Following instructions

Manufacturers' installation instructions present applicator challenges

Roofing manufacturers often provide product information and roof system installation instructions to instruct applicators of the specific manufacturers' intended installation methods. Also, installation according to manufacturers' instructions is a specific requirement for compliance with most building codes.

In 2016, NRCA established its Installation Instructions Review Task Force to review manufacturers' installation instructions and provide manufacturers with input and suggestions for improvement. A specific objective of the task force is to make manufacturers' installation instructions more useful to field personnel.

Code requirements

Chapter 15 of the International Building Code,® 2018 Edition (IBC® 2018) states: "… Roof coverings shall be applied in accordance with this chapter and the manufacturer's installation instructions. Installation of roof coverings shall comply with the applicable provisions of Section 1507."

The International Residential Code,® 2018 Edition (IRC® 2018) contains similar provisions, as well as previous editions of IBC and IRC.

Building codes are written for a broad audience of users (regulators and code officials; building owners; designers; material, product and system manufacturers; and contractors) to define the minimum legal requirements for building construction. Building codes generally are not written as how-to instructions for field personnel to achieve building code compliance.

The building codes' requirements for roofing product and roof system applications to be installed according to manufacturers' installation instructions are intended, in part, to bridge the gap between the building code and specific how-to instructions for field personnel. For example, instructions should include manufacturer-specific installation methods required by any code-required testing or certifications, such as fire resistance or wind-uplift resistance.

NRCA's review

Since its formation, NRCA's Installation Instructions Review Task Force has reviewed a limited number of manufacturers' installation instructions for seam-fastened, mechanically attached TPO membrane roof systems; adhered EPDM membrane roof systems; and specific cover boards. Following are some of the task force's general observations:

  • Accessibility of installation instructions varies greatly among manufacturers. Some manufacturers make their installation instructions readily accessible online while others' installation instructions are more difficult to obtain. Some manufacturers print installation manuals to better facilitate field usage, which appears to be useful. One downside of printed installation instruction documents is users are not aware whether a printed document has been superseded with updated information.
  • The formats for presenting installation instructions also vary. Some manufacturers use CSI's three-part format while others use outline, step-by-step, narrative or illustrative formats. Some consistency among manufacturers would be helpful to field personnel.
  • Most installation instructions are presented in English only, and few manufacturers have installation instructions available in non-English languages. Given a noteworthy percentage of the U.S. roofing industry's field personnel speak a language other than English as their primary language, the need for installation instructions in Spanish and other non-English languages seems obvious.
  • The overall lengths of instructions vary greatly among manufacturers. For example, one manufacturer's installation instructions are 156 pages while a competitive manufacturer's instructions for the same roof system type are only 11 pages. Another manufacturer markets a similar roof system to big-box retailers for the do-it-yourself market and offers a 46-page, illustrated, pocket-sized installation booklet.
  • The content included in installation instructions varies. Installation instructions should be intended for field personnel and contain installation-specific, how-to information. However, many installation instructions also contain roof system design and product selection instructions. Product selection and system decisions are usually outside of the responsibility of roofing contractors' field personnel. Manufacturers' product selection and system design instructions are best addressed in documents separate from installation instructions.

NRCA's task force has met with a number of manufacturers to discuss its observations. Individual meetings with Carlisle Construction Materials, Carlisle, Pa., and Firestone Building Products Co. LLC, Nashville, Tenn., have been particularly constructive. Additional manufacturer meetings will take place during NRCA's Fall Committee Meetings Nov. 13-16 in Chicago.

NRCA's review of manufacturers' installation instructions is intended to be an ongoing, long-term undertaking addressing all common roofing products and systems. NRCA looks forward to working with manufacturers in this effort.

Mark S. Graham is NRCA's vice president of technical services.

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