The Three Pillars of Roofing Performance

Jerry Beall on Jan 13, 2016 9:00:00 AM

Installation of a FiberTite Roofing SystemWhen it comes to performance, our forefathers had it right long ago. They optimized the three pillars of performance, materials, engineering and installation, to provide roof systems that truly withstood the test of time. The oldest roof system I’ve ever encountered was a slate roof. It combined the performance of stone with phenomenal engineering to account for the weight and slope. Last but not least, the craftsmanship to bring it all together to create a watertight roof system. Many of these roofs had and/or have over 100-year life cycles. I can only assume that cost was not as important as value when it came to construction.

My personal experience with slate came at the age of 14 at the end of a rope tied around my waist while my father tethered the other end. First, we would both scale the roof on a chicken ladder and then he would slide me down the slope while he sat upon the ridge smoking a cigarette. OSHA would have had a fit. My job was to remove the broken slate, cut a new one to fit, and then replace them in such a way that no one would ever tell the difference. These roofs were not only durable, they were beautiful and sustainable.

After World War II architects and designers had to deal with the demand for larger and less expensive facilities and the construction to accommodate them. These steep roofs gave way to the flat and low slope construction that endures today.

Materials

Today’s low slope elastomeric membrane market offers a host of material choices, yet the principles or pillars haven’t changed when it comes to performance. Selecting the right material involves some research to understand the potential the product may offer. Reviewing and making a decision based upon a singular characteristic can be akin to making a decision based upon the results of the 50-yard dash. This analogy would include lowest cost and warranty tenure, but we can discuss those choices another day.

Material performance requires balance and unfortunately I’ve seen numerous material decisions based upon a sole characteristic or attribute. Some are as simplistic as selecting a material because it’s white to deliver theoretical energy savings. Thickness is also mistaken as a great equalizer for forecasting performance. In fact, there are numerous attributes ranging from material chemistry, manufacturing technology, reinforcement, chemical resistance, puncture resistance, elongation and tensile strength that must all be in balance to deliver durability over time. Yes, time is the great equalizer and therefore the track record and history of the material should be given proper weight in the decision process. More often than not, what you’ll find is that materials with the best history were those that achieved balance in a host of physical property characteristics and attributes.

Engineering

How the material you choose is installed is very critical to its performance. Keeping the material in place has become a bit of an art form these days. And there are numerous options that include the basic mechanically fastened, adhered, and ballast systems as well as some of the more exotic assemblies, such as plate bonded and negative vacuum assemblies.

Today’s design professionals are acutely aware of the need to incorporate wind, fire, energy, and component compatibility into the overall engineering for performance. Fortunately, we really don’t construct “flat” roofs any longer, but the nuisances of low slope roof construction are fairly complex. Having a Registered Roof Consultant to assist in the selection and installation design of the roof is a plus. A RRC can bring peace of mind to the project in the form of oversight and project management as well as the experience with various materials and the engineering required for the variable assemblies. Their reputation is inseparable to performance, and my experience with them suggests that their passion for quality is well worth the investment.

Installation

Unfortunately, not all contractors are alike. Again, reputation and track record will tell a lot about the quality the contractor will deliver. Check their references and visit one of their current job sites. A lot can be told about a roofing contractor just by viewing their job site housekeeping practices.

Obviously, the contractor should be licensed and insured, but the contractor also needs to be experienced in the installation of the materials selected for the roof system. The scope and complexity of the project often demand financial stability and finesse in dealing with customers, contracts, and consultants. It costs money to be a legitimate contractor so beware of the low bid, as it is not necessarily your best value.

Practically every specification I review states that the contractor must have adequately trained workers. The best contractors invest into growing and training their workforce using internal and external resources. In addition to creating a general expertise in the materials to be utilized, SAFETY is pervasive if not the most important aspect of their business.

Installing today’s roof systems is no less an art from than the slate of days gone by. Craftsmanship is essential to the performance of any roof system, so selecting the right contractor can be a make or break decision when it comes to your overall investment.

A new roof is an investment and getting a good return on your investment requires that the project involves an alliance that merges the three pillars of performance into a seamless team. The manufacturer of the material, the designer or consultant, and the contractor have to all act in the best interest of the owner to deliver performance that will exceed expectations for performance.

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