For nearly two years in this magazine, I have been discussing the various components that make up a roof system: roof deck, substrate boards, vapor/air retarder, insulation and cover boards (see “More from Hutch”, page 3). Although each component delivers its own unique benefit to the system, they are intended to work together. When designing a roofing system, components cannot be evaluated solely on their own and consideration must be taken for a holistic view of the system; all components must work together synergistically for sustainable performance. Unfortunately, I often have seen that when components are not designed to work within the system unintended consequences occur, such as a premature roof system failure. A roof system’s strength is only as good as its weakest link. The roof cover is the last component in the design of a durable, sustainable roof system—defined previously as being of long-term performance, which is the essence of sustainability.The roof cover for this article is defined as the waterproofing membrane outboard of the roof deck and all other roof-system components. It protects the system components from the effects of climate, rooftop use, foot traffic, bird and insect infestation, and animal husbandry. Without it, there is no roof, no protection and no safety. When mankind moved from cave dwellings to the open, the first thing early humans learned to construct was basic roof-cover protection. Thus, roof covers have been in existence since man’s earliest built environment.
WHAT CONSTITUTES AN APPROPRIATE ROOF COVER?
There is no one roof cover that is appropriate for all conditions and climates. It cannot be codified or prescribed, as many are trying to do, and cannot be randomly selected. I, and numerous other consultants, earn a good living investigating roof failures that result from inappropriate roof-cover and system component selection.
There are several criteria for roof-cover selection, such as:
- Compatibility with selected adhesives and the substrate below.
- Climate and geographic factors: seacoast, open plains, hills, mountains, snow, ice, hail, rainfall intensity, as well as micro-climates.
- Compatibility with the effluent coming out of rooftop exhausts.
- Local building-code requirements, such as R-value, fire and wind requirements.
- Local contractors knowledgeable and experienced in its installation.
- Roof use: Will it be just a roof or have some other use, such as supporting daily foot traffic to examine ammonia lines or have fork lifts driven over it?
- Building geometry: Can the selected roof cover be installed with success or does the building’s configuration work against you?
- Building occupancy, relative humidity, interior temperature management, building envelope system, interior building pressure management.
- Building structural systems that support the enclosure.
- Interfaces with the adjacent building systems.
- Environmental, energy conservation and related local code/jurisdictional factors.
- Delivering on the expectations of the building owner: Is it a LEED building? Does he/she want to go above and beyond roof insulation thermal-value requirements to achieve even better energy savings? Is he/she going to sell the building in the near future?
There are many types of roof-cover options for the designer. Wood, stone, asphalt, tile, metal, reed, thatch, skins, mud and concrete are all roof covers used around the world in steep-slope applications. This article will examine the low-slope materials.
The dominant roof covers in the low-slope roof market are:
- Roof sheets joined via tape and adhesive
- Installed: mechanically fastened, fully adhered or ballasted
- Roof sheets joined via heat welding
- Installed: mechanically fastened, fully adhered or plate-bonded (often referred to as the “RhinoBond System”)
- Installed in hot asphalt, cold adhesive or torch application
Thermoplastic: TPO or PVC
Asphaltic: modified bitumen
EPDM (ETHYLENE PROPYLENE DIENE MONOMER)
EPDM is produced in three thicknesses— 45, 60 and 90 mil—with and without reinforcing. It can be procured with a fleece backing in traditional black or with a white laminate on top. The lap seams are typically bonded with seam tape and primer.
EPDM has a 40-year history of performance; I have 30-year-old EPDM roof systems that I have designed that are still in place and still performing. Available in large sheets—up to 50-feet wide and 200-feet long—with factory-applied seam tape, installation can be very efficient. Fleece-back membrane and 90-mil product have superior hail and puncture resistance. Historical concerns with EPDM lap-seam failure revolved around liquid- applied splice adhesive; with seam tape technology this concern is virtually moot. Non-reinforced ballasted and mechanically fastened EPDM roof membrane can be recycled.
EPDM can be installed as a ballasted, mechanically fastened or fully adhered system (see photos 1, 2 and 3). In my opinion, ballasted systems offer the greatest sustainability and energy-conservation potential. The majority of systems being installed today are fully adhered. Ballast lost its popularity when wind codes raised the concern of ballast coming off the roof in high-wind events. However, Clinton, Ohio-based RICOWI has observed through inspection that ballasted roofs performed well even in hurricane-prone locations when properly designed (see ANSI-SPRI RP4).
PHOTOS: HUTCHINSON DESIGN GROUP LTD
Asphalt-based roof systems have a long-standing track record of success in the roofing industry. In fact, asphalt-based roof systems have more than a century of use in the U.S. Building owners, roofing specifiers and contractors should not lose sight of this fact. It is important to understand why asphalt roofing has been successful for so long. Asphalt roofs demonstrate characteristics, such as durability and longevity of materials and components, redundancy of waterproofing, ease and understanding of installation, excellent tensile strength and impact resistance. Each of these characteristics helps ensure long-term performance.There are two types of asphalt-based low-slope roof systems: modified bitumen (MB) roof systems and builtup roof (BUR) systems. MB sheets are composed primarily of polymer-modified bitumen reinforced with one or more plies of fabric, such as polyester, glass fiber or a combination of both. Assembled in factories using optimal quality-control standards, modified bitumen sheets are manufactured to have uniform thickness and consistent physical properties throughout the sheet. Modified bitumen roof systems are further divided into atactic polypropylene (APP) and styrene butadiene styrene (SBS) modified systems. APP and SBS modifiers create a uniform matrix that enhances the physical properties of the asphalt. APP is a thermoplastic polymer that forms a uniform matrix within the bitumen. This matrix increases the bitumen’s resistance to ultraviolet light, its flexibility at high and low temperatures, and its ability to resist water penetration. SBS membranes resist water penetration while exhibiting excellent elongation and recovery properties over a wide range of temperature extremes. This high-performance benefit makes SBS membranes durable and particularly appropriate where there may be movement or deflection of the underlying deck.
BUR systems consist of multiple layers of bitumen alternated with ply sheets (felts) applied over the roof deck, vapor retarder, and most often insulation or coverboard. BUR systems are particularly advantageous for lowslope applications. The strength of the system comes from the membrane, which includes the layers of hot-applied bitumen and the reinforcing plies of roofing felt.
FACTORS FOR LONG-TERM PERFORMANCE AND SERVICE LIFE
It is important for building owners and roof system designers to recognize the principles of long-lasting, high-performance roof systems. Roof longevity and performance are determined by factors that include building and roof system design, job specifications, materials quality and suitability, application procedures and maintenance. The level of quality in the workmanship during the application process is critical.
Longevity and performance start with proper design of the asphalt-based roof system. Proper roof system design includes several components: the roof deck, a base layer supporting a vapor retarder or air barrier when necessary, multi-layer insulation and a coverboard, the asphaltic membrane, appropriate surfacing material or coating, and the attachment methods for all layers. Roof consultants, architects and roof manufacturers understand proper design. Roof design needs to follow applicable code requirements for wind, fire and impact resistance, as well as site-specific issues, such as enhanced wind resistance design, positive drainage and rooftop traffic protection. Roof designers can provide or assist with the development of written specifications and construction details that are specific to a roofing project for new construction or reroofing.
Low-slope asphalt-based roof systems are redundant; they are multi-layered systems. BUR systems include a base sheet, three or four reinforcing ply sheets and a surfacing, either aggregate (rock) or a cap sheet. MB sheets include one and sometimes two reinforcing layers and are commonly installed over a substantial asphaltic base sheet. Modified bitumen roofs can be granule surfaced, finished with reflective options or coated after installation. Aggregate, granules, films and coatings add UV protection, assist with fire resistance, provide durability to the roof system and can improve roof aesthetics.
Coverboards provide a durable layer immediately below the membrane, are resistant to foot traffic and separate the membrane from the thermal insulation layer. Protecting the thermal insulation helps maintain the insulation R-value as specified and installed.
Asphalt is a durable and long-lasting material for roof membranes and flashings. Asphalt is stable under significant temperature swings and can be highly impact resistant. Various reinforcements can be used to increase an asphaltic membrane’s durability. All asphaltic membranes are reinforced, during installation (BUR) or the manufacturing process (MB membranes). Polyester reinforcement has excellent elongation, tensile strength and recovery. It provides good puncture resistance and stands up well to foot traffic. Glass fiber reinforcement resists flame penetration and provides excellent tensile strength and dimensional stability.