Working relationships

Contractors and consultants explain the important issues in their relationship

Successful relationships take work—a lot of work. And working in the construction industry requires forming many successful, multifaceted relationships with co-workers, supervisors and customers, as well as among different industry sectors.

A challenging but often necessary working relationship is between roofing contractors and consultants. To explore how consultants and contractors work together, Professional Roofing asked them to answer the following questions: What are the most important issues in a contractor-consultant relationship, and how do you address these issues?

Respondents representing roofing contractors include members of NRCA's Roof Consultants Institute (RCI) Liaison Task Force, Steve Kruger, president of L.E. Schwartz & Son Inc., Macon, Ga.; Bruce McCrory, chief operating officer and general manager of Kiker Corp., Mobile, Ala.; and Reid Ribble, president of The Ribble Group Inc., Kaukauna, Wis. Responding consultants include Ray Latona, regional vice president for Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger Inc., San Francisco; Luther C. Mock, RRC, managing partner of EDIFIS Building Exterior Solutions, Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Thomas L. Smith, AIA, RRC, president of TLSmith Consulting Inc., Rockton, Ill.


Steve Kruger

"I've been asked on a number of occasions how I feel about working on a project with a consultant. My typical response is that a competent, professional consultant is an asset to a project if he works as a partner to achieve the goal of giving the client a quality roof system. I understand that the 'if' is loaded with challenges.

"The contractor-consultant relationship is a relatively new phenomenon in the construction process. We've only seen it proliferate during the past 15 years to 20 years. Before that time, contractors would perform specified work with a minor amount of inspection or questioning of their abilities. Consultants can be an irritant to some contractors by reporting discrepancies to customers. However, if done in a constructive manner, the end result is improved. Problems arise when egos get in the way of doing what's right.

"Can both parties become a team? I believe so if contractors and consultants work with the following items in mind: communication, mutual goals, trust, competence and professionalism.

"In many cases, communication starts before bidding a project. Specifications must be consistent with project requirements. Change requests should be made in a timely fashion. Appropriate submittal packages should be provided indicating how a project will proceed. Any changes should be highlighted and approved before proceeding. A prejob conference with the contractor, consultant and all those who will interact with a roof during a project also is a key component for positive communication.

"Once a project has begun, the mutual goal should be to give an owner a quality product. Communication of issues should be ongoing. There also should be a daily verification of quality standards meeting the specifications. If this is done, any punch list at the conclusion of a project will be minimal if anything at all.

"Trust is an important part of any relationship. Both parties must be truthful with each other. Contractors and consultants can help each other be successful in their respective portions of a project. Being adversarial doesn't help either party.

"Finally, contractors and consultants must provide competent, professional people for projects. Major controversies arise when the people involved don't act professionally, don't show respect for each other and aren't competent at what they are assigned to do. Everyone involved should ensure their employees are properly prepared to do the assigned tasks.

"Our company has found success with our relationships with consultants when we have followed the traits I listed. As the working relationships continue to mature, I hope we all will be improved in our profession."

Bruce McCrory

"In my opinion, contractors and consultants are faced with ‘buildability' issues. I know we don't find that word defined in either The NRCA Roofing and Waterproofing Manual or RCI Glossary of Terms. What I am referring to is the reasonable constructability of a roof system. Is the intended roof system design one in which all parties will have a better than average chance of constructing a roof system that will be satisfactory to all parties? Will the manufacturer be comfortable issuing a warranty? Will the roofing workers install a good roof system and company make a profit? Will the consultant have a continuing relationship with the owner and contractor?

"Roof system components have progressed amazingly during the past half century. Although there still are a number of issues, the overall roofing industry greatly has improved. Accessory components are numerous. Some may not be necessary, but overall, there have been improvements in components' ingenuity and designs. A lot of these improvements are a result of improvements in application tools and equipment. Available equipment greatly affects how contractors install roofing products. A lot of labor-saving devices have improved the quality of installation and comfort during installation.

"My concern is how do we take these improvements in products, accessories, tools and equipment and make roof systems not necessarily installer-friendly but installer-‘buildable'? How do we make projects work knowing the limitations of our trade? The human component is a major consideration in this buildability.

"During the past half century, contractors have been faced with a declining work force. Understandably, roofing work can be tough. Today's roofing work force faces working conditions most trades do not. One must spend time on a roof to understand 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) and 90 percent humidity and their effects on production. Likewise, cold weather, thunderstorms, windy conditions or a myriad of adverse climatic conditions affect roof system installations. Workers must correctly install the components and keep them from becoming damaged in the process. If it is a reroofing project, the building's interior also must be protected.

"The relationship between the contractor and consultant will be enhanced if all parties remember the human element during the design and execution of a project. A designer should be careful to use foresight in the design. Contractors shouldn't design a roof system with tolerances that exceed buildability considering the capability of the work force or expected environmental or logistic conditions. As old-timers would say, ‘Use a little common sense.' I'm not talking about watering down the design. I am talking about ensuring that the owner is aware of the difficulty of the buildability of the roof system well before the project begins. The owner shouldn't be caught up with the fact that a project can be designed beautifully without realizing it can be a real pain in the neck to build given the actual conditions.

"Additionally, during the progress of the work, all parties, especially the designer, should stay focused on the buildability issue. If conditions become evident that the original intent is not buildable, the designer should change the intent (hopefully after input from all parties).

"The process could be assisted by seeking advice from the consulting community, working with others in the roofing industry and developing a standard for the practice of roof observation. Such a standard would assist all parties involved in what the rooftop quality assurance observer's responsibilities are during a roofing project. These delineated responsibilities would enhance the buildability of a roof system. When everyone knows their own and each other's responsibilities in the process, buildability gets easier.

"There are, I am sure, other ways to enhance buildability. Contractors, consultants, manufacturers and all other parties in the roofing process should work together to look for these areas of cooperation and endeavor to streamline the process. It's just something we have to build together!"

Reid Ribble

"The contractor-consultant relationship is one that is beneficial and frustrating. Let's start with frustrations so my comments finish on a positive note.

"One of the most frustrating issues I've encountered is when the bidding process gets corrupted. Consumers should be able to contract with any company they choose. However, when a consultant is involved and prequalifies contractors, the lowest bidding contractor should be awarded the contract. There is nothing more frustrating than losing a roofing project when I provided the best price. If the consultant has prequalified the contractor and the contractor has provided a price based on the specifications, the contractor should be awarded the project.

"Another frustration occurs when the consultant does not provide full-time inspection. Then, days later during an on-site visit, the consultant discovers something he wants to change. One of the benefits of consultants is the extra attention to detail they bring to projects. When that does not happen, it can be frustrating and costly.

"Submittals are another sore spot for contractors, especially when shop drawings that merely replicate the drawings on the plan are required by consultants. Another issue is when consultants want contractors to submit drawings that the consultants did not include in the original design plans. The consultant is the designer of record; if he wants drawings, he should do them. And what's up with asking for five copies of every manufacturer's cut sheets?

"Some of our submittal packages are larger than the specification books. Thankfully, NRCA and RCI have completed ‘NRCA/RCI Roofing Project Submittal and Protocol Guidelines' about roof project submittals. I hope the roofing industry will implement the provided suggestions.

"Although the contractor-consultant relationship can be frustrating, it also can be beneficial. Consultants frequently bring work to contractors. These opportunities are valuable.

"I also appreciate consultants who see the big picture—ones that look out for everyone's benefit. When this occurs, the building owner, contractor and consultant win. The building owner gets the roof exactly as he expected; the contractor's liability goes down because the designer has approved the work; and the consultant and contractor benefit from a satisfied customer. When the consultant is too anxious to point out problems to the owner, the goodwill and trust needed between a contractor and consultant to complete a successful project is broken down and the job never turns out right.

"Possibly the best benefit is the extra attention to detail consultants bring to projects. The additional observations help keep roofing workers focused on quality installation techniques and safe work practices. This is good for everyone. There is nothing in my work life more satisfying than a job done well and the resulting satisfied customer. When this happens, our company's value is affirmed and our relationship with the consultant improves."


Ray Latona

"The most important issue for a successful contractor-consultant relationship is to create a relationship based on mutual respect and cooperation. There are differences in the consultant's role depending on the party—a building owner, architect, general contractor or roofing contractor—retaining the consultant. Also, there are differences in the consultant's role depending on the nature of the work, such as new construction or reroofing. There are differences in the roofing contractor's role, as well. For example, is the contractor a prime contractor or subcontractor and the designer of the roof system?

"When a contractor hires a consultant, it usually is to have the consultant assist in the design of the roof system and/or particular details of the system at interfaces with other building components. Sometimes, the roofing contractor hires a consultant to assist with quality assurance during roof system construction. Under these circumstances, the contractor-consultant relationship is cooperative and usually not an issue.

"When the consultant is hired by the owner, architect or general contractor, the roofing contractor-consultant relationship can run the full gamut from cooperative to adversarial. With a professional contractor and a professionally qualified consultant, the relationship usually is cooperative. However, if the contractor is less than professional or the consultant is not objective or qualified, problems can occur.

"The key to fostering a relationship based on mutual respect and cooperation is clear, consistent communication. Communication drives the entire contractor-consultant relationship from the start to the end of a project.

"I now will address the most typical contractor-consultant arrangement where the project is new construction; the consultant is hired on behalf of the owner; and the roofing contractor is a subcontractor to a general contractor. The principles for this arrangement are similar for other arrangements.

"The first step in generating a cooperative relationship is communicating through the preapplication meeting. At the time of the meeting, all submittals should have been made and approved. The owner's representative, architect, general contractor, roofing contractor, consultant and other subcontractors whose work affects roofing operations must be present.

"The roofing contractor's foreman who will be in charge of the roofing work also must be present at the preapplication meeting. It is important for the same foreman to remain on the job throughout the project. When a foreman change occurs, the history of the project as communicated in the preapplication meeting often gets lost.

"At this meeting, participants talk through the job from A to Z, including materials, scheduling and use of the job site. They review the drawings and each specific roofing detail to be certain each trade performs its work in a manner and on a schedule consistent with good roofing application practices. Talking through the entire job allows most questions to be answered and identifies potential problems.

"During the job, the contractor and consultant should be working as a team to ensure the job is completed in compliance with the owner's expectations as communicated through the contract documents and meet the contractor's expectations for the job, including earning a reasonable profit.

"The roofing contractor must keep the consultant informed of any problems with the job, including the schedule, materials, and/or labor, as well as the effects of such problems. Similarly, the consultant must keep the contractor informed of developments and the satisfaction level from the owner's perspective. This communication must be continual throughout the project, not simply limited to communications at scheduled meetings.

"It is important for the consultant to provide fast turnaround for field notes and test results. It does no good for the consultant to note problems or deviations from standards without immediately informing the roofing contractor of the situation. Also, it does not help the job for the consultant to perform tests without making the test results available to the contractor with a rapid turnaround time regardless of the nature of the test results.

"Positive results let the contractor know the job is progressing well. Unfavorable results permit the contractor to adjust the construction process before a large area has been completed.

"The consultant should make every attempt to orally inform the contractor of critical comments rather than having the contractor first learn of criticism through a written communication. Although the consultant may be obligated to document critical comments in writing, the consultant should discuss the matter with the contractor before reducing the issue to writing. This lets the contractor know criticism will be raised so he can fix the issue or generate a strategy for dealing with the issue without being blindsided.

"The most important issue in a contractor-consultant relationship is respectful, constant communication. Through the use of effective communication, small problems get resolved without becoming big problems, and the contractor-consultant relationship is cooperative rather than adversarial."

Luther Mock

"First-class contractors and consultants recognize our respective industries need one another. Consultants cannot exist without good contractors performing superior work. High-quality contractors recognize good consultants' knowledge that validates their values. But the ultimate winner in a successful contractor-consultant relationship is the building owner who acknowledges the benefits of having both parties involved.

"I often am contacted by building owners who have secured reroofing proposals from contractors with an inadequate or nonexisting scope of work, let alone a specification. Building owners find the proposals are no more similar than apples and baboons in scope and price. Their limited knowledge of roofing does not offer them the discriminating viewpoint to make a distinction about which contractor to hire.

"The old saying ‘you get what you pay for' could not be more apropos than in this situation. In a majority of the cases, the legitimate contractor's proposal recognizes good roofing practices and follows regulatory requirements. But there is an associated and justifiable cost. Top-tier contractors often refer a building owner to our office for proposal review and third-party validation.

"It also has been my experience that first-class contractors recognize they play the role of a designer in the absence of a detailed scope of work and specifications. Savvy contractors recognize the need for consultants when the risk of being the designer exceeds any potential rewards. Many first-class contractors have come to understand a thorough set of bidding documents forces second- and third-tier contractors to play 'by the rules' during the bidding and construction periods. It also relieves the contractors of designer liability.

"In the ideal (but unrealistic) world of zero taxes, eternal youth and blue skies, consultants would like to be deeply involved with every roofing project. But we recognize this viewpoint is unobtainable. A vast majority of consultants recognize their depth of involvement in a roofing project is determined by numerous factors, such as project complexity, budgets and statutory requirements. The conscientious contractor should develop an appropriate scope of professional services that aligns with a project's needs.

"A nonproprietary consultant can offer the best product solution to meet a project's criteria. Although consultants have biases in product selection, their ethical positions should be built on an intimate knowledge of product performance and appropriateness for a project, not sales volume or commissions. Contractors are a great resource for consultants regarding product installation and performance. Comments from top-tier contractors carry a considerable amount of weight in my overall assessment of a product. Contractors also can offer invaluable input about a manufacturer's corporate philosophy that I never may see.

"There is a certain percentage of contractors and consultants who are ‘bottom feeders' and uncomplimentary to their respective professions. But I believe the best consultants and best contractors recognize the value of one another and together strive to raise the standard of roofing."

Thomas Smith

"It is important that the consultant and contractor have the intent to deliver a good roof system to the building owner commensurate with the funds the building owner has allocated for the work. With both parties working toward the same goal, the potential for good relations is great. However, if there are other motives, such as the consultant purposefully trying to find fault with the contractor and then bringing the problems to the owner to justify the consultant's involvement in the project (and hence, get future work), relations can quickly spiral downhill.

"It also is important that the consultant and contractor be competent and trust and respect each other. When each party recognizes its own and each other's strengths and weaknesses, and there is a joint constructive effort to maximize the strengths of each party, relations typically flourish.

"Communication is a critical part of the relationship. If problems are encountered by either party (for example, a workmanship issue is observed by a consultant or a contractor finds a particular product is not available), it is imperative the other party—and the correct person in the organization—is notified quickly. Also, the tone of the communication is important—demeaning the other party does not help the situation.

"It is important for a building owner to select qualified consultant and contractor professionals to perform the work. If either party is unqualified, achieving a good consultant-contractor relationship is quite difficult. A building owner typically is relatively unrestrained when hiring a consultant. An owner needs to exercise care and diligence in the firm he hires (including the personnel assigned to the project). If the wrong firm or people within the firm are engaged, a project can be poisoned. Likewise, an owner needs to exercise diligence in the contractor he hires. If a qualified, cooperative consultant-contractor team is not hired, poor relations are likely.

"It is important for a consultant to listen to a contractor and vice versa. Each party should make use of the other party's knowledge to achieve a good roof system.

"Also, for contractors, it is important to discuss changes with the consultant before proceeding. For example, if the consultant's drawings show a more robust detail than the manufacturer's, a contractor shouldn't modify the consultant's detail without discussion and approval by the consultant.

"For consultants, it is important to know when conditions are outside the bounds of acceptability. For example, if work is rejected, the rejection only should occur when not doing so would jeopardize roof performance. Often, work is rejected without justification. It obviously takes a consultant with considerable experience and good judgment to know the difference between marginal work that is acceptable versus work that will lead to problems."

Working it out

NRCA's RCI Liaison Task Force was formed to create mechanisms to improve communication between the contracting and consulting communities. The NRCA/RCI guidelines should be available in early 2004.

With the task force's guidance and contractors' and consultants' efforts, healthy, honest and trusting relationships can be formed.

Kate Gawlik is associate editor of Professional Roofing magazine.


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