Building Operating Management

Good Construction Docs Cure Roofing Ills

Solid specs, detailed drawings are important, but all too rare

Prepared for RCI, Inc.

Few people would think of constructing a building without a detailed plan that clearly defines its size, layout and the type of materials to be used. However, when it comes to assembling a roofing system, it’s not unusual to find that the documents used aren’t nearly as detailed as they should be.

“They can range from poor to extremely poor,” says Thomas Hutchinson, principal with Hutchinson Design Group and immediate past president of RCI, Inc. — The Institute of Roofing, Waterproofing, and Building Envelope Professionals.

To be most effective, roof construction documents should incorporate the “Four Cs,” says Patrick Downey, president of Merik, Inc., and first vice president with RCI. That is, they should be clear, concise, complete and correct. “The best documents are very specific and don’t leave issues undefined,” he says.

In contrast, poorly assembled roofing construction documents usually are vague and incomplete. Some may have reams of detailed information, but little of it applies to the current project. Instead, such documents often are simply pulled from the shelf and pressed into service on the current project.

Moving ahead with a roofing project without a set of solid construction documents can create trouble later. Usually, the result is an over-budget project, as the contractor finds the work involved is more than what was initially presented. In some cases, the poorly built roof system doesn’t protect against water and other elements as it should.

To avoid these problems, the construction documents should identify how the roof should be built and what the finished product should look like. This often is critical on re-roofing projects, as the chance of running into unforeseen problems is greater than it is with new construction.

What to Include

Several attributes distinguish a set of well-prepared roofing construction documents. First, the documents should show the contractors who will be working on the project everything they need to know to do their jobs competently, says Peter Monterose, partner with McDonald & Monterose, and a regional director of RCI.

The documents should include a title sheet with the name of the project and the names of the companies that are designing and constructing it, says Hutchinson. A roof plan drawn to scale that clearly shows all the slopes also should be part of the package. Detailed drawings of the roof edge, all points of penetration into the roof, and any HVAC equipment located on the roof also are needed. These drawings should be to a large enough scale — Hutchinson recommends about three inches to the foot — that all detail can easily be seen. Finally, the drawings should accurately correspond to a set of written specifications identifying the type and quality of the roofing material to be used and the recommended installation techniques.

On re-roofing projects, the construction documents should identify the roof material already in place. If the current roof is covering a previous roof installation, the documents should note this. Otherwise, the contractor might end up needing more time to completely remove the existing roof system.

Re-roof construction documents also should provide information showing how water drains off the roof, says Monterose.

In addition, the documents should include a plan that lists any work restrictions or instructions the contractor needs to follow. For instance, if the owner prefers that the construction crew only work during certain hours, or that the crew cover any exposed parts of the building at the end of each day, these directives should be noted.

Similarly, the plan should highlight any special requirements of the job. For example, if the project requires the use of an open flame torch, this fact should be identified, as the contractor may need to obtain additional insurance, says David Devine, president of Commercial Roof Management and a regional director for RCI.

The construction documents should break down the roofing project into as many components as makes sense, says Devine. Say the contractor will be responsible for both removing and disposing of the existing roofing materials. This should be noted in the plan. This allows the contractor to prepare a more accurate and complete bid.

Downey recommends the documents follow a structured, well-defined template. Most roof consultants will have comprehensive document templates designed to describe each specification clearly.

Facilities executives should avoid simply using the recommendations of the roofing manufacturer as a replacement for actual construction documents, says Hutchinson. While the manufacturer may provide some useful information, it’s rarely enough to be considered a complete set of construction documents.

The construction documents shouldn’t contain pages of superfluous details that have nothing to do with the specific project at hand, says David Hawn, president of Dedicated Roofing and Hydro Solutions and RCI secretary/treasurer. For example, the documents may go into great detail about different types of sheet metal used, when the detailing and specifications call for only one type of sheet metal to be used.

If the construction documents are too lengthy, contractors may find them confusing rather than helpful — or they may ignore them altogether. Instead, they’ll fall back on methods they’ve used in the past. These may or may not work best effectively on the current job.

These sorts of mistakes are more common when the construction documents are prepared by someone whose primary line of work is something other than roofing, says Monterose. Rather than take the time to develop a construction plan that’s tailored to the job at hand, they may simply pull an existing set of documents from the shelf and press them into service.

The Risks of Poor Documentation

The risks of not having clear, detailed construction documents include higher costs, longer project schedules and sometimes a roof that fails to perform the way it should.

Because contractors are forced to make a somewhat blind guess about the true scope of the work, they may increase their bids to cover any surprises that come up, says Gary Cattel, president of Roof Engineering, and president of RCI. “If the documents aren’t complete, contractors may not be able to bid as closely as they would like to,” he says.

With some roofing projects, a poor documentation process can result in a roof that doesn’t do the job it should. Hawn provides an example: A roofer may do a fine job replacing the leaking roof that was on a building; however, the roof may continue to leak if the problem actually resulted from HVAC equipment that wasn’t watertight. Had an expert been called to examine the roof and the equipment, the true source of the leaks would likely have been identified and incorporated into the construction documents.

For this reason, among others, it is important to engage a roofing expert to oversee or direct the process of putting together the construction documents. Among the qualities that are critical in a roofing consultant are industry experience and reputation. It’s also important to work with a roofing consultant who has experience with the type of roof that will be used in the project at hand. The differences in the roofing system requirements between a commercial office building and a hospital can be significant.

“You want someone who considers the roofing system to be as important as the vertical walls in keeping water out of the building,” says Monterose.

Equally important, the experts agree, is independence. That is, the roofing consultant should not have an ongoing relationship with a manufacturer, as that could skew recommendations and specifications.

Hutchinson says he recommends asking consultants about some of the most challenging aspects of projects they’ve faced. The idea is to find someone who can clearly discuss their understanding of a project’s relevance to the entire building envelope.

Engaging a competent, independent roofing consultant boosts the chances that the roofing project will proceed smoothly. At the same time, working with a comprehensive set of construction documents that clearly outlines the scope of the work allows contractors to prepare accurate, credible bids and successfully complete the job.

Pre-construction Meetings

In addition to a complete set of construction documents, many facilities executives find value in holding pre-construction meetings. These are an opportunity to bring potential contractors to the site and give them a better idea of the scope of the project. That way, they can prepare more accurate, comprehensive bids. The result should be fewer change orders and budget over-runs.

Facilities executives should ask the contractors bidding on the project to meet to review the scope and intent of the job and the construction plans.

From there, the meeting shifts to the site for some first-hand investigation. The contractors can examine the type of roofing and structural support already in place, and check how the existing roof is attached to the building.

In some cases, once the contractors have looked at the roof, it may become clear that it’s necessary to change the construction specifications. “The documents may need to be fine-tuned,” Downey says.

Making changes at that point can save headaches down the road, when modifications require re-work. While it may seem that bringing contractors together in a pre-bid meeting would be a hopeless task — after all, these businesspeople will be competing against each other to win the project — Downey says that isn’t usually the case.

“Some pair up and share field measurements,” he says. “You may see little groups of contractors working together.”

RCI, Inc. — New Name Reflects Broad Expertise

RCI, Inc. — The Institute of Roofing, Waterproofing, & Building Envelope Professionals (formerly Roof Consultants Institute) is an international non-profit association of professional consultants, architects, and engineers who specialize in the specification and design of roofing, waterproofing and building envelope systems.

Since 1983, RCI members have offered unbiased design, repair planning, quality observance, legal testimony, and general roof and building envelope management services. RCI’s professional members adhere to a strict ethics code that offers unprejudiced service without affiliation with any product or manufacturer. The organization’s current membership numbers more than 2,200 and includes an international constituency residing in all 50 U.S. States, Canada, Mexico, Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and the Philippines.

As a standard of knowledge and practice, the RCI registrations, Registered Roof Consultant (RRC), Registered Waterproofing Consultant (RWC) and Registered Roof Observer (RRO) serve to distinguish professionals with proven standards of education, experience and ethics.

“The exam process to get registered provides a good indication that the person understands roof design and systems,” says David Hawn, president of Dedicated Roofing and Hydro Solutions and RCI secretary/treasurer.

A consultant who has earned one of these designations will understand the different materials used in roofing systems, the various installation techniques, and know how to calculate the optimal way to attach and drain a roof on a particular building.

RCI regularly hosts education programs designed to demystify and explain the practical application of roofing technology, waterproofing methods and sound building envelope theory. A monthly journal and newsletter and international and regional events provide interactive forums for information exchange and networking.

For more information about RCI and its members services, visit: or call 800-828-1902.

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  posted on 9/1/2006   Article Use Policy