During the 2013 International Roofing Expo,® I moderated an NRCA panel that explored the relationships between roofing contractors and roof consultants. Although such a topic cannot be fully addressed in 90 minutes, the panel, which included an experienced roofing contractor and roof consultant, raised many interesting issues, some of which follow.
During the panel discussion, a roofing contractor in the audience inquired why there seems to be a wide range of competency and roofing experience among the roof consultants with whom he works. There are many reasons why this seems to be the case.
Roof consultants generally are not required to be licensed by the state or jurisdiction where they practice and can have a wide range of backgrounds. Unlike a professional engineer or architect, a roof consultant does not have the authority to provide a professional stamp for construction documents or permits.
Most commonly, roof consultants are former roofing contractors, have forensic or building envelope investigation experience, or have worked for a roofing products manufacturer. Some may have come from outside the roofing industry but have experience with another type of construction or were trained by an experienced roof consultant. Some licensed engineers or architects specialize in building-envelope issues (sometimes called forensic architects or forensic engineers) and call themselves roof consultants. Also, some roofing contractor firms may offer consulting services though typically not for clients for whom they are installing roof systems.
RCI Inc. is an international association of professional consultants, architects and engineers who specialize in specifying and designing roof, waterproofing and exterior wall systems. RCI offers two professional registrations for roof consultants: Registered Roof Observer (RRO) and Registered Roof Consultant (RRC).
To become an RRO, an applicant must earn a satisfactory score on a multiple-choice exam that tests knowledge of roof observation principles. According to RCI's website, test questions include knowledge about built-up, single-ply, asphalt shingle, wood, spray polyurethane foam, tile, metal and slate roof systems.
To become an RRC, an applicant must document prior experience and education that includes at least four years of roof consulting experience and at least 70 hours of continuing education. Those who can substantiate the application requisites must pass an exam. According to RCI's website, part one of the test includes a multiple-choice section addressing ethics, roof condition surveys, audits or investigations, communications, testing, codes and standards, materials, construction documents, bid phase and construction phase. Part two of the test includes 56 design questions.
RCI includes references in the RRO and RRC exam study guides to The NRCA Roofing Manual and other NRCA publications. At press time, some RCI study guides reference 12-year-old NRCA publications or ones that no longer are available. RCI is in the process of updating outdated NRCA publication references.
Often, an RRO will act as a rooftop observer during roof system installations. Sometimes, an RRO is under the supervision of a more experienced roof consultant, such as an RRC or a forensic architect or engineer, and the two work as a team. If a roof consulting firm is hired for full-time observation during a roof system installation, it is common for an RRO to be on-site every day while the more experienced consultant will make periodic visits or be called on-site to address specific situations when a more experienced person is needed.
It also was noted that, similar to a roofing contractor, a roof consultant may be quite knowledgeable about some types of roof systems but have minimal or no experience with other types.
Some of the most animated discussions during the session revolved around construction submittals and the submittal review process. Most roofing contractors can recount a construction submittal horror story or situation where the submittal process was not managed optimally. The main purpose of requiring construction submittals is for a roofing contractor to demonstrate an understanding of the technical and material requirements contained within the construction documents that pertain to the scope of the roofing work. For projects where more than one acceptable manufacturer or system is specified, the submittals indicate to the roof consultant what material or system has been selected by the roofing contractor.
In the construction industry, many general submittal requirements are contained within or are based on The American Institute of Architects' Document A201, "General Conditions of the Contract for Construction." The
2007 edition is the most current. A201 requires a contractor review and approve submittals before issuing them for outside review. The contractor also must determine and verify the materials listed in submittals and verify field measurements and field construction criteria related to submittals. Also, the contractor must check and coordinate information contained in a submittal with the work requirements and contract documents.
In addition, the contractor is expected to receive an approval from the submittal reviewer before performing work. A201 also indicates a contractor is not relieved of responsibility for deviations from contract document requirements that may be part of an approved submittal unless another document, such as a change order, is executed to officially modify the roofing contractor's scope of work.
As any roofing contractor can attest, the submittal process often is more complex than the language in A201 seems to imply. In many cases, a roofing contractor must rely on a general contractor or subcontractor to provide information or sequence work in such a way so complete field measurements can be taken or compatibility issues can be explored.
Often, a roofing contractor must make some assumptions when preparing submittals. In light of the submittal language in A201, a roofing contractor may be able to alleviate potential problems by including a statement with the submittal indicating what information was unavailable at the time of submittal preparation. Such disclaimers may alert the roof consultant to issues in need of resolution and, in some cases, elicit the roof consultant's assistance to resolve them.
The timing of construction submittal submissions and amount of time it takes for a submittal reviewer to return submittals was another area of intense conversation during the panel discussion. After being awarded a contract, A201 requires a contractor to prepare and submit submittals promptly, and the submittal reviewer's approval should not be unreasonably delayed or withheld.
Sometimes, a roofing contractor may consider requesting an increase in contract sum or extension of contract time based on the time taken by the submittal reviewer to return submittals. Generally, a contractor will be in a better position to present this argument if a submittal schedule was issued by the contractor at the beginning of the project, indicating when submittals must be approved for the contractor to meet construction schedule requirements.
During the panel discussion, the roof consultant was asked why rooftop observers with less experience often conduct roof construction observations when more experienced roof consulting staff is available. The roof consultant explained projects are staffed based on a number of factors, including cost. Roof consultants typically are compensated on an hourly basis and, based on the complexity of the required tasks, consulting firms schedule more experienced staff members with higher salaries and less experienced staff with lower salaries in accordance with a project's overall budget.
Some roofing contractors in the audience noted a less experienced person may not always be able to provide clarification of the contract requirements when needed, especially when unexpected conditions are encountered. The roof consultant suggested establishing contact with the senior consultant at the beginning of the project and agreeing on a method of communication ahead of time so the senior consultant can be contacted for clarification when necessary.
The panel's roof consultant stressed that having less experience does not mean a person is not qualified to perform the tasks assigned. A rooftop observer will conduct observations on a part-time or full-time basis during the roof system installation and prepare a field report each day he or she is on the job site. These field reports typically list how much work was completed by the roofing contractor on a given day, as well as practices and installations not in accordance with the contract documents.
It is good practice for the rooftop observer to have a single point of contact on the roofing crew (often the foreman) so concerns raised by the observer are reported swiftly and efficiently to the roofing contractor.
It generally is in the best interest of the roof consultant and roofing contractor to have concerns addressed immediately so nonconforming work is minimized and corrected. This practice also keeps misunderstandings to a minimum. When unexpected conditions are encountered, they should be documented and communicated to the roof consultant so contract documents can be changed if necessary to address the discovered conditions. Generally, additional documentation (such as a change order) is required to officially incorporate a change into the roofing contractor's scope of work.
The practice of simply recording rooftop conditions in the rooftop observer's field report so the construction contract can be adjusted later often causes conflict at the end of a project. The realities of construction sometimes require an accounting delay for work changes, so establishing a procedure for quantifying work changes as soon as possible after unexpected conditions are discovered is almost always in a roofing contractor's best interest.
Building enclosure commissioning
During the panel discussion, it was mentioned roof consultants sometimes are hired to review a roof system's design and installation independent of the construction team. This typically occurs on high-profile projects or as part of a high-performance building program. In recent years, this practice has become known as Building Enclosure Commissioning (BECx). A building enclosure includes a building's roof and exterior walls.
In 2012, ASTM International published ASTM E2813-12, "Standard Practice for Building Enclosure Commissioning," which provides protocols for an independent review of building enclosure elements that are part of the construction documents, with the purpose of ensuring the constructed building enclosure meets or exceeds the owner's project requirements.
During construction, the building enclosure commissioning agent (BECxA) may make site inspections independently of the project roof consultant and may conduct performance testing to evaluate the performance and durability of enclosure materials, components, systems and assemblies. Depending on the scope of a particular project, the BECxA team generally includes roof consultants or licensed professionals with expertise in building enclosures.
The result of this process is roofing contractors need to interact with BECxA and roof consultant teams. Roofing contractors may be required to provide specific submittals for the BECxA or provide access or otherwise facilitate access to the work areas. If BECxA-specific submittals are not required, a longer submittal review time generally will be needed so the BECxA also can review project submittals and provide comments. Ideally, the BECxA provides an additional point of view for the project that can lead to a better finished product for the owner. However, NRCA has concerns this process can create a burden for roofing contractors when not managed properly.
Traditionally, commissioning has focused on mechanical and electrical building systems. In some cases, firms that offer commissioning services for mechanical and electrical building systems lack the expertise to evaluate building enclosures and, therefore, hire building enclosure professionals as subconsultants to accommodate requirements for BECx.
This dynamic adds complexity to the commissioning process because BECx begins much earlier in the construction process compared with when the commissioning of mechanical or electrical systems typically occurs. Including BECx expands the length of time needed during construction for commissioning, a fact general contractors or owners may not anticipate. There also can be problems when BECx only is partially executed.
ASTM E2813-12 includes eight construction project phases when commissioning activities are conducted: pre-design, design, schematic design, design development, construction documentation, pre-construction, construction, and occupancy and operations. If BECxAs are active with projects in all eight phases, they likely are familiar with the peculiarities of projects and well-positioned to coordinate with an owner's roof consultant throughout the construction process.
In addition to peer-review duties, BECxAs typically review submittals, attend pre-construction meetings for work items related to the building enclosure, review roofing-related construction mock-ups, conduct field observations and potentially test building enclosure elements. Most likely, this level of involvement gives BECxAs insight into a design team's decisions and resolutions of roofing-related requests for information by roofing contractors, as well as lessons learned from field mock-ups. Roofing contractors typically benefit from this process because BECxAs understand and have been part of determining why things are done on a particular project. This information is critical when reviewing installed roofing-related elements.
Of course, fully scoped BECx as described in ASTM E2813-12 is costly and often a victim of value engineering. From a belief that some commissioning is better than no commissioning, sometimes the use of partially scoped BECx can lead to unintended problems.
A common result is the BECxA team is brought onto a project after a roof system design has been finalized or bid or after roofing work has begun. A BECxA may even be in the difficult position of trying to commission a design he or she does not fully support. Roofing contractors often are the losers in this situation because designs, details and work based on contract documents and planned by a contractor can suddenly be called into question.
The effort and related cost to satisfy roof consultants and BECxAs when roofing contractors must revisit decisions made before the BECxA team became active on a project rarely is accommodated by a roofing contractor's original bid price or planned construction schedule. ASTM E2813-12 is based on the BECxA team being active during the design, not after a design has been finalized.
Obviously, not all relevant items could be addressed during the panel discussion, but it is interesting a few themes surfaced. For one, the importance of communication often was discussed. Establishing an open line of communication with roof consultants and rooftop observers can help alleviate problems and build a rapport that especially is important when complex or unforeseen conditions ariseas they often do. Also, if important information is confusing, conflicting or not available when needed, communication should occur as soon as possible. Sometimes, roof consultants can be instrumental when resolving issues because it usually is in their best interests to do so.
Another recurring theme throughout the panel discussion was the importance of understanding project requirements and questioning requirements that seem problematic. Sometimes, important information appears outside roofing-related technical documents. Being aware of a project's administrative provisions documents is important.
Often, information related to submittal submission and BECx is found in the administrative (sometimes called the "front end") section of the construction specification. Failing to review these requirements before committing to a price for a project can be costly. Also, if the requirements seem unreasonable or likely to cause issues later, it may be in a roofing contractor's interest to seek clarification or issue a request for information before committing to a price or submitting a bid.
Continuing the conversation
Generally, it is best to resolve problems at the beginning of the process. Pay special attention to BECx or similar programs. If partially scoped BECx is used or BECx is added after you have committed to a price or a bid amount, proceed with caution.
NRCA hopes to conduct similar panel discussions in the future so these types of conversations with roof consultants continue. Continuing the dialogue benefits roofing contractors and improves collaborations with roof consultants.
Jason P. Wilen, AIA, CDT, RRO, is an NRCA director of technical services.