Reroofing Is One of the Few Opportunities to Improve the Built Environment

All of us get misled by catch-phrases, like “Save the Planet” or “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”. Although phrases like these are well intended, they can be misleading; they really are off topic. Something like “Save the Humans” is more to the point and truly the root of the entire sustainability movement. Let’s face it: The efforts to be more green are inherently aimed at a healthier you and me, as well as our children’s and grandchildren’s desire for continued healthful lives and opportunities.

The existing PVC roof on the GM After Sales Warehouse, Lansing, Mich., was removed and recycled into new PVC roofing material, a portion of which was reinstalled on this project and helped it achieve RoofPoint certification.

The existing PVC roof on the GM After Sales Warehouse, Lansing, Mich., was removed and recycled into new PVC roofing material, a portion of which was reinstalled on this project and helped it achieve RoofPoint certification.

The discussion about green and sustainability needs some context to make it real and effectual. The question to ask is: How does green construction help humans live a healthier and happier life? The answer is: It is because of the co-benefits of building (and living) in a more environmentally appropriate way.

One key component of building environmentally appropriate buildings is that, collectively, we use less energy. Less energy use means no need to build another power plant that creates electricity while spewing pollution into the air. Less pollution in the air means people are healthier. It also means the water and soil are less polluted. We drink that water and eat what grows in the ground. We also eat “stuff” from the rivers, lakes and oceans. Healthier people means reduced costs for health care. Reduced sickness means fewer sick days at the office, and fewer sick days means more productivity by employees—and, dare I say, happier employees all because of the environmentally appropriate building, or a “human appropriate” building.

So what does all this have to do with roofs? Rooftops, because they are a significant percentage of the building envelope, should not be overlooked as an important and truly significant energy-efficiency measure. Building owners and facility managers should always include energy-efficiency components in their roof system designs. There are few opportunities to improve the building envelope; reroofing is one of those opportunities, and it shouldn’t be missed.

According to the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing and building envelope research firm Tegnos Inc., roof systems have the potential to save 700-plus trillion Btus in annual energy use. Too many roofs are not insulated to current code-required levels. If our rooftops were better insulated, these energy-saving estimates would become reality. Imagine the co-benefits of such a significant reduction in energy use!

The RoofPoint certified Bucks County Community College roof, in Perkasie, Pa., features a high-performance multi-layer insulation system that provides high levels of energy efficiency. Staggered joints break thermal discontinuities and a coverboard provides R-value and a durable surface.

The RoofPoint certified Bucks County Community College roof, in Perkasie, Pa., features a high-performance multi-layer insulation system that provides high levels of energy efficiency. Staggered joints break thermal discontinuities and a coverboard provides R-value and a durable surface.

But how do we know we’re doing the right thing? RoofPoint and the RoofPoint Carbon Calculator will help. The RoofPoint Carbon Calculator uses seven inputs to compare an energy-efficient roof with a baseline roof: insulation, thermal performance, air barrier, roof surface, rooftop PV, solar thermal and roof daylighting. The outputs from the Carbon Calculator are total roof energy use, energy savings due to the energy-efficient roof design, energy savings during peak demand, and CO2 offset for the energy-efficient roof design. This can be used to compare an existing roof (the baseline roof) to a new roof design (the energy efficient roof), and this will help verify the energy savings and reduction of carbon output. It’s an excellent tool for verifying how green a new roof can be.

And don’t just take my word on this co-benefits idea. The Economist published an article about the EPA and rulings on interstate pollution. The article cited a claim that by this year, 2014—if pollution rates were half of those in 2005—hundreds of thousands of asthma cases each year could be prevented and nearly 2 million work and school days lost to respiratory illness could be eliminated. And just think, improving your roof’s energy efficiency is key to the reduction of power-plant use and the pollution that comes from them. So, yes, roofs can help your kids and your grandkids be healthy and happy.

Transite Roofing: Friend or Foe?

As Transite, or Asbestos-containing, Roofs Come to the End of their Life Cycle, Contractors Should Know When Retrofitting Is an Option

The use of asbestos dates back thousands of years. For millennia, cultures across the globe embraced asbestos’ super-strengthening properties. Asbestos’ popularity peaked in the late 19th century during the Industrial Revolution when commercial asbestos mines sprung up across the U.S. and Canada. Before its carcinogenic properties were discovered, asbestos was used in hundreds of applications, including walls, roofs, coatings, fireplaces, shingles, insulation, pipes, furniture, paper products, automobile parts, fabrics and packaging. In the construction industry, in particular, it was considered a “super-product.” Whether mixed as a binder with cement or used as a coating on steel panels, asbestos is insulating, non-combustible, corrosion-resistant, inert, humidity-tolerant and sound absorbent.

One major application of asbestos over the past 100 years has been transite roofing panels. Asbestos was essentially used as a binder in cement slurry and then formed into profiled or flat sheets. Transite roofing panels can still be found across the country; many are still in place after 50, 60 or even 70 years of life. Because transite panels acquired asbestos’ super-strengthening properties, they made (and in some cases continue to make) ideal roofing for foundries, forges, chemical plants, paper plants, wastewater treatment plants and sewage facilities. The roofing material withstands high heat, chemical emissions, humidity and other elements emitted by these facilities that other building products could not tolerate.

Transite roofing panels can still be found across the country; many are still in place after 50, 60 or even 70 years of life.

Transite roofing panels can still be found across the country; many are still in place after 50, 60 or even 70 years of life.

Despite the strength of asbestos, even transite roofs can deteriorate or require renovation. In fact, most roofing contractors have encountered or will soon encounter transite roof jobs. The job where transite is in good condition with no airborne particles may be a perfect candidate for a retrofit.

(For the purposes of simplicity, this article uniformly refers to corrugated, asbestos-containing cement roofing sheets as transite. Professionals may also encounter names like 4.2 cement asbestos or corrugated cement. It’s important to note not all corrugated cement roofing sheets contain asbestos; some manufacturers substituted wood fibers for asbestos during the height of asbestos panic in the 1980s. Few of these products successfully penetrated the market because performance did not match that of original transite.)

Leave It In Place

Contrary to popular belief, asbestos is still legally used in many commercial applications in the U.S. today, including roofing and flooring materials; in fireproofing; and in friction products, like brake shoes and clutches. With the surge of installation of transite roofs in the 1950s and 60s, the lifespan of many of these roofs’ components is just now ending. Common factors attributing to roof or structure deterioration may include longitudinal cracks along the panel highs, broken or brittle fasteners or washers, friable panel material, and/or building shifts due to expansion or contraction. Additionally, other renovations on a building may require that old roofs that are still intact be brought up to new codes.

Today, a good general rule about asbestos is “leave it on if you can,” meaning it must be in good condition with no airborne particles.

Today, a good general rule about asbestos is “leave it on if you can,” meaning it is in good condition with no airborne particles.

Professionals encountering transite roof jobs may feel confusion about how to handle asbestos-containing materials. Some may even avoid transite jobs altogether assuming they will equate to expensive asbestos-removal procedures and red tape. However, asbestos abatement (the process of removing or minimizing asbestos health hazards from a structure) can take many forms, including removal, enclosure, encapsulation or leaving the material undisturbed.

In the past, abatement through removal was the recommendation of many asbestos professionals. Traditionally, transite was replaced with fiberglass. This solution is imperfect, however, because of the expenses of asbestos removal and new fiberglass, as well as the lower heat tolerance of fiberglass-based materials. More recently, approaches have changed and several other options present themselves.

Today, a good general rule about asbestos (and in fact the position of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is “leave it on if you can,” meaning it must be in good condition with no airborne particles. Although not always possible, when the contractor can leave the asbestos-containing material in place, asbestos should be considered friend, not foe. Regulations might prevent installation of a new asbestos transite roof, but old buildings that can keep their transite roofs in place will continue to reap the benefits of the product’s super-strengthening properties. [Read more…]

Insulation and Roof Replacements

When existing roofs (that are part of the building’s thermal envelope) are removed and replaced and when the roof assembly includes above-deck insulation, the energy code now requires that the insulation levels comply with the requirements for new construction, according to a proposal approved by International Code Council at public comment hearings held in October 2013.

This high-performance roof system was recently installed on a high school north of Chicago. It features two layers of 3-inch 25-psi, double-coated fiberglass-faced polyisocyanurate insulation set in bead-foam adhesive at 4 inches on center, weighted with five 5-gallon pails of adhesive per 4- by 4-foot board to ensure a positive bond into the bead foam until set. PHOTO: Hutchinson Design Group LLC

This high-performance roof system was recently installed on a high school north of Chicago. It features two layers of 3-inch 25-psi, double-coated fiberglass-faced polyisocyanurate insulation set in bead-foam adhesive at 4 inches on center, weighted with five 5-gallon pails of adhesive per 4- by 4-foot board to ensure a positive bond into the bead foam until set. PHOTO: Hutchinson Design Group LLC

As a result of this proposal approval, the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) provides new language that provides clear unambiguous direction on how the energy code provisions apply to roof repair, roof recover and roof replacement.

Until this update there was a great deal of confusion given the various terms—such as reroofing, roof repair, roof recover and roof replacement—used to describe roofing projects on existing buildings in the International Building Code and the IECC. The clarification will help to mitigate this confusion.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the energy savings provided by a well-insulated roofing system. It is critical to minimize energy losses and upgrade insulation levels when roofs are replaced to comply with code requirements for new construction.

Each year about 2.5 billion square feet of roof coverings are installed on existing buildings and the opportunity to upgrade the insulation levels on these roof systems occurs just once in several decades when the roof is replaced or even longer when existing roofs are “recovered”. Until recently this requirement was prescribed using vague and confusing language, as noted.

Moving forward the IECC will use the same definitions found in the International Building code:

  • Reroofing: The process of recovering or replacing an existing roof covering. See “Roof Recover” and “Roof Replacement”.
  • Roof Recover: The process of installing an additional roof covering over a prepared existing roof covering without removing the existing roof covering.
  • Roof Replacement: The process of removing the existing roof covering, repairing any damaged substrate and installing a new roof covering.
  • Roof Repair: Reconstruction or renewal of any part of an existing roof for the purposes of its maintenance.

A survey of building departments in many states and regions in the U.S. found that online roofing permit application forms rarely included any information on the energy code and required insulation levels. With the changes to the 2015 IECC, it will be easier for building departments to correlate the building code and energy code requirements for roof replacements.

The clarification to the 2015 IECC makes the code easier to interpret and enforce. Along the way, it will help ensure that the opportunity to save energy when replacing roofs is not lost.

Another benefit of this update is that the exemption for roof repair is now clearly defined making it easier for building owners and roofing contractors to perform routine maintenance without triggering energy-efficiency upgrades, which would add costs.