France continues to struggle with a shortage of roofing tiles, which is impacting both the livelihoods of roofers and causing extended delays to property refurbishment and repairs.
A long-term manufacturing slump, the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine and a number of backdated jobs partially caused by weather conditions in 2022, are the main causes.
Some businesses claim that the prices of tiles will likely continue to increase each month for the foreseeable future, for those that are able to purchase them.
Covid-19, gas prices
The shortages were initially caused by the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 when production of tiles halted completely. The construction sector then returned to sites simultaneously at the end of the lockdown, leaving tile manufacturers rushing to make up for months of missed production as well as provide tiles for new orders.
Manufacturers continued to struggle from further Covid-19 measures, with a 15.1% increase in tile delivery from 2020 to 2021, according to the French Tile and Brick Federation (FFTB).
In the first six months of 2022, the delivery increase of tiles was only 1.7% higher compared to the first six months of 2021, showing that manufacturing levels were not increasing rapidly enough to meet the demand from backlogged jobs.
Clay tiles are baked in high-heat gas kilns and the increased price of gas after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine further dented the industry’s slowed production, even causing some manufacturers to stop producing tiles altogether due to the high cost of gas.
Read also: French eco-renovation grants increase as price of materials rises
Three months to find 30 tiles
The problem is making the job of roofers across France almost impossible, leading to severe backlogs, as simple jobs now take months to complete.
One roofer told Franceinfo how he had to call eight tile manufacturers just to find the required 30 tiles needed, meaning he finished a simple job three months later than scheduled.
Another unnamed roofer from Bordeaux said they were having to simply refuse jobs because clients would be left “waiting six to nine months” for work to be completed.
The issue affects not just the building of new properties or of renovating existing properties, but also houses in desperate need of repair.
In some areas, such as Nousty, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, damaged houses had to wait over five months for roofs to be fixed; Nousty suffered a thunderstorm that destroyed 600 houses in June last year, and as of November 2022, almost three-quarters still had damaged roofs.
Read more: Dordogne town battered by hail is left in limbo by French insurers
Struggling to deal with the effects
“We've been looking for four years and we can't find any [new workers],” continued the Bordeaux tiler, explaining an added problem of recruitment.
“There is a significant lack of training and encouragement of the younger generation to work in craft sectors,” he continued.
Even when new workers are found, there may not be enough income from completing jobs to keep them around, as business owners have to choose between raising prices, cutting profit margins or losing employees.
“I even know bosses who have put their employees on leave,” to save costs, the roofer added.
Faced with such shortages, some businesses are stocking up, only worsening the problem for others.
“The only way to get by was to plan as early as possible... you have to order six months in advance to be able to have tiles in time,” said one roofer, defending his actions.
Even if tiles are ordered in advance, the quickly changing prices mean the burden is often placed on roofers, who can end up paying much more than expected for tiles ordered months in advance, long after contracts with clients have been signed.
Read also: What aid is available to install home solar panels in France in 2023?
Are there roofing alternatives?
Surprisingly, the lack of mass-manufactured tiles has seen the return of ‘artisanal’ tiles, made in classic wood-fire ovens, that do not use gas, although manufacturers are on a much-smaller scale, and could not deal with nationwide demands.
Other alternatives may include using alternative materials for roofing, including zinc or natural slate (ardoise naturelle), and some houses are even being fitted with thatched roofs, seen as an ecological and renewable alternative.
Some are confident that the worst of the crisis is over.
By the end of 2023 the market for tiling should stabilise, says Frédéric Didier, president of the FFTB.