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Roofing projects are among the most complex projects maintenance and engineering managers will undertake in their careers. Given the cost of such projects, their impact on the facility, and the careful coordination required among managers, manufacturers and contractors, the margin of error for success can be slim.
For Darin Rose and the city of Lone Tree, Colorado, two recent roofing projects demonstrate the high-wire act that roofing projects can represent, as well as the critical role of communication in delivering successful projects.
Facility in transition
Rose, currently the director of administration and facilities for the Credit Union of Colorado, oversaw the roofing projects as Lone Tree’s facilities manager. The first project involved reroofing Lone Tree’s 40,000-square-foot city hall, which housed the police department, administrative offices, and other tenants.
“That primary building was 20-plus years old,” Rose says. “Before the city owned and operated it, it had about 20 tenants. The city bought it, consolidated space, took out the walls, and created a city office building out of it and retained six tenant spaces as an income draw for the property. It also gave us the opportunity to take over those attendant spaces when we grew our operations. There was a chance the building could be sold in 10-15 years when the city builds a new city hall, and they wanted to not have the building envelope as an issue.”
Rose’s assessment of the facility and its roof began early in his tenure with the city.
“On the second day of working for the city, I conducted a facility condition assessment of all the properties,” Rose says. “In doing so, I found significant hail damage to the HVAC equipment and to the roof. There were a lot of divots and dimples from hail. We filed an insurance claim and were able to receive nearly $500,000 in a settlement. I was pleased that city officials wanted to reinvest that money into the infrastructure of the building.”
The reroofing project went beyond the roofing system.
“The HVAC units were original units, so they were 20-plus years old,” Rose says. “They were operating, but they were coming really close to the end of their useful lives, and the roof needed to be replaced. We combined that work, and we were able to invest that insurance money into this replacement.”
Combining the roof replacement with the HVAC system upgrade streamlined the project’s efficiency.
“It was helpful with doing HVAC and the roof together,” Rose says. “That was the economy of scale that happened, by having the two contractors work together and communicate, bringing them to the table and making them responsible for the communication was helpful.”
Building occupants also benefited.
“It also reduced the time that people were on the roof,” Rose says. “For that three- or four-month period, the employees knew there's going to be an inconvenience or there's going to be noise, people walking on the roof, for those four months. Our approach made it much more convenient for the employees and reduced the discomfort. I'm sure it was an intense four-month period, but that's the benefit. You get it over with.”
The building’s existing roof was an EPDM system with a rock ballast, and the ballast presented potential problems.
“We’re interested in making changes to those types of roofs because in Colorado, there can be high winds and tornadoes that take place,” Rose says. “Those rocks can become projectiles and damage other neighboring properties when they get lifted and taken off. They were in favor of switching from or at least removing the ballast.
“We looked into the different products and found that a PVC roof seemed to be the best option for us. There's a brand we use for that, and typically membranes of 60 mils are common, whether EPDM or PVC or other types of roofing.
“On the warranty side, if we had a 60 mil roof, we would have a 20-year warranty. We went with a 72 mil roof. We would get an extra five years of warranty and thought that was best for the city if they chose to keep that building for 15 years. There would still be a lot of value left in that roof to be able to sell the building and feel confident that the infrastructure was highly stable.”
Spotlight on staffing
The reroof project on Lone Tree's city hall involved staffing issues on the part of the project’s contractor.
“The project took about four months, which was about a month longer than I was hoping it would take,” Rose says. “There were issues with the contractor and having trained staff on site doing that type of installation. Some people who started the project got pulled off on other projects, and then (the contractor) didn’t have qualified people who knew how to do heat welding of the PVC.”
Rose addressed the situation in part by involving the roofing system’s manufacturer in discussions on completing the project.
“I think maybe trying to bring in the manufacturer to help add a little weight to that contractor,” Rose says. “We did so later in the project like in the last couple of weeks, and that helped. I think I would have brought them in sooner had I realized what was going on.”
The personnel issue created challenges within the installation.
“There were some areas that were deficient because of the people for that amount of time who weren't trained,” Rose says. “They didn’t fully understand how to weld through the heat welds. There's a plate that gets screwed into the insulation, and that plate has an adhesive. Once it’s heated with the membrane, it adheres really strong, and they just didn't hold the heat device on it long enough to get the full weld. They had to cut and open and probably do about 20 repairs.”
The personnel and installation issues prompted Rose and his team to revisit some of the contractor’s work on the installation.
“I went through and looked at it,” Rose says. “I also had a P.E. focused on building envelope walk through it, and I brought in a building envelope engineer that could see some of those further details that I might miss. On top of that, the manufacturer went through and found some minor things to make corrections on, as well.”
A second chance
The second project involved replacing the roof on a 15,000-square-foot library in 2019 that was being converted into a multi-generational gathering space. The roof also featured a photovoltaic or solar panel array that was about 15-20 years old. As with the city hall project, Rose opted to upgrade the roof and HVAC units at the same time.
“We had some issues with all the HVAC units, and it made sense because of their age to just do them all at the same time,” Rose says. “We had renovated the interior, but even though we did that, we knew we were going to do some infrastructure and building envelope work with the roof and HVAC. We just didn’t have funds at that point.”
The condition of the roof was critical to the timing of the project.
“We just knew that it wasn’t going to last more than probably another three years,” he says. “The EPDM was getting stiffer, and it was pulling away from the parapet walls. We knew that it was coming to an end.”
The next step was to determine the type of roof to install, and the experience with the city hall roofing project had an impact.
“After some of the minor issues with the installers at the municipal building, I was open to other manufacturers and other types of roofing,” Rose says. “We decided to do a PVC roof. We looked at the EPDM compared to the PVC, and I had my building envelope engineer review the specifications they gave me, and he found deficiencies in them, so it was not an equal-to-equal scope or package. I felt like it wasn't going to be the best fit. We stuck with the PVC.”
Despite the issues related to the contractor during the previous project, Rose and his team decided a second chance was in order.
“We actually did go back to the same contractor that we used at the municipal building,” he says. “They had the best price. They could finish the work within about a two-month time frame. The contractor said they had improved their services, and they knew our expectations. They said they know what they’re doing better, and they have the staff to do it. So I did give the work to them, and they did complete it on time and on budget. It was a different experience. I didn't have the bad taste in my mouth, so it's good to give them that opportunity and have a fully positive experience with that installation.”
Assessing the benefits
The aftermath of the two roofing projects has included benefits related to both the bottom line and the process.
“As far as energy savings, because we have the solar array, we don't have good stats on whether energy has been reduced,” Rose says, though he adds, “We do know that the thermal comfort is more consistent because before we were using the HVAC in the heat a fair amount. It was swinging back and forth because in Colorado we go from overnight at 20 degrees and then it can be 60 in the afternoon at times. That differential can cause problems to the HVAC, but (the new roof) has helped keep the building at a more consistent temperature. That would be probably the biggest benefit.”
In terms of the process, Rose credits improvements in communication with helping to make the projects successful.
“Even though it was a small roof, there's a lot of details that were involved with the project,” he says. “It’s important to make sure all the contractors are talking to each other and that they have that open communication.
“We had an owner's (and) contractors meeting. We have all the contractors there and sharing each other's business cards and saying, ‘Do you have any questions about the solar?’ You need to talk to them and do whatever they need. You need to help provide that for them, and that really helped. It went really smooth because of the open communication that took place.”
Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 25 years of experience covering engineering, maintenance and grounds management issues in institutional and commercial facilities.