The Trials And Tribulations Of Replacement of a Commercial Roofing System

cbeecherBuilding Envelope, Building Maintenance, Construction, Roofing

Okay so it’s time to replace the most important building component responsible for waterproofing your building, the roof. The way you go about this and consequential decisions made as a result will impact the integrity of the building and your level of stress, or desired peace of mind for years to come.

In most instances, natural instinct kicks in and we begin the process upside down or back to front. What does that mean you ask? It means that we usually choose product or contractor first and then work the solution in a less desirable method. This methodology requires you to manipulate factors that often come back to haunt you down the road. With that said and having been involved in projects like yours from every different angle, here’s the way it should go.

Start at the end of the project and work your way back to the beginning. Begin with calling a meeting with all interested parties including any decision makers, engineering associates as well as any personnel involved with any roofing or equipment maintenance, situated topside, such as plumbers and HVAC techs.

The agenda of this initial meeting should include the following topics for discussion and direction:

  • Are we looking for a long- term solution and will the building remain with present ownership for at least 10 years?
  • What is our approved and available budget? Be sure to include a 10% contingency factor.
  • What are the 5 most important features we expect from the new roof?

Pondering and coming up with decisive answers to these questions should have nothing to do with any type of roof, roofing contractor or roof system manufacturer, that comes later.

Once this initial meeting is over with and firm answers and direction attained, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and really get down to business and make the following decisions:

  • Who will be responsible for performance of an unbiased evaluation of the existing roof and all of the interconnected building components? (Be sure to exclude contractors or anyone else who may have a vested interest in your project). The condition of the roof and all other components are a key factor in determining if removal or partial removal of existing materials is required, if there are any hidden conditions and ensure the substrate is sound enough to support additional loads and has an acceptable fastener retention value.
  • Investigate current building code requirements and ensure upgrades are included as a part of the project.
  • Research and determine the best product/s for the project.
  • Research and select at least 3 approved applicators for the product/s.
  • Produce a clear and concise set of scope and bid documents.
  • Schedule and conduct a pre-bid meeting and distribute bid documents.
  • Review all completed bid packages and request any additional information, if required.
  • Meet with and approve contract with selected contractor. Confirm all details and confirm all commencement procedures and facilitate paperwork for building permit process. Make sure you request any waivers of lien and releases for any and all payments made from both contractor and material suppliers.
  • Develop and implement a protocol for project management including progress inspections and quality control. Be sure to request proof of all change order requests, such as deck replacement and any other materials your contractor was required to install, that were not a part of the original base contract price.
  • Walk through with manufacturer representatives to initiate issuance of material and/or labor warranties.
  • Production and delivery of punch list to contractor, if required, as well as post inspection of punch list completed items.

Now that you have had a taste of what you will be responsible for, in addition to satisfactory performance of your real job, you are bright eyed bushy tailed and ready to attack right?? Not so sure you are, then here’s what you need to do:

Pick up the phone and start digging up the names of the best roof consultants in your area that have handled projects similar to yours many times over. The decision on the best candidate will be the best decision you can make. Not only will you be able to effectively perform the job for which you are being compensated, you will have an advocate in your corner to efficiently guide the whole process from beginning to successful end. Oh, and by the way, by consultant I don’t mean engineer. I mean someone who understands the technical aspects of the project but an individual who is unafraid to get their hands dirty and is readily available to speak to you in language you understand.

Now it’s time to look into the crystal ball and catch a glimpse of the process if you were to start from the wrong direction.

“It’s time to replace the roof, let’s just use the same product, method of installation and contractor we used 15 years ago”.

Guess what, the product is likely not available, or the formulation has changed dramatically. The method and criteria for its application may not conform to current code requirements and your contractor may be living in Tahiti or no longer is approved by that manufacturer.

Some of the code revisions to be aware of, especially in storm prone or tropical regions, that have been significantly revamped over the past 15 years, to name a few, are as follows:

  • Wind design criteria have been increased substantially especially at corner and perimeter roof areas. Some older methods of application may fall short of these values especially in Florida’s High Velocity Hurricane Zone exposures.
  • Energy code requirements in states such as Texas, California and Arizona requiring minimum insulation values for new and existing construction.
  • Drainage requirements governing minimum number and size of openings responsible for discharge of water from roof surfaces.

Now listen closely, here are a few pieces of key information that can save you money and prevent serious stress down the road:

  • Take a look at your property insurance policy. Make sure that whatever product/s you decide on will not pose a problem in the event something goes awry during or after the project. Some roofing products require use of open flames or emit carcinogenic fumes that may cause damage or a health emergency for your property or occupants. Ensure these products, or methods of application are not prohibited, in your contract of insurance.
  • Certain products, accessories or upgrading methods by which these products are installed may make you eligible for a discounted rate on your property insurance premium. Premiums have skyrocketed over the years and this may be your best weapon against this unidirectional change. Adding a high-density cover board under a roof membrane provides significant resistance to hail stone impact. Some manufacturers even provide hailstorm coverage which will reduce your insurance carrier’s exposure. Spending an additional 10k in roof cost may result in 10k per year premium reduction, especially in states like Colorado.

Now that you are feeling better about the whole process, here are some other provocative points for consideration to ensure you are proactive all the way through:

  • Is there are hard deadline in play for completion or a particular time of the year we want to start and complete the project?
  • Is health and safety of concern for occupants?
  • Is there any equipment and machinery housed in or on the building that is sensitive to smoke, minor leaks during construction or dust?
  • Will we be able to “conduct business as usual” throughout the project?

Having a roof replaced during a lull or downturn in the roofing business is not a bad decision. Pricing will be more competitive and materials will be readily available. If you have no choice or work must be done after normal business hours, expect pricing to spike but be sure to press your consultant on all options out there. Furthermore, if your site is a secure site or institutional facility, pricing will be higher due to regulations for employees or contractors that are working on the project.

If you want to get your feet wet, check out the NRCA (National Roofing Contractors Association) or some of the roofing system manufacturer websites. These typically have some good information but resist the temptation to divert to a contractor- based site. Contractors tend to steer a prospective client to a particular product or manufacturer they are aligned with, that may not be best for your application.

A roof these days, if done the right way, is a big investment and must be treated with the care and comprehensive attention to detail it deserves. Bad decisions are ones made under duress or when water is pouring into your building and causing damage. Get the process started a year in advance so you have ample time to become empowered with the knowledge you need in order to make the right decisions.

Now that you have some experienced insight as to what a roofing project entails, I will leave you with a perceptive view. At the end of the day, replacement of your roofing system has less to do with the product itself and a whole lot more to do with the peace of mind, or lack thereof, you end up with!