36th Annual MA Architects Survey

If 2020 was the year of massive change, 2021 must be the year of consistency. At least according to the architects taking the 36th Annual MA Architects Survey. Whether the building material is metal roofing, metal walls, metal building systems or metal framing, across the board survey-takers reported very little change in usage from 2020 to 2021. In fact, projecting toward 2022, the consistency continues with usage percentages changing just a matter of a couple of percentage points.

After a year of change, our survey reports a year of consistency

By Paul Deffenbaugh

Studio for a Composer

For the construction industry as a whole, there was considerable change. Last year, in its annual construction outlook, Dodge Data & Analytics anticipated a 4% increase in construction starts for 2021, which seemed low as the industry came off the devastating effects of the economic shutdown in 2020. As it turns out, there was a 12% increase and 2021 closed with total starts at $893 billion. For 2022, the expected increase is 6%, which represents a slight cooling from the growth of the industry, but still very strong. The increase will translate to anticipated total starts valued at $946 billion.

For 2021, the red-hot residential market again outstripped the overall 6% increase in construction activity with single-family starts up 14% and multifamily up 16%. The expectation is that the market will cool a little bit in 2022, but still be strong with single-family starts up 3% and multifamily up 2%.

The National Association of Home Builders is more pessimistic about single-family housing starts, anticipating only a 1% increase, but more optimistic about multifamily starts, expecting a 6.3% increase in 2022.

Far more work is done in the metal construction industry on the commercial construction side than the residential side. Metal roofing, according to the Metal Roofing Alliance, has about 15% market share of the new and renovation markets in residential construction. And the metal wall market has really only begun to get a foothold in residential construction, primarily among luxury homes. Still, growth of metal roofing and metal walls is looking strong. The Metal Construction Association reports that metal roofing shipments will increase 21% between 2020 and 2024, while metal wall shipments are expected to go up 18.1% in the same time frame.

Percentage of Respondents Who Specify Metal Building Products

General Statistics

In keeping with the theme of consistency, respondents to our survey have over the years broken down about the same with most of them coming from architecture firms. This year compared to last year, we saw a slight decline in their participation (64.2% to 58%) that was predominantly absorbed by greater participation from engineering and integrated construction firms. For two years in a row, the percentage of respondents doing design-build work declined, but because we had substantially higher participation this year, the number of respondents was actually higher than the previous two years.

As in past years, most of our respondents come from architecture, design-build and architecture/engineering firms, which totaled 81.2% of survey takers.

As usual, we get fewer respondents from the East (17.7%) than the other regions of the country, which traditionally have about equal representation. In the 2022 survey, though, the South (30.4%) was slightly higher than the West (27.6%), which in turn was slightly higher than the Midwest (24.3%).

The people who respond to the survey tend to represent upper management and ownership by a larger margin over staff architects, interior designers, engineers and others who are employees of firms. More than 78% of participants are from the upper echelons of the company. In the past, we have broken out participation among exterior designers and specification writers, but this year, because participation was low in those job types, we grouped them with the others.

Not quite half of our respondents report their firms did less than $1 million in annual billings in 2021 and that roughly matches representation from previous years. Nearly three quarters of respondents do less than $2.5 million, but there was a slight but interesting shift in those areas. We had a lower percentage of survey takers doing under $1 million and a higher percentage doing between $1 million and $2.5 million, suggesting that at the lower end of the billings scale companies are tending to increase in size as the economy rebounds.

As Dodge Data and Analytics reported, the growth of the construction industry from 2020 to 2021 was significant. (The company anticipated a 4% increase in construction starts for 2021, but it actually was a 12% increase.) This is reflected in how the respondents reported their annual billings from 2020 to 2021. More than 65% said they saw billings increase year over year, with more than 50% saying billings increased up to 25%. A surprising 11% saw billings go up more than 25%.

Company Type

Position in Firm

Company Location

2021 Approximate Billings

2021 Billings vs. 2020 Billings

Metal Roofing

Nationally, respondents to the 36th Annual MA Architects survey reported they were slightly more likely to do a metal roofing project in 2021 versus 2020. 28.8% said they did a metal roof in 2020 and 30.2% reported doing at least one in 2021, which is a 4.7% increase. Most of that increase came from architects working in the East, where 19.8% did metal roofing projects in 2020 but a much larger 26.9% did one in 2021. The 2020 figure architects from the south reported is significantly lower than any other region in the last two years. The increase of projects from 2020 to 2021 in the East can account for most of the increase nationally. Digging into the data even further, we can establish that it was a limited number of companies that saw such a huge increase in the likelihood of doing a metal roofing project. So, three or four large companies tilted the results for the entire country.

Projecting to 2022, architects are very positive about metal roofing. More than 90% said they will specify either more metal roofing or at least the same amount as they did in 2021.

Overall, survey takers were less likely to specify metal roofing projects as part of a renovation than they were new construction. In 2021, only 20.7% said they took on at least one such projects, which was a 6.5% increase over 2020. In 2021, all regions of the country were about equally likely to do a metal roof renovation, but in the Midwest, only 12.7% of firms did one.

For metal roofs in both new construction and renovation projects, the numbers reported this year closely match the percentage of respondents from last years. The same is true for firms that are replacing roofs on existing buildings with a metal roof.

When looking at the types of metal roofing specified, corrugated metal roofing continues its increase in usage, reflecting the design trend of agricultural chic. More than 43% of respondents report they specified a corrugated metal roof in 2021. Aside from that category, the specification of other types of metal roofing products remains similar to previous years. Low-slope standing seam roofing (46.2%) and batten seam roofing (43.2%) remain the most common with insulated metal panels (34.8%) following them.

Percentage of Respondents’ New Construction Projects that Include Metal Roofing

Percentage of Respondents’ Renovation Projects that Include Metal Roofing

Amount of Metal Roofing Projected in 2022 Compared to 2021

Types of Metal Roofs Specified

Metal Roofing Projects Specified, According to Building Size

Percentage of Respondents Who Specify Retrofit Metal Roofing for Existing Buildings

Metal Wall Panels

In keeping with the theme of consistency from 2020 to 2021, the percentage of respondents who report specifying at least one metal wall job on a new construction project was almost exactly the same. In 2020, 30.8% did a metal wall panel project, while in 2021, that percentage slumped a mere 0.9% to 30.5%. The South reported the largest drop year over year of -14.1%, but that was mostly made up by the other regions.

Looking at renovation projects that included metal wall panels, 17.3% of survey-takers said they specified at least one project in 2021, which was a 3.5% decrease over the previous year. In this type of project, all regions of the country reported a decline, with the East showing the largest reduction of 20.7%. The Midwest was the only region to have an increase (14%) year over year.

In a similar response to metal roofing, about 93% of survey takers said they anticipate doing at least as many or more metal wall panel projects in 2022. Only 7% said they will do fewer.

Of those projects, about 60% of respondents said they did a concealed fastening wall panel system and 60% said they did a corrugated wall panel. Those were the most commonly specified types of wall panels, although 45% of respondents also report doing exposed fastening systems. The respondents to last year’s survey were far more likely to do those kinds of projects (concealed fastening 65.8%, exposed fastening 55.7% and corrugated 69.6%) than respondents this year. One significant change was in the ones who specified steel/aluminum plate. Last year, 26.6% of respondents specified those kinds of projects, but this year it dropped to 18.9%. Speculating, that decrease may have been a result of rapidly increasing steel prices.

Percentage of Respondents’ New Construction Projects that Include Metal Walls

Percentage of Respondents’ Renovation Projects that Include Metal Walls

Amount of Metal Wall Panels Projected in 2022 Compared to 2021

Types of Metal Wall Panels Specified

Metal Buildings and Metal Framing Systems

The Metal Building Manufacturers Association has worked hard over the last few years to help raise awareness about metal building systems in the design community through outreach and education. If the number of our respondents to our survey who said they have specified at least one metal building is a measure of that, then the association’s efforts have borne fruit. In the last few years, our survey takers have been reporting a higher likelihood of specifying at least one metal building system. In the 36th Annual MA survey, 27.1% said they specified at least one metal building in 2021, which is a 7.4% increase over 2020. Not surprisingly, the region with the highest participation is the South, where metal building systems seem to be more prevalent.

In 2022, 90% of our respondents expect to do either the same amount or more metal building systems. That is comparable to both metal roofing and metal wall panel projections, and when looking only at the likelihood of specifying more metal buildings, about 30% of respondents report they will increase usage for all three types of materials in 2022.

Renovating metal buildings has always been a volatile data set on our surveys, and this year is not different. 20.2% said they did at least one renovation project using a metal building system in 2020, but only 13.9% did so in 2021, which is more than 30% decline. The volatility of this type of project is probably due to its scarcity. Not a lot of this kind of work is done, so a company may do one in a year then the next year do none. If individual firms were specifying a dozen projects a year, the likelihood of dropping to zero is far less.

Percentage of Respondents’ New Construction Projects that Include Metal Building Systems

Percentage of Respondents’ Renovation Projects that Include Metal Building Systems

Amount of Metal Building Systems Projected in 2022 Compared to 2021

Amount of Metal Framing Systems Projected in 2022 Compared to 2021

Green Technologies

Because of more stringent energy code requirements, increased demand from building owners and the ubiquity of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program, the specification of sustainable materials such as solar panels, photovoltaics (PV) and cool metal coatings would seem to have increased over the last decade. What we see in our survey is a surprising flat line.

Since 2013, the specification of building products to achieve LEED certification has essentially been flat or slightly declining. There is a remarkable consistency in the answer to this question year after, although looking at the trend line on the chart, you can see decline. Compared to last year, though, there was an uptick with 29.2% of respondents saying they specified metal products to get LEED certification, but that is more in keeping with the previous few years because last year’s decline was an anomaly.

When looking at cool metal coatings, there has been a clear decline over the years. In 2013, 42.8% of respondents said they specified these coatings, but this year only 33.1% did so. Allowing for some ups and downs in between, the trend line shows a clear slant downward.

For solar and PV, the trend line is essentially flat. Given the decline in the cost of solar panels, this is a bit surprising, but even more surprising is the significant year-over-year decline from 2020 to 2021. Last year 34.3% of our respondents specified solar panels, PVs or solar films and that was a decline from the high in 2019 of 42.4.%. It’s hard to explain how only 25.2% of this year’s respondents specified solar energy products in 2021 given the increased growth of their use across the country.

Next year, a quarter of respondents said they don’t plan to specify any, which matches almost exactly the response to last year’s survey. The big difference from the two surveys is in the percentage of survey-takers who said they will specify more or a lot more in the coming year. Last year, that totaled about 18% of respondents. This year, more than 25% said they will specify more in the coming year.

Percentage of Respondents Who Specified Metal Building Products to Achieve LEED Designation

Percentage of Respondents Who Specified Cool Metal Coatings

(Note: Data for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 are from the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 surveys respectively.)

Percentage of Respondents Who Specified Solar Panels, Photovoltaics or Solar Films

Anticipated Usage of Solar Panels and Photovoltaics in 2022