Roofing Systems: How Your Choices Have Changed

Sept. 29, 2014

A look at 50 years of roofing innovation.

Back in 1964, Max Baker of the National Research Council of Canada’s Division of Building Research published a digest on new roofing systems. Each digest in that series dealt with just one topic relating to one aspect of building research. This month, let’s look back at Digest 49, published in 1964, when the first generation of single-ply flexible roofing was just gaining traction.

Emerging Developments in 1964
Roofing professionals had to learn a new vocabulary. Beyond bituminous roofing, which had been dominant up to that date, the market now featured elastomeric materials such as neoprene, silicone, butyl and chlorobutyl rubber, polyisobutylene, Hypalon, and Tedlar, and thermoplastics such as polyvinylchloride (PVC), chlorinated polyethylene (CPE), ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), and ketone ethylene ester (KEE). Polymeric modifications to asphalt and coal tar pitch (MB) also emerged.

Many of these polymeric systems were non-reinforced or internally reinforced with scrim, or in some cases used a backing such as fleece. New techniques for attachment, such as ballasted and mechanically attached systems, joined the fully adhered bituminous roof systems.

Several manufacturers of roofing in this generation relied upon Weatherometers to accelerate the weather process, since the products were new and were expected to last for 15-20 years. From personal experience, polyisobutylene worked well in the Weatherometer, but not on actual roofs.

In many cases, the new products were already in service in Europe, where the price of petroleum was much higher than in the U.S.  These new polymeric products were in most cases just a single layer of membrane, while most MB membranes were two-ply. As Baker points out in his textbook:

Some of the advantages claimed for most new materials are lightness, high elasticity, resistance to traffic, high chemical and weather resistance, ease of application on complicated slopes, ease of repair, and for many of the products one or even several or all of these advantages apply.

 Factors that exist for new as well as for old materials, however, are often forgotten or ignored and these include building movement, construction moisture, the effect of trapping moisture, and construction conditions in relation to workmanship. New materials often introduce new factors such as dependence on thin layers of adhesive to provide water tightness at narrow joints, and often a level of perfection in application that may not always be easy to obtain.

By 1972, the roofing industry recognized that these factors required more education and hands-on exposure, with the introduction of the Built-up Roofing Systems Institute (BURSI),

later changed to the Better Understanding of Roofing Institute. Many manufacturers followed suite, leading to the formation of the Roofing Industry Educational Institute (RIEI) in 1979. In addition to the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association, SPRI was formed in 1981 to represent sheet membrane and related component suppliers. By the time Baker’s book was published in 1980, there were available in Canada at least 100 different roofing products that might be described as new.

Emerging Developments in 2014

Richard (Dick) L. Fricklas

Richard (Dick) L. Fricklas, received a Lifetime Achievement Award and fellowship from RCI in 2014 in recognition of his contributions to educating three generations of roofing professionals. A researcher, author, journalist, and educator, Fricklas retired as technical director emeritus of the Roofing Industry Educational Institute in 1996. He is co-author of The Manual of Low Slope Roofing Systems (now in its fourth edition) and taught roofing seminars at the University of Wisconsin, in addition to helping develop RCI curricula. His honors include the Outstanding Educator Award from RCI, William C. Cullen Award and Walter C. Voss Award from ASTM, the J. A. Piper Award from NRCA, and the James Q. McCawley Award from the MRCA. Dick holds honorary memberships in both ASTM and RCI Inc.

ASTM International Committee D08 on Roofing and Waterproofing was not idle during this time, but in some cases it took 20 years or more to finally publish a product standard, such as the one for TPO, first issued in 2003. Now, following the leadership of Max Baker and now Dr. Ralph Paroli, ASTM is currently working on such issues as sustainability:

The proposed standard embraces the fact that the primary purpose of the roofing system is to protect the top of the structure over the course of the roof’s design life, and that sustainable considerations such as the use of the roof for water collection, vegetation, photovoltaics or the use of newer or recycled products deemed environmentally friendly must not sacrifice this key aspect.

The increased focus on greening the built environment has also resulted in the development of RoofPoint. This voluntary consensus-based green rating system was created by the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing to provide a means for building owners and designers to select non-residential roof systems based on long-term energy and environmental benefits.

ASTM D6630 (Standard Guide for Low Slope Insulated Roof Membrane Assembly Performance) reminds us that a roof assembly must work as a system. Per the ASTM Book of Standards, volume 04.04:

Any component of the roof assembly demonstrating an inherent weakness or inability to perform will diminish the roof system performance and service life expected.

In August’s Roofing Results column, Helene Hardy Pierce warned us about the pitfalls of new roofing influences, such as installing photovoltaics on our roofs, changes in fire and wind performance on roofs when considerable thermal insulation is used, and the effects of moisture migration. As Baker and Hardy Pierce have cautioned us, we certainly need to pay more attention to regional climate influences, such as hail impact, cool roofs, and vegetated roof systems, rather than just their chemistry.  

Avoid Roofing Condensation Issues
Beware: these situations can lead to costly repairs.

5 Strategies for Managing an Aging Roof Portfolio
Create an action plan by evaluating staff, funding, and physical conditions.

Calculating the Lifecycle Cost of a Roof
Answers for the most common roof questions.

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