Think inside the box

Interior protection during reroofing should not be overlooked.

  • Reroofing projects requiring partial or complete tear-off of existing roof systems, coupled with the need to replace some or all existing decks, have created an increasing demand for dust and debris containment.Photo courtesy of TuffWrap Installations Inc., Harleysville, Pa.
  • Customers in the food and pharmaceutical sectors especially are sensitive to dust and debris contamination.Photo courtesy of TuffWrap Installations Inc., Harleysville, Pa.
  • Customers in the food and pharmaceutical sectors especially are sensitive to dust and debris contamination. Photo courtesy of TuffWrap Installations Inc., Harleysville, Pa.
  • Determining proper interior protection is critical. Larger chunks of debris, such as those shown here, typically require additional, specially designed debris netting.
Photo courtesy of TuffWrap Installations Inc., Harleysville, Pa.

So what does "protection" mean? Ask an average person, and you're likely to get any number of responses.

In roofing vernacular, protection might refer to the installation of a safety rail or making sure there's adequate liability insurance coverage to protect you and your customers from accidents, damages or injuries. Or it can mean something as simple as requiring workers to wear hard hats at job sites. Regardless of the definition, the word "protection" invariably implies a heightened sense of preparedness against risks. Ask most roofing contractors what project-related protection means to them, and they inevitably will think in terms of what precautions might be needed above the deck.

For the purposes of this article, I ask you to consider the subject of protection as it relates to circumstances that could occur below a roof deck. What is your sense of preparedness when it comes to under-deck protection? The considerations offered in this article will help establish a general understanding and appreciation for this growing technology.

The opportunity

Although most roofing contractors have at one time or another touched on the issue of interior protection with their customers, viable solutions often had been limited because of a lack of expertise and methodology. Until recently, roofing contractors looking for specialized protection services have had to rely on word-of-mouth referrals from other contractors.

If you haven't already, you eventually will run into a situation that requires a level of interior protection that goes beyond the simple process of draping some plastic over a customer's equipment. We have seen demand for interior protection rise during the past five years to the forefront of the roofing industry. The science of interior protection quickly is evolving into a legitimate, crucial component to the reroofing process, particularly in the commercial sector.

The increase in interior protection may be attributed to a heightened awareness regarding safety and environmental concerns. Reroofing projects requiring partial or complete tear-off of existing roof systems, coupled with the need to replace some or all existing decks, have created an increasing demand for dust and debris containment.

Customers in the food and pharmaceutical sectors especially are sensitive to dust and debris contamination throughout the manufacturing, production and packaging processes. With added pressure to conform to a litany of local, state and federal regulations regarding the manufacture of food and drug products, the subject of interior protection must become an integral part of a project's scope of work. Relying on clean environments, these companies cannot afford contamination to people, equipment and inventory.

The requirement for such services is not limited to the food and pharmaceutical industries. Many companies recognize the risk associated with dust and debris contamination created during the reroofing process. An intuitive roofing contractor or roof consultant will recognize this opportunity and make every effort to align himself with a company that specializes in interior protection.

Types of protection

It is important to differentiate between traditional fall-protection netting and netting used for interior protection.

Traditional fall-protection netting is designed to catch someone who might fall. Typically made of a high-tensile-strength nylon mesh, such protection systems incorporate a steel cable perimeter and are designed to protect someone in the event of a fall from significant heights.

Debris netting is a similar product designed to catch larger-sized debris, typically weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kg). Not requiring an extensive steel cable perimeter system, debris netting is 3- to 4-inch (76- to 102-mm) diamond pattern mesh that will capture larger pieces of material but does not contain the finer dust and debris particulate created during a roof system tear-off and replacement.

Dust and debris protection systems are designed to capture and contain lightweight particulate. Depending on the level of dust and debris containment required, a professionally installed interior protection system will prevent contamination to customers' equipment, inventory and personnel.

In typical applications, a nominal 6-mil- (0.006-inch- [0.15-mm-]) thick clear, reinforced polyethylene film is installed with tape, strapping and fasteners. A reputable interior protection specialist also will offer a variety of materials, including those that are flame-retardant, ultraviolet-resistant, antistatic and heavy-duty.

Although a dust and debris containment system cannot guarantee a watertight seal, it can help prevent water infiltration during a tear-off process. This may help a roofing contractor who has a section of exposed open deck and is in an area vulnerable to sudden rain showers.

Depending on the specific requirement, a variety of containment systems can be designed, including (but not limited to) suspended ceiling, vertical walls, bubbles, and drape and cover. A variety of systems also can be integrated into an interior protection system to accommodate operating exhaust fans, fresh-air returns and negative air pressure issues. A qualified interior protection specialist will have the experience to incorporate water diversion systems or high-efficiency particulate air filter units to "clean" the air before it is recirculated.

When do you need it?

Your customers invariably will have the final say as to when interior protection might be appropriate. If you are reroofing a food, pharmaceutical or electronic facility, chances are there will be a heightened sensitivity to interior protection. Typical roofing activities that may warrant interior protection include the removal of phenolic foam, asbestos, mechanically attached roof systems and roof decks.

Many contractors ignore and/or avoid any discussion about interior protection for fear the additional costs associated with the service will diminish their chances of getting a job. What they don't realize is that by not mentioning interior protection, they unknowingly assume responsibility without controlling the outcome. If there is an incident relating to dust and debris, the roofing contractor will, to some degree, be held accountable. It makes sense to take a pre-emptive approach to the issue.

As a roofing contractor, it is your responsibility to be as forthright as possible. Your customer probably will appreciate your consultative approach to the selling process. Increasingly, roofing companies are recognizing the "hand-in-glove" relationship they can establish with a reputable interior protection company and competitive edge they gain when bidding large facility projects.


A qualified interior protection contractor will have the experience and methodology to minimize disruption to your customer's operation while presenting himself in a professional manner. In most cases, you will hire an interior protection company as a subcontractor. The installation will require a crew of four workers to five workers, using a variety of booms, lifts and ladders.

When interviewing interior protection contractors, make sure the one you choose is properly trained and/or certified in the following areas:

  • Aerial lift equipment. Lift equipment companies offer certification classes for operating aerial lift equipment and fall protection.

  • Respirator use. Chemical plants and chemical-processing plants typically require in-house training in the operation of respirator equipment. If any kind of breathing apparatus is required, personnel should be fit-tested at a certified medical facility.

  • Repelling instruction. Certification is offered at gyms that feature rock climbing.

Be certain an interior protection company can provide evidence, such as certificates, of any specialized training.

In addition, because many facilities run multiple shifts, it's safe to assume the protection will have to be installed during production hours. Select a contractor who has experience working in these types of environments. Typically, that could mean working off-hours or third shift.

There are many factors that affect cost and effectiveness of a dust and debris containment system. Typically, large sheets of polyethylene will be installed in a site line offering the least amount of penetrations. Because each penetration is wrapped and sealed, every effort should be made to limit (where possible) the number of penetrations. Because the material is clear, most suspended ceilings are installed under the lights without affecting the visibility.

An installed interior protection system must remain "dust tight" for the duration of a reroofing project. A poorly designed and installed system will begin to fail long before it should and seriously can jeopardize the integrity and effectiveness of the system. (Interior protection typically will last up to two months.) If delays in the roofing process are anticipated, it is best to review those timing issues with your interior protection specialist.

There isn't a lot of margin for error in the interior protection business. Even a small amount of contaminate getting into expensive equipment or inventory can have catastrophic ramifications for a customer. It is important to select a contractor who has the experience and a solid reputation for professionalism and dependability. In the interior protection business, it's not so much about the material as much as it is the methodology. Select a contractor who has developed the technology and expertise to pursue interior protection at a professional level on a full-time basis.

The art and science of installing effective dust and debris control is only half the story. It's one thing to install a suspended ceiling; it's another thing to take it down. Once the dust and debris have been contained, it takes experience to know how to remove the plastic without disrupting dust and debris. Removal is as much an art as it is a science and requires more than a "cut-and-run" mentality. Because suspended protection holds the captured dust and debris, careful attention must be paid so none of the captured particulate is disrupted and falls on personnel, equipment and inventory.

Experienced interior protection specialists incorporate a variety of gathering techniques to keep the plastic (and its contents) completely contained. For more finite dust, vacuums and filtration systems may be used. In extreme cases, air scrubbers might be incorporated while performing the removal process. Regardless, align yourself with a company that has the experience and history to address all these issues.

Added value

The general consensus is that interior protection falls under the "you either need it or you don't" school of thought. However, there will be situations where the distinction is not so clear. Your customers look to you for advice. The best approach is to be totally honest and upfront about the dust and debris issue. If you think there is a likely chance for dust contamination, say so. You'll be in a far better position to offer viable solutions than wait until inventory or equipment is damaged and your reputation is seriously compromised.

Just as the roof system being installed protects a facility from the outside elements, interior protection adds an additional level of security to the equation. Increasingly, roofing companies and roof consultants are recognizing the value of aligning themselves with a recognized interior protection specialist. Roofing contractors who are able to promise effective protection not only offer an additional service but also are positioned to cut time and labor costs on the proposals.

Bill Tierney is sales and marketing manager for TuffWrap Installations Inc., Harleysville, Pa.


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