As everyone rushes to appear unique in the design of their houses, the roof has become a key point of reference for style.
Due to its visibility, the roof to a large extent determines a building’s aesthetic value and builders are going to great lengths to use materials that stand out.
This stiff competition has pushed up the number of roofing materials suppliers from four to more than 10 in the last decade, with many importing from Asian countries.
Iron sheets, clay and concrete tiles were the dominant roofing materials but recently, stone-coated steel sheets and asphalt shingles have come into the Kenyan market.
Kenya National Bureau of Statistics’ Economic Survey data shows that the proportion of households with iron sheets as the main roofing material increased from 73.2 per cent in 2009 to 80.3 per cent in 2019, while those with grass declined from 13.7 per cent in 2009 to 5.1 per cent in 2019.
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This shift has been associated with the liberalisation of the Kenyan market, with imports of the new products resulting in a changing roofing landscape.
Improved incomes for the country’s residents have also helped in shaping the choice of roofing products, says Mabati Rolling Mills Head of Marketing Harry Muchangi.
“It is no doubt that the standard of living in the country has improved in the last decade,” he says.
“This has seen individuals opting for better houses that come with better roofing conditions, not to mention the role of devolution in development of rural areas.”
Another key propeller of this shift is the need to collect rainwater, hence adopting better roofing solutions.
“Clients are now more informed and they want roofing materials that not only add aesthetic value, but also augment other functions like rainwater harvesting,” says Muchangi.
The evolution of roofing has led to increased imports, especially of iron and steel products.
According to the 2020 Economic Survey, the value of imported iron and steel increased by 6.6 per cent from Sh88.1 billion in 2015 to Sh104.1 billion in 2019.
Interestingly, the value of Kenya’s exports of iron and steel increased by 27.2 per cent from Sh12.3 billion in 2018 to Sh15.7 billion in 2019.
Roofing is also used to announce the house owner’s economic status and position in the community.
Down the economic strata, the roofing industry has products that cater to each segment, with the poor opting for the unpainted iron sheets that are cheaper and largely used for temporary houses.
Developments in upmarket neighbourhoods lean more towards attractive and expensive types of unique roofing.
While roofing styles and designs have changed over time, the preference for aluminium has not reduced.
With its durability, aluminium has proven it can comfortably withstand all the weather elements. It does not burn, crack, warp or rust and is compact and lightweight.
These properties make the roofing sheets exceptionally reliable for both flat and pitched roofing designs.
Another common roofing product has been concrete and clay roofing material, which have proven to be extremely durable.
The standard lifespan of concrete or clay tile roofing is about 50-100 years but the heavy materials exert much load on the underlying structures, so the homeowner needs to have exceptionally strong trusses to support them.
According to the KNBS 2019 census, the number of households that have concrete roofing increased from 3.6 per cent in 2009 to 8.2 per cent in 2019, highlighting a huge improvement in preference of the material.
The decade also saw the introduction of asphalt shingles. Normally used in high-end residential projects and some institutional buildings, the material has gained demand across the country due to its relatively affordable price.
Asphalt shingles come in two types: fibreglass and organic. One has a core that is made from fibreglass while the organic type has wood fibre and recycled paper cores.
Both types are then supplemented with asphalt and mineral coating to protect them against damage by weather.
This type of roofing works best in cold environments because asphalt shingles deteriorate pretty quickly under extreme heat and ultimately start cracking.
There are also metal shingles in the market, which come in aluminium or copper.
This material is popular due to its high strength-to-weight ratio, which means homeowners do not need to invest in strong trusses; a basic structural design can support it without the need for extra reinforcement.
The metal shingles are able to withstand elements of nature and they provide enough protection against rain leakages.
While the roofing products market is expanding, local manufacturers have decried the uneven playing field in the industry.
They argue that while they have to meet high costs of production including electricity and taxes, importers have a field day because they pay only custom taxes.
Local manufacturers also have to fight counterfeit products brought into the market by unscrupulous traders.
“Our biggest challenge as a sector is the high cost of production and increasing taxes in the manufacturing sector,” says Muchangi.
“This has crippled our efforts in competing equally with imports from Asian countries.”