Severe weather has haunted Bradley Heino like some celestial ectoplasm in a horror movie.
Since 2008, the heavens opened up on three occasions over the same house he lived in for 22 years in Minneapolis' northwest suburbs, raining golf ball-sized hail that shredded his shingles and his nerves.
Fed up with having to deal with cyclical insurance claims as he rebuilt his roof — not to mention the noise, debris and disruption that comes with living in an on-again, off-again construction site — Heino decided after the last storm hit in 2016 that he needed to live in a hail-proof house.
He bought an empty lot and built one in Brooklyn Park. Heino incorporated a steel roof with a Class 4 impact rating — the highest — that can sustain the impact of a 2-inch steel ball dropped from 20 feet without splitting. He also installed LP smart-engineered siding.
Heino moved into his home that doubles as a storm shelter in the Oxbow subdivision of Brooklyn Park in April 2021, proud as peach.
"Baseball-size hail will only dent it," Heino said. "It will take a meteor to destroy this roof."
He might not want to tempt those gods. In early October, a Canadian woman woke up with a meteor near her bed — space debris that had crashed through her ceiling.
Responding to weather patterns
Hailstorms caused more than $13 billion in losses across 7.1 million properties in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), the industry's clearinghouse. Texas led the nation with 192,000 hail claims. Minnesota was fifth, with 50,000.
Those numbers will continue to rise. "The threat of hail damage has spread from the traditional 'hail alley' states of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming northward through the Midwest, south toward the Gulf Coast and desert Southwest and east toward Appalachia," according to a report from New Jersey-based data analytics firm Verisk Analytics.
Contractors in the housing industry know that all too well.
"For the past several decades, you see these weather changes based on the jet stream," said Jordan Fox, co-owner of Hail Pro, a Burnsville-based roofing contractor that operates across the nation. "There's a four- to five-year cycle when it gets very bad, and you see these superstorms like Katrina and Sandy that do a ton of damage. These patterns affect us all."
Climate change is certainly wreaking havoc with the weather and with the jet stream. But if hail is affecting more people than ever, the data doesn't show more hailstorms, said Peter Boulay, a climatologist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. But there are more people in the paths of storms.
"Our targets have increased over time," Boulay said, pointing to population growth and an increase in activities that leave us vulnerable, including the Aug. 6, 2013, hailstorm across the metro area that pummeled neighbors celebrating National Night Out.
As the Twin Cities have spread into the suburbs and exurbs, more people are affected and more people report hail events.
"Hail streaks are very narrow," Boulay continued. "Some people might not see hail for a long time while some might be unlucky enough to get hit time and time again."
That's the nightmare scenario that propelled Heino to search out roofing companies with storm-resistant products. There are three main types.
Rubberized asphalt shingles blend the most popular roofing material — asphalt — with a polymer to make thermal- and crack-resistant shingles. Stone-coated metal roofing, which first emerged in the U.K. during World War II, combines stone chips with metal via an acrylic film. And then there's the one Heino chose, steel shakes strengthened in a stamping process by Edco Products Inc., a family-owned business that sits on a 13-acre campus in Hopkins.
Not your grandpa's metal roof
When people think of a metal roof, the first thing that pops into mind is usually a sheet of zinc on a rural shed or industrial building. And that was true for our grandparents. But today, there are, for lack of a better term, designer metal shakes and shingles. Heino's steel roof, made by Edco, is treated and textured so it looks like cedar shakes. And it also is bolted down in an interlocking fashion that makes it resistant to winds up to 160 mph — a Category 5 hurricane.
"The reason why it's so impervious to hail is that we have a special embossing and finishing on the metal panel," Edco owner Jan Edwards said. "The reinforcement that happens after it's been embossed adds super-strength to the panels. If you were to have like a standing seam metal roof, you can still get hail damage depending on the gauge. But our product is a lifetime product that will outlive its owners."
Now a national leader in steel roofing products, Edco was founded in 1946 by Arthur Edwards Sr. and his two sons. About 20 years ago, Arthur Edwards Jr. came up with a design that included painting steel and running it through a massive 2,000-pound press to increase its strength. The design also includes stamping the steel to form a split cedar shake so that it looks like a wood product or slate.
Bayard Gennert, an insurance executive in Shorewood, can testify to the strength of Edco's steel roof. When he and his wife, Melissa, put on an Edco steel roof, they were unsure about how their product would hold up. But they didn't have long to wait to find out. Just three months after installation, tornadic winds swept through parts of Minneapolis' western suburbs.
"It was a lot of heavy hail that damaged a lot of roofs," Gennert said. "More than 50% of our neighbors have had their roofs replaced so far. The insurance companies paid a lot of replacement costs. But there wasn't a scratch on ours."
The Gennerts chose their roof partly for aesthetic reasons.
"We wanted something that would mimic a cedar roof and was aesthetically pleasing," Gennert said. "And since I work in the insurance industry, I knew that having a hail-resistant house can get you a discount."
Contractors also like to work with the product.
"Depending on the roofing system, you have different weak links created by hail. With asphalt shingles, hail messes with the granules or the matting, opening it up to [damaging] UV rays. With cedar, hail shatters the shingles," said Levi Neitzell, field operations manager for Hail Pro.
"The cool thing about this roofing system is that it removes the weak links for hail and wind," Neitzell said. "The roof is all clipped in — locked in and screwed down — so you're not trusting a sealant or chemical bonds. So you've eliminated all the weak links that a storm can throw at a house — except a massive tree."
Cost, durability and the environment
Edco and its peers, including Corona, Calif.-based Decra Metal Roofing, purveyors of stone-coated roofs, work all over North America. But costs have been a big factor that slowed the widespread adoption of their products. Metal roofs run two to three times that of an asphalt roof, the most popular type of roofing material used in the country.
"I've always known that steel roofs are pretty much indestructible, but they're just expensive," Heino said. "But if you have to rebuild two or three times, you've already paid for it."
"It's a lot upfront, yes, but by the time you've paid for two asphalt roofs, it pays for itself," said Chris Doucet, Edco's vice president of sales and marketing.
Besides, he added, metal roofs offer something others do not. They are environmentally sound.
"When you think about the environment and the sustainability of products, asphalt is one of the dirtiest materials," Doucet continued. "But everything we manufacture starts with metal that comes from 25% or more recycled materials, and once manufactured, it's 100% recyclable at the end of its life."
That life is long. Edco warranties its product, which can withstand fire and tornadoes as well, for 40 years, guaranteeing its color and paying for replacement and labor.
Heino is a true believer. When tornado warnings flash across his TV screen, or when he hears hail running like a thousand horses on his roof, he does not worry.
The sky monsters may huff and puff but, he believes, they will not pummel his house to shreds.
"I can sleep well at night," Heino said.