Roof Observers -- When and Why?

July 14, 2010
The role and value of the roofing observer are described in a new manual

With all the players in the game – building owners, designers, specification writers, general and subcontractors, material suppliers, and building codes and standards organizations – do we really need another party in the process?

This newsletter will attempt to clarify the role of roofing consultants, and roofing observers in particular, and their value prior to, during, and after completion of a roofing project.

RCI, Inc.’s recently released Manual of Practice provides a description of the role of roofing consultants: 

Roof consultants perform evaluations of existing roofs, plan roof design solutions, prepare construction documents, perform forensic inspections, monitor construction, and serve as expert witnesses. They possess a broad base of practical knowledge about the roofing industry at large. Many choose to focus their work and become experts on specific roofing system types and materials.

According to the Manual, a subspecialty of roof consulting is Quality Assurance Observers (QAO) who monitor the construction process:  

They strive to ensure that the project is constructed according to the contract documents. They work to ensure that proper application procedures are followed, and that criteria for validation of manufacturer’s warranties are met.

RCI offers registration programs for both registered roof consultants (RRC) and roof observers (RRO). Registration requires documentation of education and prior experience, completion of an examination, and recommendations by peers.

The RCI Manual emphasizes the requisite knowledge and understanding needed by a Quality Assurance Observer:

Observers are expected to have training, experience and familiarity with the project requirements and products being installed. The RCI recommendation is 400 hours of experience performing quality assurance of roofing construction or 400 hours of experience in technical services with the manufacturer or supplier, and a minimum of 2,000 hours of experience in building envelope construction. Observers need a thorough understanding of the manufacturer’s materials and installation   requirements. Specialized training or certification in QA observation should be completed through an industry-recognized organization specific to the observation obligations of the contract documents.

As I noted previously in an article in RSI Magazine, the presence of a roof observer may cause uneasiness for contractors:

Some roofing contractors may fear that the observer’s presence is a distinct threat to the smooth and rapid completion of a roof project. Others welcome qualified observation, knowing that by announcing this quality assurance process in bid documents, competitors are forewarned not to low-ball the bidding, as they will not be able to cheat on materials and workmanship to make it up.

Communication Is Key
For a project to be successful, it is vital that teams communicate effectively during every stage of the project. Each team needs to understand its responsibility and provide its expertise to the other project teams so that all facets of the project fit into place and flow smoothly, resulting in a successful project. As the Manual states, observers

  • do not make judgment calls on behalf of the owner or design authority;
  • must ensure their communications are factual and professional; and
  • know how to interact with other parties on the job and remain consistent with good behavior and careful observations.

The Manual also provides a number of suggested Construction Contract Administration forms and a CD useful for reproducing these digital forms.

ASTM D 7186, Standard Practice for Quality Assurance Observation of Roof Construction and Repair also contains sample forms for

  1. Record of Training & Experience
  2. Pre-construction Damage Report
  3. Material Delivery Examination Report
  4. Daily Construction Report, and
  5. Progress Summary and Unit Cost Tracking Report.

Observers at Work
Whether a reroof or a re-cover project, roofing is a complex subject. Among the many issues are determining what is on a roof, how it is used, how poor drainage will be corrected, how obsolete rooftop equipment will be removed, and whether the remaining curbs and penetrations will have sufficient clearance so that additional thermal insulation, if needed, can be added.

If there is no one in-house with the capability to make these determinations, then a qualified roof consultant may fit the bill. The consultant, in turn, may recommend a structural analysis if the weight of the new roof system will be significantly heavier than what is there (i.e., a ballasted roof system). If there is a suspicion that asbestos may be found in or under the existing systems, the consultant may recommend checking this out well before the reroofing begins, usually by a confirming laboratory analysis.

The consultant may offer sage advice to the designer of record in terms of roof system selection and detailing, and to the specifier in contract documents, thus emphasizing open lines of communication between all parties and the QAO.

As the project kick-off date approaches, the role of the RRO is expanded. Observation will include:

  • verification of condition of materials stored on-site and compliance with specification documents;
  • attendance at pre-job, progress and final inspection meetings;
  • presence at manufacturers’ site inspections; and
  • presence at building inspector site visits.

According to the Manual of Practice, the observer’s responsibilities “include the determination of whether the work is being performed in a manner that, when fully completed, will be in accordance with the contract documents.” The Manual states that observers are expected to:

  • have proper training by discipline, or area(s) of expertise, or both, in order to meet the quality assurance demands of the project;
  • observe timeliness of reporting issues and submission of reports;
  • maintain objectivity in execution job duties;
  • maintain consistency with inspections and reporting;
  • have a complete and thorough understanding of the contract documents and the construction types or systems designed;
  • note weather conditions, including precipitation and wind speeds;
  • maintain a continuous record of job progress;
  • observe and record conformance practices;
  • record deviations and resolutions;
  • maintain and record communications with the owner and general contractor and with subcontractors that have been designated to receive communications from the observer;
  • record personnel who are present on the job or who visit;
  • document the duration and date personnel are on-site; and
  • review and report, but not approve, changes in work or materials.

The Manual also clearly distinguishes the roles of the designer of record and the observer: 

The ultimate position of authority as it relates to the daily installation of materials of a specific project remains with the engineer or architect of record (A/E). The relationship with the A/E is structured such that the general status of compliance of the work is acknowledged and subsequently reported to all interested parties on a daily basis by the observer. It is not the responsibility of the observer to make decisions regarding unforeseen conditions, noncompliance issues, and deviations from design intent. The design authority will exercise authority in providing any additional clarifications, instructions, or changes in the contract to address these issues.

In short, the roof observer observes and communicates.

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