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Who’s got your roof covered?
No one wants to invest millions of dollars in a roofing project until it’s absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, the non-residential building industry spent about $20 billion on roofing projects last year. Some building owners will be happy with the results for years to come. Others will be disappointed and disillusioned, and will waste valuable time trying to figure out what went wrong.
How can building owners and facilities executives guarantee that their next roofing project will be successful? Experts agree: Pay more attention to the details surrounding the roofing technology specified. Experts will also tell you that product potential is often undermined because building owners don’t worry enough about how the roof will be — should be — installed.
Roofing technology notwithstanding, the best performing roofs are the result of a close partnership between the building owner or facilities executive and the professional roofing contractor.
Such long-term partnerships can extend the average roof life from 13 years to 21 years or more, according to life-cycle data gathered by generalRoofing, a global single-source provider of roofing solutions for virtually any commercial, industrial, governmental or institutional application.
Using a proactive approach to roofing service, as opposed to waiting until leaks drip on the boardroom’s custom leather upholstery, actually can reduce the roof’s life cycle cost significantly. The national network of generalRoofing companies estimates reactive roofing maintenance costs about 25 cents per- square-foot annually, while proactive maintenance lowers that cost to 14 cents per square foot.
While 11 cents may seem insignificant, it amounts to $11,000 on a 100,000-square-foot roof and $110,000 for 1-million square feet. Extend the life of the roof an additional 8 years by regular professional maintenance and the return on investment climbs to $88,000 and $880,000 respectively, without considering compounding interest returns on the savings. A simple 6 percent return on that savings would yield more than $100,000 on the smaller roof and more than $1 million on the larger roof.
But where should facilities executives begin? As with any major capital improvement investment, evaluating the best professionals for the job is a critical but often-overlooked jumping-off point.
“Financial strength and contracting expertise are what matters,” suggests John Larimer, president/CEO of generalRoofing. “See how long they’ve been in business, what manufacturers they are aligned with, their track record, their resources and their references.
“Once you have made sure the company has the financial capacity, resources and experience base to do the job, look to see if they are offering a long-term solution, not just an installation. Ask to see the roofing construction plan. Then ask, can and will they provide long-term care and maintenance for the roofing system that they install,” says Larimer.
“Do not be afraid to ask a roofing contractor for his or her credentials,” says John Cook, chairman of the board of generalRoofing.
“If a doctor said you needed surgery, you would ask every question you could think of. The same goes for a building’s roof. Ask any question, no matter how simplistic you think it is, so that you can understand what the contractor’s base of knowledge is,” he adds.
Cook suggests that building owners ask for current year references, since most roofing contractors already have a list of satisfied customers. He also encourages building owners to check around in their field for recommendations.
Building owners and facilities executives should request the American Institute of Architects’ Document A305 — Contractor’s Qualification Statement — from any roofing contractor being considered for their project.
This document contains a wealth of information. Items such as licensing, experience, references and financial information are covered.
- Once building owners and facilities executives have decided on a type of roofing system, for example, they should visit the manufacturer’s Web site. You’re not only looking for a credible manufacturer, but also checking into manufacturer-contractor working relationships.
Different manufacturers have different terms for their recognized installers. Some refer to them as master or select contractors, for example. If you hire one of these, you can get the best of both worlds.
Other contractor criteria include the roofing industry experience as well as licensing credentials. Make sure, for example, the prospective contractor is licensed in the state you are in.
- Another key consideration: identify respective project responsibilities. For example, are considerations like bringing HVAC equipment up to code, removing electrical conduit and removal and replacement of the lightning protection equipment the roofer’s responsibility, or items the building owner has agreed to address?
- Prequalification is essential to hiring a good roofing contractor. Check for adequate and proper insurance coverage, for example. In competitive bidding situations often all that’s required is that each contractor post a surety bond. There are sureties that write high-risk bonds, so one contractor may be paying 0.5 percent for the bond, while another may be paying 3 percent. If that contractor is the low bidder, you have a difficult time exiting the contract.
Different roofing situations dictate how you should evaluate roofing contractor responsiveness. An obvious leak demands a rapid response, while a request for a proposal may take a couple of weeks to prepare properly.
Don’t settle for a vague schedule. Insist on firm start and finish dates that are supported with solid milestones. These milestones should be monitored since they are your first indicator of how the project is proceeding.
What happens when leaks occur on a roof protected by a generalRoofing company? A Centralized Customer Service Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all preferred account customers. The Customer Service Center acts as a clearinghouse, funneling business to local operating units so that every customer has the same experience with generalRoofing companies.
“Our clients are large regional or national customers that have very specific needs including a one-stop-shop philosophy resulting in ease of doing business,” says Brian Fairweather, service center manager. Last year, the center handled more than 2,000 leak calls — an average of more than eight calls per day — and close to 350 roofing bids.
Jeffrey Kotler, a generalRoofing executive, knows of one roof put on in 1972 that is still functioning today, thanks to routine repairs and maintenance. “I know it sounds like putting the cart before the horse to consider roofing maintenance before reroofing a building,” he says. “But even the best installed roof’s life will be shortened if it doesn’t have proactive maintenance and repairs.”
Quality Control During Installation
Labor becomes an important element in quality control. “You want to make sure your roofing contractor is solving problems, not creating them,” says John Cook. “Make sure the company you hire has a project manager on staff and that the workers are properly trained in the type of roofing being installed. Building envelope costs have increased, so mistakes are twice as expensive.”
Facility executives should conduct a preconstruction meeting with the contractor.
- They can use the event to meet the people that will be managing the roofing project.
- These face-to-face meetings allow project team members to address general concerns as well as discuss project details.
- The preconstruction meeting can also be used to make sure that the building owner understands and is able to communicate any inconveniences that the building occupants will experience during the project.
Schedule roofing projects during the off season whenever possible. Every area of the country has a busy roofing season. Define the busy season for your geographic area and schedule accordingly.
Typical busy periods for roofing contractors include rainy seasons, spring thaws or the end of business fiscal years when people are spending their capital budget money. Scheduling your project away from the busy times can result in better response and lower pricing.
When a building owner or facilities executive knows what type of roofing system is needed they should ask for recommendations from so-named master roofing contractors from specific manufacturers.
“Different manufacturers use different names,” says Cook, “but they all have programs that recognize how well a roofing contractor installs their product because they are inspecting each job before they issue a warranty.”
Some manufacturers track all work by a given contractor. If there are no callbacks or leaks reported for roofing installations and recorded by the respective manufacturer, building owners can go into a project with that much more peace of mind.
“If building owners and facility executives realized the importance of rooftop maintenance, they would fix many problems before they cause severe damage to the roofing system,” says Tim Fuller, director of roofCare for generalRoofing. “Even better, with experienced roofers doing regular inspections, they will be able to forecast expenses and keep them in line because they are proactively addressing rooftop problems before they are a major issue.”
Extending Roofing Life
Once a roof is fixed, building management often takes an out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to the roof. “That approach leads to a missed business opportunity to get more out of your initial investment,” says Thomas E. Brown, Jr., generalRoofing. “An active, ongoing maintenance program that monitors serviceability can keep facility executives ahead of the curve and get more service life out of the roof. If a good job was done on the installation and proactive maintenance is done, the lifetime of the roof can extend a number of additional years.”
When looking at a roofing system, Jim Nugent, generalRoofing, says there actually are three components:
“One is design of the roof, the second is the roofing installation and the third is maintenance,”says Nugent.
“For many years, maintenance has been badly neglected by many facility executives. But the truth is, even a good roof will not last its design life without ongoing maintenance.”
“By doing a little bit of due diligence, a building owner or facility executive can add five or 10 years to the life of a roofing system,” says Ron Werowinski, generalRoofing. “A roof is a lot like a car. If you don’t do some maintenance, it will not hold its value.”
Most building owners anticipate that their new roofing systems will last 20 to 25 years. In the real world, however, those roofs are lasting 10 to 15 years, primarily because building management often is not willing to plan routine maintenance and inspections of the rooftop into their budgets.
An advantage of a good service and maintenance program is that it provides documentation of roofing deficiencies, their causes and how damage can be prevented. And it helps the building owner or facility executive determine when the roof has reached the end of its useful life.
“Let’s say your current roof’s estimated replacement value is $300,000 and that it’s good for 10 years,” explains Terry Mudge, generalRoofing. “So each year that roof’s average cost is $30,000. An inspection of the roof on a three-year plan lists immediate repairs needed this year, preventive measures to extend the life of the roof for next year and the third.
“This goes on,” Mudge continues, “until an extrapolation of the roof’s needs indicates that over those three years, the owner will need to spend more than $90,000, for example. At that point, we will probably ask him or her if they wish to replace the roof rather than continue to repair it, because now the repairs are not as cost effective.
Pay close attention to your contractor’s written work proposal, but don’t stop there as you go about evaluating whether or not you have the right organization for the roofing job.
- Check for liability insurance and workers’ compensation coverage.
- Check for a permanent address, telephone number and a company tax I.D. number
- Check for proper licensing and bonding procedures.
- Obtain a list of references
- Does the contractor have an established internal safety program?
- Workmanship warranties?
- Does the contractor offer an on-going, post-installation maintenance program?
A Partner for the Life Cycle of Your Roof ... and Beyond
The largest supplier and installer of commercial and industrial roofing services in the world, generalRoofing offers a full line of roofing services, from installation on new construction through reroofing an existing facility — with an emphasis on caring for the roof, regardless of where the owner is in the roof system’s life cycle. generalRoofing’s roofCare suite of repair and maintenance services are designed to extend the life of a roof beyond its usual life cycle.
Founded in 1999, generalRoofing consists of leading commercial roofing companies with a shared goal of becoming the leading nationwide provider of roofing services in the commercial roofing industry.
generalRoofing’s national network of companies, as well as its alliances with qualified roofing contractors, brings proven expertise and time-tested craftsmanship to every generalRoofing job site. With more than 800 vehicles and crews working in all parts of the country, generalRoofing can ensure all customer facilities are properly maintained, no matter where they may be located.
In addition to being fully versed in all commercial roofing types, generalRoofing’s full service line covers roof inspections, maintenance, repairs, restoration, replacement and new roof installation. Maintenance includes the physical inspection of an existing roofing system to determine its current condition, detect weaknesses and failures and identify any potential future problems. Through a program of regularly scheduled annual or semi-annual inspections, generalRoofing technicians assist building owners and facility executives in protecting their roofing investments by finding roof damage in its early stages.
EXTENDING ROOF LIFE CYCLE
Restoration is designed to extend a roof’s life and involves major repairs, including the sealing of all penetrations and resurfacing of the roof to restore it to serviceable condition. This step normally occurs two to three years prior to an existing roof’s life cycle, before significant damage occurs. As many as 10 years can be added to the useful life of a roof through restoration, and, typically, the cost of restoration is 50 percent less than the cost of reroofing.
Through regularly scheduled maintenance and repair programs, generalRoofing advises its clients when their roofs are approaching the end of their 14-year average life cycle. When a roofing system fails, reroofing becomes necessary. generalRoofing performs reroofing only when all repair and restoration alternatives are incapable of bringing the roof back to serviceable condition or when the customer requests reroofing.
Critical Q & A
Prominent members of major roofing organizations across the country were asked to offer their insight regarding critical roofing specification challenges and opportunities faced by today’s facility executive.
1. What are some dos and don’ts when it comes to managing a new roof or reroof project?
Whether preparing for a moon launch or reroofing a building, project, management is essential to meeting goals, maximizing quality and minimizing expenditures. After selecting a qualified roofing contractor, the building owner or facility executive needs to insist on a preconstruction meeting with all stakeholders to discuss and agree upon the job schedule, material deliveries, access point to the roof and protective measures for the building and grounds.
“Project management is a critical part of the roof,” says Richard Nugent, generalRoofing. “Every installation mistake made on a roof is easily a leak.”
Building owners and facilities executives should demand to see new roof designs and specifications on paper prior to awarding a roofing contract, according to Nugent. “A number of building owners” he says, “still put on multimillion dollar roofs and trust that job to the lowest bidder.
“Your roofing contractor should have the manufacturer involved in the process. In fact, a number of manufacturers will offer free inspections during the installation because it’s in the manufacturer’s best interest to see that the roof is installed correctly and not just put down in a haphazard manner.”
2. What are the critical issues facing the roofing industry today and how do they impact building owners and facility executives?
generalRoofing’s Nugent believes labor is a critical issue facing the roofing industry today. “The greatest roofing is only as good as the guys installing it,” he says. “You want to make sure the roofing contractor you hire has trained, safe, qualified labor and that the contractor treats his or her employees as professionals, because that assures you of a better roof.”
Professionalism of the roofing industry also concerns John Larimer, president/CEO of generalRoofing. “I blame the problem as much on building owners willing to settle for the cheapest solution as on the contractors who didn’t offer a better long-term solution,” says Larimer.
“If you base your decision purely on the lowest price, the project is fraught with danger,”he says “For a roofing project, you really want to draw up a long-term contract and to develop a partnership with your roofing contractor. It’s the roofing contractor’s due diligence and regular inspections and repairs that protect the building owner — not that piece of paper called a warranty.”
The image of the commercial roof is an issue for Michael McClain, generalRoofing. Because the roof is out of site, it often is forgotten until serious problems occur. “Building owners don’t spend time understanding their roof, even though its function is far more important than many other elements in the building,” says McClain.
The economic slowdown concerns Fritz Holland, Sr., generalRoofing. “The impact on the building owner is two-fold,” says Holland. “The good news is most building owners may benefit from competitive roofing prices right now because the market is tightening. But the lower prices also mean building owners will need to watch roofing contractors to make sure corners aren’t being cut in materials and specifications.”
3. How is the roofing product decision making process different from specifying other building products?
There are many types of roofs available today. Each of these generic types of commercial roofing is produced by a number of manufacturers and each of these offers multiple options for finishing the roof.
To make the roof details work together as a cohesive shield from weather’s blazing sun and freeze-thaw cycles requires a professional roofing contractor who knows how to make related and unrelated materials work together.
Everyone can buy pipe, but that doesn’t make them plumbers. In the same way, you can specify roofing products, but you need to understand a number of important factors before choosing one type over another. For instance, how much foot traffic will the rooftop experience? How much slope is on the roof? Is it visible from the street? What weight can the decking handle? Where in the country are you located?
4. What are the most common facility executive and building owner misconceptions regarding roofing technology and applications?
“One misconception is really a misunderstanding,” says Thomas E. Brown, Jr., generalRoofing. “For example, the building owner may want a single-ply roof and assume one single-ply system is much the same as another.”
Another misconception is that once a roof is fixed, it can be ignored until it leaks again. “That approach leads to a missed opportunity,” says Brown. “An active, on-going maintenance program that monitors serviceability can keep facilities executives ahead of the curve and get more service life out of the roof.”
“In the building stage, if the building is running over budget, the first place many building owners think to cut money is the roof,” says Greg Thompson, estimator for generalRoofing. “If you want 20-plus years from your roofing investment, you need excellent design, high quality installation and an ongoing professional maintenance program. Then you will have a leak-free environment in any weather situation.
“The best materials cannot compensate for inadequate or inept installation, particularly in an area as exposed as roofing is.”