Credibility Check
A consultant can help avoid roofing pitfalls
if you've done some research.

Karen Warseck,  AIA

M ecause of the complexity of roofing materials, installation options, budget requirements - choosing a roof can become an exercise in frustration. Contractors' bids often arrive describing all kinds of systems, from the familiar built-up roofing to single-ply alphabet soups, at all kinds of prices.

A roofing consultant can help focus your efforts on the best value - if you've spent as much care in selecting the consultant as you would your roof.

To assure that the consultant is competent, examine the professional credentials of candidates. Look for someone with experiences throughout building construction, not just in roofing. Many times, leaks have nothing to do with the roof - they may be from walls, windows, joints, or other components of the building.

Don't make the mistake of looking only for experience with similar building types. Rather, look for experience with similar building configurations. A 10-story office tower in the central business district has much less in common with a four-story suburban office building than it does with a 12-story condo.

Check for educational background and any continuing education. Professional registration as a licensed architect or engineer, not just certification provided by trade associations, is one way of demonstrating a level of competency. In some states, architectural registration is required to practice roof consulting.

Seek consultants who have a balance between education and field experience. Consultants without field experience lack knowledge of practical applications, while those who lack formal education may not know the theory behind the design of building systems. And, no matter the background of a consultant, those who have not attended continuing education seminars may not know the latest techniques and materials.

The building owner should always inquire about affiliations with manufacturers, materials suppliers, and contractors. These affiliations have built-in conflicts of interest and not to disclose them at the outset is unethical. Such "consultants" could have a bias toward specifying products that they provide.

Beware especially of companies offering "free" services, who may then bury the costs of these services into the costs of specified materials - as much as 25 percent higher than comparable materials. A consultant should know many different types and brands of roofing systems, not just a few manufacturers. Ask to see their office and check out their building product literature library. Is it complete and up-to-date?

Ask to see documents prepared for previous projects and have the consultant explain how he or she arrived at particular recommendations. Are the documents understandable, clearly written, and organized? Do the documents contain detailed drawings to show how to install work not easily described verbally? Do they cover unusual conditions not included in the manufacturer's standard details? If they do not, they are worthless; you could copy standard details yourself. If the installation instructions only say, "follow manufacturer's recommendations," beware. Manufacturers' instructions are generic and may not be completely suitable for every situation. It may mean the consultant doesn't know how the system is installed or is merely photocopying work from another project.

Finally, always check references. Ask for references of roof installations three to five years old. More recent references might not include projects in which problems later developed. References older than five years, on the other hand, might include projects in which roofing maintenance - not the consultant's recommendations - later resulted in problems.

A consultant can be the perfect solution to wading through the roofing quagmire yourself - or may be your worst nightmare. A thorough credentials check can help you pick the right consulting professional, and indirectly, the right roof.

Consult this list when investigating a potential roofing consultant. Look for these items:

  • Professional education.
  • Professional registration appropriate to state and other requirements.
  • Continuing education.
  • Demonstrated balance between field and formal education.
  • Clear and complete documents.
  • Roof-related outside affiliations.
  • References from projects three to five years ago.
  • Experience with similar building configurations.
  • Understanding of the building as a whole, rather than just the roof.
  • Wide knowledge of materials options.

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Karen Warseck, AIA. CSI, is president of Building Diagnostics® Associates, a Hollywood. Fla., firm that specializes in the analysis of roofing and waterproofing problems.

This article was reprinted from the October 1997 issue of Buildings magazine.

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