panel costs.   

Standing Seam Crate PackagingPackaging Differences - Packaging also varies widely between standing seam and exposed fastener panels.  Exposed fastener panels are typically stacked (or nested) on top of each other and often have simple paper wrapping over the top. 

Conversely, due to the panel shape, standing seam panels can’t be nested.  Instead, typical packaging involves full wooden crates with panels standing on their side. 

These wooden crates are custom built for each order to maximize panel protection.  As might be expected, between the higher cost of wood and the labor to physically build the job-specific crates, packaging costs are much higher for standing seam products than exposed fastener panels.

Standing Seam Crate Packaging on FlatbedExposed fastener packaging on Flatbed

Transportation Expense - Due to the packaging differences just addressed, transportation expense is also higher with standing seam products than their exposed fastener counterparts.

While the packaging crates are a necessary evil to ensure standing seam products arrive undamaged, they also consume considerably more space on a truck during delivery. Think of it like this: the crate for an 18” wide standing seam panel might be 20” tall and hold only 25 panels.  Conversely, 25 exposed fastener panels might only be 2-3” tall.  

Consequently, standing seam loads more often face height restrictions instead of weight. In contrast, nestable exposed fastener panel loads can fully leverage trucking weight limits. 

For example, at McElroy Metal, we plan for 40,000 lbs of nestable product on a truck and only 10,000 for crated products. Regardless of whether manufacturers include freight in their panel price or show it as a separate line item, increased transportation costs impact standing seam panel costs. 

Film Costs - To maximize the number of panels per crate, most standing seam manufacturers also package two standing seam panels facing each other. While this packaging method reduces the number of crates needed, it does put two finished panels against each other.  Due to the constant road vibration during transportation, panels can rub against each other.  Most manufacturers install strippable film along the entire panel length where the two panels contact to combat this.  While the film effectively mitigates damage, this film cost increases the price of standing seam panels.

Narrower Panel Width - While there are, of course, exceptions, exposed fastener panels are typically 36” wide +/- while standing seam panels are more commonly 16-18” wide.  While that difference may not initially appear relevant to panel cost, it is undoubtedly a factor.  When you look at it from a square perspective (or 100 sq. ft), manufacturers can produce over twice the amount of material with an exposed fastener panel in one pass through a manufacturing mill than they can with a standing seam. Consequently, they experience an economy of scale by producing wider-width panels. Let’s look at an example to illustrate this point.  

10 pcs of 36” wide exposed fastener panels at 10’=approx 3.2 squares

10 pcs of 16” wide standing seam panels at 10’=1.33 squares

Consequently, due to decreased throughput and fixed overhead costs, manufacturers routinely charge more for standing seam panels than exposed fastener panels.

Installation Differences

Panel Width/Install Speed - Much like manufacturers can produce exposed fastener panels more quickly and cost-effectively, installation crews also install exposed fastener systems much more rapidly. 

The panel width is again one of the notable reasons for the difference.  The example below highlights this issue using the example of a 100’ long roof:

Exposed Fastener System @ 36” wide panels:  34 panels

Standing Seam System @ 18” wide panels: 67 panels

As you can see in the example above, crews are literally handling twice as many panels in the standing seam application.  Twice as many panels mean twice as many interruptions to stand up, move from their position to grab another panel, get back in place to install, ensure panel squareness and modularity, etc. Consequently, standing seam panels install more slowly than exposed fastener panels, and additional contractor labor is also a factor in their higher cost. 

If you’re interested in learning more about standing seam panel widths and cost implications, read our earlier blog, “What is the most cost-effective metal panel width to specify and why?”

Trim Differences: Further, while not always the case, standing seam systems often require more detailed work during installation, especially regarding trim details.  Exposed fastener panel systems routinely use exposed fastened trims. That means a screw is simply put through the trim and into the panel below.  It’s a super quick process. 

Conversely, since concealed fasteners (and reduced leak potential) are among the most significant benefits of standing seam systems, many owners who select standing seam roof systems also want concealed fastener trims.

While they are beautiful when complete, concealed fastened trim routinely uses two or three different parts in the process compared to one part in exposed fastener trim systems.  With each piece comes the part’s cost, additional labor to handle and install, and often extra tape sealants between each layer. 

Summary:  While a better understanding may not altogether remove the sticker shock saga of standing seam roof systems, at least you can rest assured that you aren’t simply paying a higher price for no reason.  As we’ve addressed, there are many legitimate causes for the higher cost of standing seam products ranging from material to manufacturing and installation. 

In closing, it’s also important to remember that there are significant differences between the performance of exposed fastener and standing seam roof systems. Standing seam systems demonstrate improved durability, expansion and contraction abilities, panel uplift, and aesthetics over their exposed fastener counterparts.

But of course, you already knew that from your research.  That’s why you choose a standing seam panel, to begin with, right?

If you’d like to know more, contact us, we’re always here to help. 

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About McElroy Metal

Since 1963, McElroy Metal has served the construction industry with quality products and excellent customer service. The employee-owned components manufacturer is headquartered in Bossier City, La., and has 14 manufacturing facilities across the United States. Quality, service and performance have been the cornerstone of McElroy Metal’s business philosophy and have contributed to the success of the company through the years. As a preferred service provider, these values will continue to be at the forefront of McElroy Metal’s model along with a strong focus on the customer.

Topics: Standing Seam Systems, FAQ, Commercial, Residential

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