About Justin Koscher

Justin Koscher is president of the Arlington, Va.-based Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA). He previously served as vice president of Public Policy at the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing.

Collective Efforts Support Stability and Growth of U.S. Building Industries

On April 3-4, more than 400 roofing industry stakeholders participated in Roofing Day in D.C. 2019 to share the industry’s message with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Photo: PIMA

Andrew Carnegie once said that “the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives” is the “fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” This spring more than 500 professionals from the roofing and insulation industries brought their individual efforts together in unified support for policies that promote the continued vitality of our nation’s building and construction efforts by participating in organized visits with Congressional representatives in Washington, D.C.

In April, amid the profusion of cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin, groups of roofing contractors, front-line workers, state and regional roofing associations, roofing manufacturers, distributors, and design- and roof-consulting professionals participated in close to 300 Congressional meetings as part of the industry’s annual Roofing Day events. They were followed in May by contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers from the insulation industry representing the majority of states undertaking more than 100 meetings on Capitol Hill with lawmakers.

Roofing Day

Roofing Day in D.C. 2019 offered an opportunity for the entire roofing industry to advocate in support of three key issues:

  1. A robust buildings component for infrastructure legislation.
  2. Immigration reform that meets the roofing industry’s workforce needs.
  3. Expanded workforce training incentives.
Chad Burman of Carlisle Construction Materials (second from left) meets with lawmakers and fellow industry executives on Roofing Day in D.C. Photo: PIMA

Investment in U.S. public infrastructure could be a robust catalyst for sustained economic growth while also helping to create jobs. Congress currently is considering comprehensive infrastructure legislation for transportation, water and energy infrastructure needs. This includes the Public Buildings Renewal Act of 2019, S. 932, cosponsored by Senator Todd Young (R-IN) and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), which would provide tax-exempt financing to the private sector via partnerships with the U.S. government to repair and maintain numerous federally owned buildings around the country. Roofing Day advocates noted that the average public school building is at least 40 years old and the current backlog of maintenance and capital projects represents an annual funding gap of $45 billion.

According to the first-quarter 2019 Commercial Construction Index from USG Corp. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 70 percent of building contractors are missing project deadlines because of the skilled labor shortage. Roofing Day advocates discussed the need for a visa system, such as the system proposed in the Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act, that would support the hiring priorities of roofing and similar industries. This system would ensure employers undertake vigorous recruitment to hire U.S. workers first, and enable job creators to obtain the foreign-born workers needed to meet demand and grow their businesses.

Insulation Industry National Policy Conference

In May, 110 contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers from the insulation industry representing the majority of states met on Capitol Hill with lawmakers to discuss issues and ideas for harnessing the resources of the insulation industry to tackle some of the country’s most pressing problems.

Justin Koscher of PIMA and Paul Coleman of Huntsman Corporation were on hand for Roofing Day in D.C. Photo: PIMA

With the constant stream of news stories highlighting the human costs and economic consequences of a changing environment, momentum is growing behind solutions that can address these environmental challenges in ways that strengthen U.S. economic productivity and competitiveness. To that end, advocates worked to build enthusiasm for federal action on policies that optimize the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings. Raising standards for new residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and retrofitting older ones can lead to long-term savings through better building performance.

Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is a practical way to help the environment, create jobs, and save money. Boosting energy efficiency alone can provide 40 percent of the necessary greenhouse gas emissions reductions to meet global targets and the work to implement these standards will lead to jobs in manufacturing, distribution, and installation. These improvements will save consumers billions of dollars in energy costs annually — money that can be invested back into the U.S. economy.

Congressman Paul Tonko (fourth from left) meets with insulation industry representatives during the Insulation Industry National Policy Conference in May. Photo: PIMA

But these policies would do more than save energy; they’d also provide buildings and the people who use them with added protection from severe weather events. In 2017 alone, there were $317 billion in losses from U.S. natural disasters, jump-starting discussions on creating more resilient buildings and communities. Optimizing insulation for an energy efficient building envelope improves performance post-disaster or during prolonged events like heat waves or extreme cold. And the investment would pay off — it’s estimated that designing buildings to the 2018 I-Codes would deliver a national benefit of $11 for every $1 invested. 

  • Some legislative tools to promote these improvements include:
  • Strengthening oversight of new rules for disaster preparedness and response.
  • Supporting investments in building science research.
  • Recognizing buildings as infrastructure, including critical structures such as hospitals and schools.
As part of the Insulation Industry National Policy Conference, Congressman Paul Tonko of New York speaks on “Charting the Federal Response to Climate Debate.” Photo: PIMA

Our environment is a constructed one — roads, buildings, offices, schools, houses and hospitals are all part of the infrastructure that sustains a productive economy. The strength of the construction industry is interwoven with the success of society overall. In tough economic times, companies retrench, grinding construction projects to a halt and leaving builders in a difficult position. This slowdown has a ripple effect through related industries, as architects, building suppliers, electricians, engineers, and retailers, feel the pinch from halted projects. As tax revenues fall, governments delay infrastructure investments and defer maintenance, using stopgap measures to keep things running without fixing underlying problems or proactively planning the replacement of systems already beyond their life-expectancy.

A proactive approach to strengthen the construction industry does more than give a hand to hammer wielders and mortar spreaders. It provides stability that flows through the economy as projects move forward and the web of interconnected industries support each other in providing necessary services. Policies that support a robust building industry boost economic growth, improve energy security and independence, and advance U.S. global competitiveness.

About the author: Justin Koscher is president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA). For more information, visit www.polyiso.org.

Building Codes: Everyday Tools for Disaster Preparedness and Relief

In the days following the powerful assault of Hurricane Michael on the Florida Panhandle, images of widespread devastation headlined television news coverage and print media. Not as prone to hurricane activity as the rest of Florida, the area hit by the almost Category 5 storm had many older homes built prior to the enactment of stricter building codes put into place after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. As a result, many structures built to less stringent requirements were unprepared to weather the onslaught of wind, rain, and debris tossed by Michael’s sustained 155-mph winds.

Nothing can guarantee a structure’s integrity when faced with such brutal conditions. However, contrast the post-storm condition of those older structures with that of newer buildings and the benefits of more rigorous regulations are clear. The aerial images of the impacted communities illustrate the value of implementing building codes that can contribute to greater resiliency both for the structures themselves and for the safety and comfort of the people and property contained within them during and after a storm makes landfall.

Media coverage of the storm’s aftermath included profiles of some of the structures that fared better than their neighbors. The New York Timesran a profile entitled, “Among the Ruins of Mexico Beach Stands One House, Built ‘for the Big One’” and the Washington Post published an article entitled, “Houses intact after Hurricane Michael were often saved by low-cost reinforcements.” 

When interviewed on CNN, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said, “… there’s a lesson here about building codes. The key to resiliency in this country is where our local officials and state officials are going to have to do something proactively to start passing building codes to high standards.” 

As is often the case in the wake of a disaster, there is a profusion of interest in exploring strategies to protect communities and properties from devastation. These articles and interview reveal that building structures with conscious attention to resiliency can offer markedly improved performance in extreme weather. As an added bonus, many of the products and processes that deliver this resiliency can also contribute to decreased energy usage and operational costs for buildings regardless of the weather they’re subjected to.

Even before this summer’s series of destructive storms, elected officials and government agencies were working to implement wide-ranging strategies to protect our communities. Updating state and local building codes, which exist to safeguard life and protect private and public interests through regulating the design, construction practices, construction material quality, location, occupancy usage, and maintenance of buildings and structures, is one of the most effective ways to increase the safety and resiliency of our built environment.

Congressional Action

On two occasions this year, Congress enacted reforms for disaster preparedness that raise the profile and importance of building codes in planning for and recovering from disasters. The nation’s disaster relief law — the StaffordAct— was first reformed as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act and later reformed with permanent fixes under the FAA Reauthorization bill passed in October 2018. 

Under these amendments, building code adoption and enforcement are added as eligible activities and criteria used in grant programs aimed at reducing the impact of future disasters. In other words, states that act to adopt modern building codes and standards will be eligible for additional federal assistance in the event disaster strikes. Moreover, the reforms allow damaged buildings to be rebuilt with federal support to better withstand future events, rather than merely restored to their pre-disaster condition. 

While these changes do not specifically address energy codes, adopting and updating building codes will also lead to improvements in energy performance. Energy efficiency is a key part of a building’s — and a community’s — ability to withstand and quickly recover after a disaster. For example, a well-insulated building can maintain a comfortable temperature when power is lost or intermittent. Building energy codes will also encourage the construction of more robust building envelope systems that can help avoid the crippling effects of moisture intrusion that are common in severe weather events.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first nine months of 2018 (through October 9) resulted in 11 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each. Moody’s Analyticsestimates that losses resulting from Hurricane Michael will cost between $15 and $21 billion. Damage to homes and businesses are a major contributor to the total financial impact of a disaster. 

Buildings constructed to meet or exceed modern building codes can therefore play an important role in reducing the overall economic impact of natural disasters. According to the “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report”published by the National Institute of Building Sciences, the model building codes developed by the International Code Council can save the nation $4 for every $1 spent. In addition, designing new buildings to exceed the 2015 International Building Code(IBC) and International Residential Code(IRC) would result in 87,000 new, long-term jobs and an approximate 1 percent increase in utilization of domestically produced construction material.

While people, pets and some belongings can be evacuated to safety with enough warning and resources, buildings can’t be moved to higher ground or be rebuilt overnight in anticipation of an oncoming storm. Indeed, buildings are often the only things separating people from the brutal forces of natural disasters. The protection they offer is often determined by the quality of the construction materials and the installation methods used, which are themselves often regulated by the safety standards in place at the time of original construction or major renovation. 

The recognition by Congress that modern building codes deliver an answer to disaster preparedness is a positive for homeowners and businesses across the country. States now have added incentive to prepare for tomorrow by enacting and enforcing better building codes today. And more exacting building codes will create momentum to raise the bar for all of the codes that work together to create stronger and more resilient buildings that will contribute to better outcomes in extreme weather and reduced energy consumption in any weather. 

About the author: Justin Koscher is president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA). For more information, visit www.polyiso.org.

Benefits of High-Density Polyisocyanurate Cover Boards for Roofing Systems

High-density polyiso cover boards are designed to provide a combination of impact resistance, energy savings, and ease of installation to enhance the long-term performance of a commercial roof system. Photo: Firestone Building Products

Roofing projects, whether new construction or renovation, require careful product selection to balance cost with performance. Many contractors choose to include cover boards in their roof designs to enhance overall system durability and lower long-term maintenance costs, particularly for low-slope commercial roof applications. There are many cover board products currently available — ranging from traditional gypsum board to highly engineered polyisocyanurate (or “polyiso”) technologies. Across product types, cover boards are an important component in roof systems that provide a rigid substrate and protection for other components of the roof system.

Selecting the right cover board for your project means verifying that the product will work with the chosen membrane type to provide a stable foundation for the roof and suitable protection for the underlying insulation. Understanding the unique benefits of a high-density polyiso cover board product can help roofing contractors reduce labor costs and save money during the construction process, while also contributing to lower building energy usage over the long-term life of the roof system.

Benefits of High-Density Polyiso Cover Boards

High-density polyiso cover boards provide a combination of impact resistance, energy savings, and ease of installation that make them a compelling option. They are manufactured with coated glass facers that provide well-recognized versatility during installation and service-life durability. By adding a high-density polyiso cover board, roofing contractors can enhance the long-term performance of a commercial roof system in addition to providing the following advantages:

  • Lightweight: High-density polyiso cover boards, on average, weigh 66 to 80 percent less, when compared to other products of the same thickness. Individual boards are light enough to be carried by a single worker, reducing manpower requirements.
  • High-density polyiso cover boards are light enough to be carried by a single worker, reducing manpower requirements. Photo: Firestone Building Products

    Water resistance: The water absorption by volume of high-density polyiso cover boards is about four percent—much lower than traditional boards. High-density polyiso cover boards will not rot or dissolve and can maintain their integrity under adverse weather conditions.

  • Fewer truckloads: High-density polyiso cover boards can be shipped with about three times more square feet per truckload, requiring fewer trucks, which leads to fuel and transportation savings, as well as reduced traffic congestion on job sites.
  • Reduced product staging time: High-density polyiso cover boards require less crane time with lower hoisting, loading, and staging costs. The cover boards are easier to carry and maneuver around the roof. Pallets need not be broken or redistributed as they might need to be with other products.
  • Ease of cutting: Unlike traditional gypsum boards which require heavy-duty saws or cutters to resize, high-density polyiso cover boards can be easily scored and cut using a utility knife. A single worker can measure and cut boards to size, increasing the productivity of the roofing team.
  • Weight: When considering a building’s structural design, high-density polyiso cover boards will contribute less dead load to a roof than other alternatives. Lighter dead loads can add up to savings in structural costs for new construction and fewer headaches when reroofing an existing building.
  • Greater R-value: In addition to providing suitable protection to a roof system, high-density polyiso cover boards can increase the thermal resistance of the roof and provide two to five times more R-value than other cover board options.
  • Virtually dust-free: High-density polyiso cover boards are made with polyisocyanurate foam found in insulation products, which contribute less dust during cutting. This can decrease potential seam contamination of the roof cover prior to waterproofing the laps. Reduced dust and the absence of silica particles also enhances worker safety. And, less mess also means improved productivity for installers.
  • Mold: High-density polyiso cover boards resist mold growth when tested under ASTM D3273. This makes the products highly suitable for applications prone to elevated moisture conditions.
  • Resiliency: Higher compressive strength and flexibility in cover boards improves a roof’s resistance to damage from foot traffic, heavily loaded carts, dropped hammers and other tools.
  • Versatility: High-density polyiso cover boards can be used in new construction, reroofing, and recover applications. They are suitable in mechanically attached, adhered and ballasted roof assemblies.

High-Density Cover Boards Help Ohio High School Achieve LEED Gold Certification

When the Green Local School District in Ohio began making plans for a new high school to be built in Smithville, they wanted to build for the long-term. Recognizing that operating costs should be factored into building budgets, they set a goal to seek LEED Gold certification for the new building.

The new high school in Smithville, Ohio, was designed to achieve LEED Gold certification. It features a PVC roof system including high-density polyiso cover boards.

The school district was eager to design for lowered heating costs in the brutal Ohio winters through smaller, more efficient mechanical systems. Achieving that energy efficiency required designers to look at the whole building envelope with an eye toward maximizing insulation and minimizing the thermal and vapor conductivity of the building components.
Their roofing solution? Charcoal-colored PVC membrane to capture winter sunlight over polyiso roof insulation and 1/4-inch high-density polyiso cover board from Johns Manville.

Advanced Industrial Roofing Inc., based in nearby Massillon, installed the components over the school’s structures — 12 distinct roofing areas of varying size and slope. With such a complex job, they were grateful for the ease of handling and cutting the high-density polyiso cover board and for the sturdy protective surface it provided during the installation.

The Federal Government Is Making Energy-Efficient Roofing Attractive

Small businesses are now able to deduct the full cost of replacing a roof on an existing non-residential building in the year the project was completed instead of depreciating that cost over a 39-year period, as was previously required. Photo: SOPREMA

It is fair to say that Washington, D.C., is far from dull. From the recent Tax Cut and Jobs Act to rolling debates on passing a federal budget, there is a great deal going on at the federal level that impacts the building and roofing industries. In particular, new reforms allow qualifying building owners to expense, or deduct, up to $1 million for the cost of certain building improvements in the year the work is performed, including adding insulation during roof replacement projects to meet or go beyond modern building energy code requirements. The impact can be significant for capital improvement projects. For example, a building owner that expenses the cost of a full roof replacement can reduce the net cost of the entire project by 25 percent to 30 percent.

Commercial Building Roof Replacements

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017, includes a provision that reduces the overall cost associated with re-roofing and significantly improves the cost-effectiveness of commercial roof replacements that comply with building energy codes. The vast majority of state and local governments require minimum insulation levels for both new roofs and roof replacements (but not for roof repairs or recovers). These requirements apply to existing buildings because the most economical time to improve a roof’s thermal performance is when the roof membrane is pulled off and replaced. Also, roof replacements are one of the best opportunities for improving energy efficiency in existing buildings, which account for 40 percent of U.S. energy use.

Starting in 2018, the new federal tax law expands the definition of “qualified real property” under the small business expensing provisions of Internal Revenue Code section 179 to include improvements to existing nonresidential roofs. Section 179 allows businesses to fully expense (deduct) up to $1 million (indexed for inflation after 2018) in one year for qualified business expenses, such as equipment purchases and specific building improvements. With this change, small businesses are now able to deduct — in the year completed — the full cost of replacing a roof on an existing non-residential building instead of depreciating that cost over a 39-year period, as was required under prior law. As a mechanism intended to limit the deduction to small businesses, the benefit is phased out for businesses that spend more than $2.5 million (also indexed for inflation) on qualified equipment and real property. This change takes effect in 2018 and, unlike some provisions of the new law, is permanent.

A typical scenario under which a commercial building roof replacement is required to comply with a building energy code is one where an older building with a low-slope roof has R-11 or R-12 insulation in the roof prior to the roof replacement. The R-12 assumption is based on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) study that evaluated the level of existing insulation in commercial building roofs. For most of the country, current building energy codes require roof replacements to have a minimum level of R-25 or R-30, depending on the climate zone.

The average simple payback period for meeting the energy code is 11.6 years, according to a comprehensive energy modeling study completed in 2009 (“Energy and Environmental Impact Reduction Opportunities for Existing Buildings with Low-Slope Roofs,” produced by Covestro).

The payback period is the amount of time it takes for the energy savings to equal the cost of installing the additional insulation. By allowing a building owner to deduct the full cost of the roof replacement, including the cost for installing additional insulation, the net cost of the entire project is reduced by 25 percent to 30 percent, depending on a tax payer’s tax rate. (The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent, but the pass-through rates, which are more relevant to small businesses, are closer to 30 percent, which increases the impact of this new deduction.) More importantly, the deduction shortens the average payback period on the cost of installing additional insulation to 8.1 years, making the investment in energy efficiency even more cost effective for the building owner.

Disaster Relief Reforms and Resilient Buildings

Recent maneuvers by Congressional budget writers provided several positive reforms that will impact the resiliency of buildings in some of the most vulnerable parts of the country.

First, Congress passed improvements to the Federal Cost Share Reform Incentive that increases post-disaster federal cost-share with states from 75 percent to as high as 85 percent on a sliding scale based on whether a state has taken proactive steps to improve disaster preparedness. These steps can include the adoption and enforcement of the most recent building codes. This further incentivizes states to maintain robust and current building codes, including the energy code.

Second, under reforms to the Stafford Act, federal disaster relief funds administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency may be used to replace or restore the function of a facility to industry standards without regard to pre-disaster condition and replace or restore components of the facility not damaged by the disaster where replacement or restoration is required to fully restore the function of a facility. This allows post-disaster funds to be more effectively used to improve the resiliency of damaged buildings and should create opportunities for higher performing roof systems to replace those damaged in disasters.

While the built environment is likely to benefit under recent Congressional action, other policy priorities for the construction and energy efficient industries have been left unresolved. For example, Congress “extended” several clean energy and energy-efficiency related tax provisions, including the Section 179D deduction for commercial building energy efficiency. However, in head-scratching fashion, this and other tax provisions were only extended through December 31, 2017. This means more work is ahead to preserve the policies for the long term and add much needed certainty to the marketplace.

Unpredictable is a polite (and likely understated) description of the policy environment in our nation’s capital. You need not look beyond the recent FY2018 budget deal for an example. Building energy efficiency advocates spent countless hours educating lawmakers on the importance of funding federal research led by the Department of Energy (DOE). Fearing a federal budget that would cripple these vital programs by slashing budgets, advocates saw an 11 percent increase to the DOE’s Office Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget, which leads research on building energy performance. And while history is a poor predictor of future success, recent action impacting buildings demonstrates that policymakers understand the need for strong policies that encourage and lead to more efficient and resilient construction.

Efficient and Effective Construction Through Building Codes

This fire station roof assembly includes thermally efficient cross-ventilated non-structural composite insulation manufactured by Atlas Roofing and installed by Utah Tile & Roofing.   Photos: Atlas Roofing Corp

This fire station roof assembly includes thermally efficient cross-ventilated non-structural composite insulation manufactured by Atlas Roofing and installed by Utah Tile & Roofing. Photos: Atlas Roofing Corp

In a world where the bottom line is a critical concern in any construction project, conscientious design and roofing professionals look at the lifetime costs of a building instead of just the short-term construction outlay. Choices made during a building’s initial design and construction have long-term influence on the lifetime of its operation and maintenance. With so many building products and options available, building codes take on a vital role in guiding decisions about building quality, safety, and energy performance. These trusted benchmarks, compiled with input from a broad range of stakeholders, are designed to ensure that the best technologies, materials, and methods are used in construction.

Building Energy Codes 101

Model building energy codes are revised every three years to incorporate the latest research and ensure that new and existing buildings benefit from the methods and products that will produce the most value and safety over time. The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ASHRAE set standards tailored to specific climate zones and include options to provide flexibility in choosing the methods and materials best suited to each project’s needs while nevertheless meeting the requirements. Without regular, incremental improvements to these codes, new buildings would be dated even before their construction begins.

Indeed, while some building features are straightforward to replace and upgrade over time, some of the most vital elements of building performance need to be “designed in” at the outset. Codes are designed to lock in savings during initial construction or major renovations to promote cost-effective design and construction practices. For example, roof replacement projects provide an opportunity to cost-effectively improve the overall energy efficiency performance of buildings.

Energy-efficient design strategies are helpful to all building owners, including government and municipal projects built with taxpayer funding. Pictured here is Fire Station #108 in Brighton, Utah. Photos: Atlas Roofing Corp.

One of the major benefits of building code updates in recent years is the focus on energy efficiency and resiliency. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety writes that, “Over the centuries, building codes have evolved from regulations stemming from tragic experiences to standards designed to prevent them.” With the ongoing effects of climate change, buildings are subjected to extremes of weather and temperature that challenge the performance of their systems. Most structures built over the previous century were not designed or constructed with energy efficiency in mind and suffer from poor insulation and dramatic thermal loss. Buildings account for over 40 percent of America’s total energy consumption, 74 percent of our electricity, and cause 40 percent of our greenhouse emissions. Implementing best practices for sustainable design and utilizing highly efficient building materials like insulation could save billions of dollars a year and improve the reliability of the electrical grid systems.

Energy-Efficient Roofing

A report prepared in 2009 by Bayer MaterialScience (now Covestro), “Energy and Environmental Impact Reduction Opportunities for Existing Buildings with Low-Slope Roofs,” determined that going from an R-12 insulation level (i.e., the average R-value of roofs on older buildings) to R-30 would pay for itself in energy savings in just 12 years with an average reduction in building energy use of 7 percent. Better roof insulation also saves money on equipment, since buildings with weaker envelopes require larger and costlier HVAC systems and future upgrades to HVAC equipment that is smaller and less expensive will always be limited by this constraint.

These savings are not only confined to new construction. In renovations, the removal and replacement of a roof membrane offers the best and most cost-effective opportunity to improve a building’s thermal envelope and better position that building for energy-efficiency upgrades down the road.

Energy Efficiency in Government Buildings

While these strategies are helpful to all building owners, they are especially important for government projects built with an increasingly tight supply of taxpayer dollars. Here is another place where the building codes provide a major assist. For federal commercial and multi-family high-rise residential buildings where the design process began after Nov. 6, 2016, agencies are required to design buildings to meet ASHRAE 90.1-2013 and, if life-cycle cost-effective, achieve energy consumption levels that are at least 30 percent below the levels of the ASHRAE 90.1-2013 baseline building. These savings are calculated by looking at the building envelope and energy consuming systems normally specified by ASHRAE 90.1 (such as space heating, space cooling, ventilation, service water heating, and lighting but not receptacle and process loads not covered by 90.1).

Photos: Atlas Roofing Corp.

Changes in the 2013 edition of ASHRAE 90.1 clarify the insulation requirements of various low-slope re-roofing activities. New definitions of “roof covering” (the topmost component of the roof assembly intended for weather resistance, fire classification, or appearance) and “roof recovering” (the process of installing an additional roof covering over an existing roof covering without removing the existing roof covering) were added and the exceptions to the R-value requirement for roof replacements were clarified to include only “roof recovering” and the “removal and replacement of a roof covering where there is existing insulation integral to or below the roof deck.” In all other instances, when a roof membrane is removed and replaced, the insulation must be brought up to current R-value requirements, which range from R-20 to R-35, depending on climate zone. In addition, the prescriptive R-value requirements for low-slope roofs under 90.1-2013, as compared to previous version (90.1-2010), are higher. For instance, in populous climate zones 4 and 5 the R-values for these roofs increased from R-20 to R-30.

The Department of Energy is preparing to start a rulemaking process to update the federal building energy standard baseline to the 90.1-2016 Standard, which will provide about an 8 percent improvement in energy cost savings compared to 90.1-2013. However, no changes were made to the R-values for low-slope roofs. Managers of federal buildings are working to comply with updated directives that impact new construction and building alterations, including:

  • “Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings”
  • GSA PBS-P100 “Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service”
  • DOD’s Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC).

The instructions in these publications coupled with Executive Order 13693, issued on March 15, 2015, and “Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings,” require new and existing federal buildings to adopt improved energy efficiency and “green building” attributes. New buildings are expected to “employ strategies that minimize energy usage” and existing ones must “seek to achieve optimal energy efficiency.” These directives require:

  • Regular benchmarking and reporting of building annual energy use intensity.
  • Annual 2.5 percent improvement in energy use intensity every year through the end of 2015.
  • All new buildings be designed to achieve net-zero energy use beginning in 2020.

Good Practice in Action

At the end of the day, the success of building codes in producing the cost-savings, weather-resiliency, and energy efficiency is determined by how they are adopted and enforced locally. If the most current codes were universally adopted and enforced,

Photos: Atlas Roofing Corp.

there would be no competitive advantage to inferior building construction practices. Incremental upgrades would provide a steady stream of work that would increase competitiveness for building professionals and suppliers. Updated job skills would increase market value for construction professionals and enable innovation in the construction sector and increased market share for innovative products and processes that would improve economies of scale and lower their cost differential.

Building codes provide a comprehensive and reliable standard that contribute to local economies and improve building performance. Knowledge of code requirements help designers and contractors deliver more value to their clients. Finally, a bit more of an investment during design and construction can yield significant savings in building operation and tangible benefits to the environment and economy of areas that adopt higher building standards.

Retrofit Roofing Project Highlights Advancements in Building Materials and Methods

The roof was replaced on Huntsman Corporation’s Advanced Technology Center, an L-shaped, 70,000-square-foot facility housing expensive equipment and research labs. A TPO membrane roof system was installed over high-density polyiso cover board.

The roof was replaced on Huntsman Corporation’s Advanced Technology Center, an L-shaped, 70,000-square-foot facility housing expensive equipment and research labs.

Over the last few decades, computer and scientific innovations have evolved at a furious pace, with new technologies rapidly replacing only slightly older ones. In this race for the latest and greatest, it sometimes feels like the devices in our pockets and controlling our home stereos are from some virtual reality, while the building materials of our homes and workplaces are relics of a bygone age. But, looks can be deceiving, and the polyiso insulation industry is playing a role in evolving our built environment.

For example, many commercial buildings seem only superficially different from those built a generation ago when seen from a distance. But, from behind the glass curtain walls and updated building amenities, we may not notice the disruptive technologies that have substantially improved building systems in recent years. Informed by sophisticated research and utilizing advanced components, cutting-edge building materials are thinner, stronger and more resilient than traditional products. Adopting them in both new construction and renovation can appreciably improve building performance, while also decreasing environmental impact. These products are particularly attractive to forward-looking companies interested in buildings that will prove cost-effective over the long term.

A Case in Point

When the Huntsman Corporation began considering facility improvements for its Huntsman Advanced Technology Center (HATC) in The Woodlands, Texas, they decided to embrace the most innovative materials available. This four-building campus, located about 35 miles north of Houston, serves as the company’s leading research and development facility in the Americas, so it is appropriate that it be built with products as advanced as the technology it houses. Replacing the aging PVC roof on Building 1 was a key element in this upgrade.

After more than two decades of exposure to the Texas heat, the roof was approaching the end of its useful life. With expensive equipment and valuable research in labs throughout the building, Huntsman didn’t want to take any chances in modernizing the L-shaped, 70,000-square foot facility. With the added incentive of receiving the highest-level certification from its insurer, the company decided to remove and completely replace the existing roof with state-of-the-art materials.

Commercial roofs in Texas are required to have an insulation R-value of 20 or higher, so simply replacing the existing membrane and lightweight insulating concrete on a metal deck that the building had used before with the same materials would not have sufficed. In addition, current codes which say that old roofs need to be brought up to current code when doing a tear-off job. After reviewing the options, they chose to install thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) membrane roofing over high-density polyiso cover board.

The polyiso cover boards are lightweight and easy to cut, which reduces both time and labor costs for installation. They add strength and protection to a roofing system, enhancing the system’s long-term performance. They can be shipped with approximately three times more square feet per truckload than gypsum products, so fewer trucks are needed, leading to fuel and transportation savings. Plus, they can be cut without specialized tools and workers don’t have to worry about the dust that is created when sawing, as they would with other types of cover boards. And most importantly, these high-density boards are based on proven technology.

A TPO membrane roof system was installed over high-density polyiso cover board.

A TPO membrane roof system was installed over high-density polyiso cover board.


Drawn to polyiso for its high R-value per inch of thickness, compressive strength, impressive fire-, wind- and moisture-resistance, long-term durability, and low environmental impact, Huntsman partnered with roof mechanics experienced in working with these materials and committed to both safety and quality.

If the original installers of the previous roof 22-years earlier had witnessed this new project, they would have been amazed. Instead of hoisting heavy materials up ladders, pallets are deposited on the roof by crane. Boards are attached with fasteners and plates or foam adhesives to the deck, and robotic welders seal the seams in the TPO membrane.

The new roof is resistant to ultraviolet, ozone and chemical exposure, which contributes to a lifespan of more than 20 years, while being virtually maintenance-free. Workers who access the roof to remove debris from the tall trees on the HATC campus can easily stay on the safety-taped walk pad areas. The roof materials are all recyclable later, leading to a very low environmental impact.

Increasing the thermal resistance to an impressive R-21 for the combined roof system, the building now exceeds local, state and international building codes. This added insulation and the reflective white surface of the new roof are going to lower energy consumption and lead to greater indoor comfort and a decreased load on HVAC systems. The roof is much less susceptible to the mold, mildew, and will help prevent water from pooling and ponding as it did on the old roof.

A new commercial roof is a substantial investment. Luckily, with all the cost savings inherent in both the installation process and the whole-life use of high-density polyiso cover boards, companies don’t have to forego state-of-the-art materials for financial reasons. Factoring in the ease of installation (from cutting to less dust) and weight of the cover boards, retrofitting an older building with updated roof systems can be a win-win for both clients and crews.

PHOTOS: HUNTSMAN CORPORATION