Roofing Right

Dec. 5, 2001
Isn’t it about time we stopped treating roofing as a commodity?

By Brian J. Whelan

It's amazing that in spite of its obvious importance, the roof is typically the first area of construction that is compromised or sacrificed to reduce cost. There are three critical components in creating a roof that will work: expert design, selection of proven materials, and skillful workmanship. The roofing team must work together to ensure a successful installation.

Far too often, roofing specifications utilize language such as "follow Factory Mutual and manufacturer's recommendations," or "follow manufacturer's details." This kind of vagueness will typically result in the contractor having to make design decisions and choosing the least-cost alternative.

All roofs are different, and no one product or system satisfies the unique needs of every roofing project. Owners might want to consider the following suggestions when planning a new or reroofing project:

• Establish the importance of the roof to the building and operation. Consider the impact of lost productivity or product from a leak or failed roof. Reroofing an occupied building can be stressful, especially if the existing roofing must be removed. Establish how long the roof needs (is expected) to perform.
• Do you have the time and expertise to choose the right roof, create specifications and details, handle the bidding process, select the contractor, and oversee the roof installation? If the answer is "no," hire a qualified roofing consultant and seek help from a reputable manufacturer.
• Establish a realistic budget for the roof installation. Take into consideration the average life of the roof, energy savings, maintenance costs, and disposal costs. Your roofing decision should be based on overall life-cycle cost, not just initial installed cost.

When selecting the roof system, learn as much as you can about each manufacturer you are considering:

• What is the manufacturer's history and track record? How long have they been around and how have their products performed? How long has their ownership been in place? How often have they changed their materials' formulation?
• Is the manufacturer financially strong and stable?
• Does the manufacturer actually produce the roof membrane or do they private label from someone else?
• Ask for project references in the climate of your project and call owners to learn their degree of satisfaction with the system.
• If single ply, what is the overall polymer thickness of the membrane? If built-up roof, what type and how many plies are expected?
• Ask what kinds of field technical and inspection services each manufacturer provides.
• Request and review manufacturer warranties. What is covered and what isn't? Select a warranty based on its coverage, not on the number of years it's in force.
• Does the manufacturer have a separate warranty fund or do they take in income each year? Does the manufacturer have the financial wherewithal to cover major warranty claims?

Selecting the type of roof for your building is one of the most important decisions you will make for your business. You should treat your roof as an investment, not as a cost. Your roof investment of typically $3-$5/square foot (sf) is protecting your daily operations, your ceiling (typically $1.50/sf), your carpet or flooring (typically $1-$8/sf), not to mention your computers, etc.

Don't compromise or treat your roof as a commodity. Demand performance for your roof. Can you afford anything less?

Brian J. Whelan is vice president of Sales and Marketing at Sarnafil Inc. (, with U.S. headquarters in Canton, MA.

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