Architects and Roof System Designers: Your Details and Drawings Are Seriously Lacking Design Intent

Dear Mr. and Ms. Architect and Roof System Designer:
The following are comments I hear over and over:

  • “Seventy-five percent of the time I cannot determine what roof assembly an architect wants from a spec.”
  • “One always feels they have to play private detective and try to figure out what [a roof system designer] actually wants.”

As an architect and registered roof consultant, I take great pride in my roof system designs and detailing, which are project specific, at minimum meet the code, and more often than not exceed code with all conditions and building components that impinge on the roof detailed for the specific project. In listening to construction managers, general contractors, roofing contractors and suppliers talk, you would think that architects barely know that the roof is on top of the building! It seems most do not even have basic knowledge and certainly don’t know when water may flow uphill. This is embarrassing to hear! It starts in the university with the curriculum placing all emphasis on building design and not how to actually construct a building. In many ways, this is good for my firm as we are busy fixing what should never have required fixing.

Peer review of several projects designed by very large (and what you would assume to be very sophisticated firms) and even small boutique firms reveals the following:

A. The roof system design is not code compliant in regard to tapered insulation.

B. The roof system itself is not code compliant, but contract documents require “contractor to verify or be responsible for code compliance”. This begs the question: Who is being paid to design? Is it the architect or the contractor?

C. Structural and, especially, structural lightweight concrete pose significant roofing challenges and architects have no clue about that, resulting in roof systems in danger of imminent failure.

D. The accuracy of construction documents in general is very, very low. Even I cannot often determine what roof assembly an architect wants from a specification.

  • 1. For example, architects do not list products in the specs that will be used in the assembly.
  • 2. Substrate boards, cover boards and vapor barriers are frequently listed in the specs but never shown on the plan.

E. The detailing of wall air barriers to roof vapor or air barriers is not shown and certainly no definition of responsibility prescribed as to who is to tie these materials together.

F. Understanding of material limitations is non-existent.

  • 1. Weather, wind, cold, snow, humidity and temperature affect the installation of roof system components. I especially get a kick out of seeing water-based adhesives being specified for construction taking place in winter; this means future work for my firm.

G. Roof edges and how they terminate at high walls is never detailed.

H. Roof drains and curbs are improperly or not detailed.

I. Specifications are inadequate—often boilerplate generic—and do not match the drawings. I’ve also seen non-specific details that are not to scale or do not reflect actual conditions.

  • 1. Design wind speed is not given when appropriate.
  • 2. Warranty requirements are in- correct, not thought-out or not specified at all.

J. Architects or consultants sometimes have multiple designs listed in the specification, leaving it to the con- tractor to issue RFIs that, more often than not, are not answered.

  • 1. These inconsistencies lead to frustration and, in many cases, the contractors just decide it is not worth the time or effort to even bid the project or add a good deal of money to cover undefined items.

K. I’ve witnessed owners who have hired professionals to design build- ings costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and yet these “professionals” often do not exhibit the standard of care expected.

  • 1. Poor designs compound when met with an irresponsible contractor who will not do his or her due diligence and investigate what is needed to install a quality system.

Illustrations: courtesy of Hutchinson Design Group Ltd.

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Code-mandated Thermal Insulation Thicknesses Require Raising Roof Access Door and Clerestory Sill Details

PHOTO 1: The new roof has been installed at SD 73 Middle School North and it can clearly be seen that the door and louver need to be raised. On this project, there were four such conditions.

PHOTO 1: The new roof has been installed at SD 73 Middle School North and it can clearly be seen that the door and louver need to be raised. On this project, there were four such conditions.

The most common concern I hear related to increasing insulation thickness (a result of increased thermal values of tapered insulation), especially in regard to roofing removal and replacement, is, “OMG! What about the roof access door and/or clerestory?” You can also include, for those knowledgeable enough to consider it, existing through-wall flashing systems and weeps.

I’m a bit taken aback by this concern; I have been dealing with roof access doors and clerestory sills for the past 30 years and, for the most part, have had no problems. My first thought is that roof system designers are now being forced to take these conditions seriously. This is a big deal! They just have no clue.

In the next few pages, I’ll review several possible solutions to these dilemmas, provide some detailing suggestions and give you, the designer, some confidence to make these design and detailing solutions. For the purpose of this article, I will assume reroofing scenarios where the challenge is the greatest because the conditions requiring modification are existing.

THE ACCESS DOOR

For many and perhaps most contractors who sell and, dare I say, design roofs, it is the perceived “large” expense of modifying existing conditions that is most daunting. Often, these conditions are not recognized until the door sill is several inches below the new roof sur- face. Not a good predicament. Planning for and incorporating such details into the roof system design will go a long way to minimizing costs, easing coordination and bringing less tension to a project.

PHOTO 2: The sill has been raised and new hollow metal door, frame and louver have been installed at SD 73 Middle School North. Door sill and louver sill flashing are yet to be installed, as are protective rubber roof pavers.

PHOTO 2: The sill has been raised and new hollow metal door, frame and louver have been installed at SD 73 Middle School North. Door sill and louver sill flashing are yet to be installed, as are protective rubber roof pavers.

Door access to the roof is the easiest method to access a roof. These doors are typically off a stair tower or mechanical penthouse and most often less than 12 inches above the existing roof as foresight was not often provided (see photos 1, 2 and 6 through 9). With tapered insulation thickness easily exceeding 12 inches, one can see that door sills can be issues with new roof systems and need to be considered.

Designers should first assess the condition of the door and frame, typically hollow metal. Doors and frames that are heavily rusted should not be modified and reused, but discarded, and new ones should be specified. The hardware too needs to be assessed: Are the hinges free of corrosion and distortion? Is the closure still in use or detached and hanging off the door frame? The condition of door sweeps, knobs, lockset and weather stripping should also be determined. Ninety-nine percent of the time it is prudent to replace these parts.

As the roof system design develops, the designer should start to get a feel for the thickness of insulation at the door. It is very important the designer also consider the thicknesses that vapor retarders, bead and spray-foam adhesives, cover and board and protective pavers will add. These can easily be an additional 4 inches.

PHOTO 3A: The new roofing at SD 73 Elementary North was encroaching on this clerestory sill and required that it be raised. As part of this project, the steel lintel was exposed. It was prepped, primed and painted and new through-wall flashing was installed.

PHOTO 3A: The new roofing at SD 73 Elementary North was encroaching on this clerestory sill and required that it be raised. As part of this project, the steel lintel was exposed. It was prepped, primed and painted and new through-wall flashing was installed.

Once the sill height is determined, the design of the sill, door and frame can commence. If the sill height to be raised is small—1 1/2 to 3 inches—it can often be raised with wood blocking cut to fit the hollow metal frame, flashed with the roofing membrane, metal sill flashing and a new door threshold installed, and the door and frame painted. This will, of course, require the removal of the existing threshold and door which will need to be cut down to fit and then bottom-sealed with a new metal closure (see details A and B, page 3).

When the door sill needs to be raised above 3 inches, the design and door considerations increase. Let’s consider that the door and frame is set into a masonry wall of face brick with CMU backup. Although most hollow metal doors are 7 feet 2 inches to match masonry coursing, after the modification the door may be shorter. For example, if a door is 7 feet 2 inches and you must raise the sill 5 inches, the new door and frame will need to be 6 foot 9 inches.
PHOTOS & ILLUSTRATIONS: Hutchinson Design Group Ltd.

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Concise Details and Coordination between Trades Will Lead to a Quality Long-term Solution for Roof Drains

PHOTO 1: Roof drains should be set into a sump receiver provided and installed by the plumbing contractor.

PHOTO 1: Roof drains should be set into a sump receiver provided and installed by the plumbing contractor.

The 2015 IECC roof thermal insulation codes have forced roof system designers to actually think through the roof system design rather than rely on generic manufacturers’ details or the old built-up roof detail that has been used in the office. Don’t laugh! I see it all the time. For the purpose of this article, I will deal with new construction so I can address the coordination of the interrelated disciplines: plumbing, steel and roof design. In roofing removal and replacement projects, the process and design elements would be similar but the existing roof deck and structural framing would be in place. The existing roof drain would need to be evaluated as to whether it could remain or needs to be replaced. My firm typically replaces 85 percent of all old roof drains for a variety of reasons.

The new 2015 IECC has made two distinctive changes to the 2012 IECC in regard to the thermal insulation requirements for low-slope roofs with the continuous insulation on the exterior side of the roof deck:

  • 1. It increased the minimum requirement of thermal R-value in each of the ASHRAE regions.
  • 2. It now requires that this minimum R-value be attained within 4 feet of the roof drain.

Item two is the game changer. If you consider that with tapered insulation you now need to meet the minimum near the drain, as opposed to an aver- age, the total insulation thickness can increase substantially.

PHOTO 2: Roof drains need to be secured to the roof deck with under-deck clamps so they cannot move.

PHOTO 2: Roof drains need to be secured to the roof deck with under-deck clamps so they cannot move.

THE ROOF DRAIN CHALLENGE

The challenge I see for designers is how to properly achieve a roof system design that will accommodate the new insulation thicknesses (without holding the drain off the roof deck, which I believe is below the designer’s standard of care), transition the roof membrane into the drain and coordinate with the related disciplines.

For the purpose of this tutorial, let’s make the following assumptions:

  • Steel roof deck, level, no slope
  • Internal roof drains
  • Vapor/air retarder required, placed on sheathing
  • Base layer and tapered insulation will be required
  • Cover board
  • Fully adhered 60-mil EPDM
  • ASHRAE Zone 5: Chicago area

FIGURE 1: Your detail should show the steel roof deck, steel angle framing coped to the structure, the metal sump receiver (manufactured by the roof drain manufacturer), roof drain and underdeck clamp to hold the roof drain to the roof deck.

FIGURE 1: Your detail should show the steel roof deck, steel angle framing coped to the structure, the metal sump receiver (manufactured by the roof drain manufacturer), roof drain and underdeck clamp to hold the roof drain to the roof deck.

Once the roof drain locations have been selected (for those new to this, the roof system designer should select the roof drain locations to best suit the tapered insulation layout), one should try to locate the roof drain in linear alignment to reduce tapered insulation offsets. The drain outlets should be of good size, 4-inch minimum, even if the plumbing engineer says they can be smaller. Don’t place them hundreds of feet apart. Once the roof drain location is selected, inform the plumbing and structural engineers.

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER COORDINATION
The first order of business would be to give the structural engineer a call and tell him the plumbing engineer will specify the roof drain sump pan and that the structural engineer should not specify an archaic, out-of-date sump pan for built-up roofs incorporating minimal insulation.

When located in the field of the roof, the roof drains should be at structural mid spans, not at columns. When a structural roof slope is used and sloped to an exterior roof edge, the roof drains should be located as close to walls as possible. Do not locate drains sever- al or more feet off the roof edge; it is just too difficult to back slope to them. Inform the structural engineer that the steel angles used to frame the opening need to be coped to the structure, not laid atop the structure. There’s no need to raise the roof deck right where all the water is to drain.

FIGURE 2: A threaded roof drain extension is required to make up the distance from deck up to the top of the insulation and must be screwed to a proper location (top of the insulation is recommended). To do so, the insulation below the drain will need to be slightly beveled. This is shown in the detail.

FIGURE 2: A threaded roof drain extension is required
to make up the distance from deck up to the top of the insulation and must be screwed to a proper location (top of the insulation is recommended). To do so, the insulation below the drain will need to be slightly beveled. This is shown in the detail.

PLUMBING COORDINATION
Now call the plumbing engineer and tell him you need a metal sump receiver (see Photo 1), underdeck clamp (see Photo 2), cast-iron roof drain with reversible collar, threaded extension ring capable of expanding upward 5 inches, and cast-iron roof drain clamping ring and dome.

Send the structural and plumbing engineer your schematic roof drain detail so they know exactly what you are thinking. Then suggest they place your detail on their drawings. Why? Because you cannot believe how much the plumbing roof-related details and architectural roof details often differ! Because details differ, the trade that works on the project first—plumbing— leaves the roofing contractor to deal with any inconsistencies.

Your detail at this point should show the steel roof deck, steel angle framing coped to the structure, the metal sump receiver (manufactured by the roof drain manufacturer), roof drain and underdeck clamp to hold the roof drain to the roof deck (see Figure 1).

PHOTOS AND ILLUSTRATIONS: HUTCHINSON DESIGN GROUP LLC

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Customize Standard Roofing Details to Meet Unique Project Needs

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) has released The NRCA Construction Details CD — 2014, a valuable resource that enables construction architects and designers to customize standard roofing details to meet their unique project needs.

The CD, which contains 575 customizable details from The NRCA Roofing Manual, can be imported into AutoCAD software, where details can be customized to fit the specific needs of a project, saving architects and designers valuable construction detail drawing time.

The NRCA Construction Details CD contains details included in the following volumes of The NRCA Roofing Manual:

  • The NRCA Roofing Manual: Architectural Metal Flashing, Condensation and Air Leakage Control, and Reroofing — 2014
    The NRCA Roofing Manual: Steep-slope Roof Systems — 2013
    The NRCA Roofing Manual: Metal Panel and SPF Roof Systems — 2012
    The NRCA Roofing Manual: Membrane Roof Systems — 2011