Avoiding Miscues


Karen Warseck,  AIA

Like a good football team, a roofing project team relies on cooperation and a game plan to succeed. Each member of the team makes an important contribution toward assuring a quality roof. The members of the team are:

The owner.   Like the owner of a football team, the building owner hires the team members and pays the costs. Like football franchisees, the owner may or may not take a more active role, depending on his or her expertise and prior experience with roofing projects. The owner initiates the roofing project, sometimes on his or her own, sometimes on the advice of a contractor or consultant. Like the owner of a football team, the building owner expects to receive a substantial payback - a roof that will remain watertight for a long time.

Architect/engineer.   The design professional is the team coach, providing guidance and direction in the project. The consultant acts as a liaison between the owner and the contractor in getting the best performance possible from all of the players.

The consultant designs the new roof and provides the construction documents that form the basis of the team play. This includes choosing and specifying the proper materials for each individual building, designing details for situations not found in the manufacturer's standard details, determining code and insurance requirements, and providing an assembly that will comply.

In addition, the roof consultant sometimes recommends contractors and puts the project out to bid, administers the contract for construction, provides an onsite project representative to observe construction, and resolves disputes and questions.

The materials manufacturer.   The materials manufacturer is the quarterback. He or she works with the design professional to provide the proper design and choice of materials with which the contractor will work. The main responsibility of the membrane manufacturer is to produce a quality product that will properly fulfill the use for which it is intended.

The second most important responsibility is to provide details and specifications to the design professional that are accurate and work. The reputable manufacturer stands behind its warranties. The membrane manufacturer should also provide adequate contractor training.

The manufacturer's representatives' responsibility is to present the product in its best light in order to get it on the roof. Because of the their role as the liaison between the manufacturer and the contractor consultant, it is also their responsibility to know their products' uses and limitations and not suggest an inappropriate product. Manufacturer's representatives should also disclose any affiliations with particular roofing manufacturers when proposing a membrane material.

The contractor.   The contractor is both the offensive and defensive line. The contractor carries out the plays provided by the consultant to get to the goal - a successful roofing project. The contractor's responsibility is to install the roof according to the provisions of the contract, and to coordinate the work with subcontractors and ensure that they comply with the contract. The contractor is responsible for providing a sufficient number of adequately trained personnel to install the roof.

Unlike a football team, however, the responsibilities of an individual member of the roofing team are not always clearly defined or consistent. Sometimes, duties and responsibilities may overlap or the responsibilities of one member may be assumed by another. Most times, a contractor will also design the project. Sometimes the owner will assume the design. Sometimes the materials manufacturer or manufacturer's representative will provide the specifications for the project. Sometimes the contractor, materials supplier and roof consultant will all be the same entity. This means that the owner needs to be sure that there is no conflict of interest in the roof specification and installation.


Since there are no scouts or draft picks in roofing, and an owner cannot rely on high school stars to make up the roofing team, the selection becomes an investigation into their experience and expertise.

To assure that the consultant is competent, the building owner should examine the professional credentials of candidates - not only experience with roofing but also with total building construction. Professional registration as licensed architect or engineer, not just certification provided by trade associations, is one way of demonstrating a level of competency in the industry. In some states, architectural registration is required to practice roof consulting.

Beware of consultants who have no balance between education and field experience. Consultants who have no field experience lack knowledge of practical applications. Those who lack formal and continuing education do not know the theory and design of building systems.

Ask about affiliations with manufacturers, materials suppliers and contractors. These affiliations all have built-in conflicts of interest and not to disclose them at the outset is unethical. Using a consultant with such an outside interest may mean sacrificing the opportunity of receiving the most cost-effective or appropriate solution for the facility.

Ask to see documents prepared for previous projects and have the consultant explain what he or she did and why. Are the documents clearly written and organized? If the consultant cannot communicate to you the intent and content of the documents, the likelihood of it being communicated to others is low.

Do the documents contain detailed drawings to show the contractor how to install work not easily described verbally? Do they cover unusual conditions on the roof not included in the manufacturer's standard details? If the consultant's documents do not cover unusual conditions, they are worthless; the owner could copy standard details him or herself.

If the installation instructions only say "follow manufacturer's printed specifications," beware. It may mean the consultant doesn't know how the system is to be installed or is merely photocopying work from another project.

When it comes to evaluating roofing contractors, check experience with similar roofing systems. Too many owners make the mistake of looking at experience with similar building types, i.e., condominiums, school buildings, office buildings, rather than looking at experience with similar building configurations, structural systems and roofing systems. A 20-story office building in the central business district has much less in common with a four-story suburban office building than it does with a 18-story condominium in a sea of high rise condos.

Experience with similar roofing systems is even more important when considering a contractor. If the owner will be installing, for example, a modified bitumen roof on an office building, the contractor's previous experience with a school with a modified bitumen roof is much more important than previous experience with an office building with a PVC roof. Check to see if the contractor is on the materials manufacturers' approved applicator list. Even if you are not requiring a warranty on the project, the approved applicator designation means the contractor has some familiarity with the installation of the material.

Here experience with similar building types with similar configurations is also important, because the contractor may not have the experience or personnel to handle high rise buildings or especially large buildings or other situations. When checking the experiences of the roofer's previous clients, be sure to call those who have roofs more than three years old. Most installation defects start to show up within the first three years.

Another important element in the acceptance of a contractor onto the roofing team is his or her business stability. How long has the contractor been in business under the same name? Has the business owner had other roofing contracting companies under different names? If so, how long did they last, and why did they go out of business? The owner needs to find out if the contractor is the kind of person who, rather than facing difficulties, declares bankruptcy and closes down.

If a license is required by the state or county, make sure that the contractor has it and that the license is current. Check trade references and bonding capacity. Do they pay cash or get credit for materials? If they are required to pay cash for materials, they may not have the financial stability to finish a project, leaving the owner with half a roof. They also may be using the money from one project to start working on another. Unless the owner wants to be financing someone else's project, steer clear. Even if the owner does not require a bond on the project, the ability to be bonded is evidence that the contractor has some reliability.


If the owner is also the roof designer, he or she should look carefully at the manufacturers of the roofing system before making a decision on the roof to install. The primary factor in selection of a roofing material is the particular requirements of the building. But once a choice is made, the decision must be made as to which manufacturers are acceptable.

First find out if they actually manufacture the materials or if they buy them from someone else and label them as their own. This may give you less than state-of-the-art materials and systems. Look for long term installations with few composition changes. Find out how many changes have been made to the product since inception and why the changes were made. If the composition of the materials changes frequently, the older systems are not holding up as long as they should. Your roof should not be an experiment for a roofing manufacturer. Find out the types of problem jobs they have had and to what they attribute the problems- workmanship, materials or environment.

As with contractors, the choice of manufacturer should also be based on stability. How long has the manufacturer been in business manufacturing roofing materials? Some manufacturers started out manufacturing other things and became roofing materials manufacturers as a side business. So if they say they have been in business for 100 years but, in truth, have been manufacturing roofing for only five, steer clear. Find out how many times the name of the company has changed and why it was necessary. Check out the assets owned by the company in the United States. If the bulk of the assets are foreign-owned, there may not be enough money in the United States to cover the warranty claims against the company and nothing to attach in a legal action.

Check to see if they have an approved applicator program. If they do, the manufacturer has a commitment to providing a quality installation by training the contractors who apply their materials, and they have made some attempt to weed out unacceptable contractors. But be cautious. Some approved applicator programs are no more than lists of contractors who apply a lot more materials than others, regardless of how well they install them.

Owners of professional football teams know that the best teams are those that work together. And so should roofing teams. The players must be chosen wisely to add their particular strengths to the team. They must be sure of the part they will play and be competent enough to play it. If the owner has examined the responsibilities of each of team member and has adequately investigated the players to be sure they can fulfill their obligations, the owner is well on the way to winning the roofing game - a long term, problem-free roof.

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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 February 1997 issue of Building Operating Management. For other great articles, log on to Facilities Net at http://www.facilitiesnet.com.

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