You Can Influence Codes and Standards

As associate executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), I focus a great deal of my time and energy on the codes and standards that regulate or guide the roofing business. In the current environment, driven by constant upgrades in technology, as well as the need to save energy, these codes—and the standards that often inform them—seem to be undergoing steady revision. Believe it or not—and the word “geek” does come to mind—I find participating in this process extremely interesting. In fact, following and sometimes influencing emerging codes and standards is among the most important responsibilities of my job.

I’ll be the first to admit that a detailed review of a standards manual is probably not anyone’s idea of exciting reading. But given the importance of codes and standards to the construction industry, we ignore them at our own risk.

For a start, what’s the difference between a code and a standard? Ask enough people in the roofing industry and you will get a variety of answers. But generally, codes are the “top-tier” documents, providing a set of rules that specify the minimum acceptable level of safety for manufactured, fabricated or constructed objects. They frequently have been enacted into local laws or ordinances and noncompliance can result in legal action. Standards, on the other hand, establish engineering or technical requirements for products, practices, methods or operations. They literally provide the nuts and bolts of meeting code requirements. If codes tell you what you have to do, standards tell you how to do it. Frequently, standards—especially “voluntary consensus standards”—are the precursors for what becomes law years down the road.

ERA has represented the manufacturers of EPDM roofing for more than a decade. Through the years, we have learned the importance of interfacing with standard-setting and regulatory bodies. One of our first, and most important, learning experiences was working with the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states when they issued regulations designed to achieve federally mandated air-quality standards. (See the article in Roofing’s September/October 2014 issue, page 58.) The initial regulations, which lowered the amount of VOCs in many roofing products, were based on those used in southern California and incorporated provisions that were effective in the climactic and market conditions of that state. But states in the affected areas, from Virginia to Maine, confronted a situation where the new regulations threatened to bring the roofing industry to a sudden halt. In some instances, no adhesives and sealants were available to meet the new standards. And the new products, when they became available, would need to be effective in very cold climates totally unlike those on the West Coast.

ERA worked with officials throughout the impacted areas, helping to create “phase-in” schedules that would give industry enough time to develop products to meet the new standards. In state after state, the local regulators welcomed our input. Our point-of-view was based on a deep understanding of the business needs of our industry. Just as important, we understood the science behind the proposed regulations and could work with the regulatory bodies to ensure the air-quality needs and the needs of the roofing industry were met.

This experience has informed our ongoing approach to code-setting and regulatory bodies. Since our work with the states setting VOC standards, we have invested staff time and resources to stay current with and even ahead of proposals that would impact our members and their customers. We have testified before the South Coast Air Quality Management District in California on its proposal to limit VOCs. ERA has organized an ad-hoc coalition to successfully oppose an unnecessarily stringent proposal to require reflective roofs in the Denver area. And our organization is currently providing input to Atlanta-based ASHRAE’s efforts to clarify its regulation regarding air leakage. This issue—of great importance to the roofing industry—relates to other work being done in ASHRAE working groups and subcommittees on thermal bridging, as well as the definition of walls and wall assemblies. ASHRAE has convened an “Air Leakage Work Group” whose charge is to review the pertinent sections of Standard 90.1 and make recommendations for revising it. ERA staff will be present at this group’s meetings and will once again provide input based on the expertise of our members.

When I work with code-setting and regulatory groups, I am reminded of that very familiar saying, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Based on our work at ERA, I’d like to revise that. Your skill at “playing the game” will definitely influence whether you win or lose. Our experience tells us that staying involved with regulatory groups and providing them with input based on firm science and field experience leads to a winning outcome for the roofing business.

Research Helps Industry Organizations Conclude Ballasted Roofs Provide Energy Savings

During the last decade, the roofing industry has been increasingly impacted by two strong forces: first, rising energy prices with no real end in sight, and, second, increasingly stringent building codes and regulations, designed to limit emissions, reduce energy use and mitigate the impact of urban heat islands.

The first definitive study to measure the energy-saving potential of ballasted roofs was done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn., in 2007.

The first definitive study to measure the energy-saving potential of ballasted roofs was done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn., in 2007. PHOTO: EPDM Roofing Association

The industry response has also been two-fold: In some instances, new products have been created, such as lower VOC adhesives, primers and sealants, self-adhering membranes and a wider variety of reflective membranes. At the same time, roofing professionals have taken a close look at some of the products that have been in use for a generation. Using rigorous science, they have tested these tried-and-true products to see how they measure up against the new standards. And in many cases, they’ve found that products that have been in use for decades are delivering great results in this new, energy-sensitive environment. Case in point: ballasted roofing, which has been available since the early 1970s, is turning out to be a great choice to meet 21st century needs.

2007 Study

The first definitive study to measure the energy-saving potential of ballasted roofs was done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn., in 2007. Andre Desjarlais, ORNL’s group leader of Building Envelope Research, and his colleagues had just completed work in which “we had done a fairly substantial comparison of different cool roof technologies, both membrane types, as well as coatings,” Desjarlais says. At the request of EPDM manufacturers, working together at the newly founded EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), Bethesda, Md., as well as manufacturers within Waltham, Mass.-based SPRI, Desjarlais designed and implemented a second study to assess the performance of ballasted roofing. “We undertook a study to effectively expand what we had done earlier on coatings and membranes,” he says.

Other factors also encouraged ORNL to generate data about ballasted roofing. The California Energy Commission, Sacramento, had just revised its codes, essentially defining roofs with high reflectance and high emittance as the only choice of roofing membranes that would deliver high energy savings. Desjarlais believed this definition of a “cool roof” might be inaccurately limiting roofing choice by excluding other roofing materials, such as ballasted roofs, that would deliver comparable savings.

The California Energy Commission, Sacramento, had just revised its codes, essentially defining roofs with high reflectance and high emittance as the only choice of roofing membranes that would deliver high energy savings.

The California Energy Commission, Sacramento, had just revised its codes, essentially defining roofs with high reflectance and high emittance as the only choice of roofing membranes that would deliver high energy savings. PHOTO: EPDM Roofing Association

In addition, in Chicago, a new Chicago Energy Code was adopted as early as 2001 “with high reflectivity and emissivity requirements that limited severely building owners’ and managers’ roof system choices”, according to a paper presented in 2011 by Bill McHugh of the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association. At the roofing industry’s request, a reprieve was granted, giving the industry until 2009 to come up with products with a reflectivity of 0.25.

Faced with that 2009 deadline, the Chicagoland Roofing Council, Chicago Roofing Contractors Association and Rosemont, Ill.-based National Roofing Contractors Association began in 2001 to conduct research on products that would help to meet the city’s goal of creating a workable Urban Heat Island Effect Ordinance while giving building owners a wider choice of roofing products. As part of their effort, the industry coalition turned its attention to the energy-saving qualities of ballasted roofing and coordinated its work with the research at ORNL.

Desjarlais points out the concept of thermal mass having energy benefits has been accepted for years and has been a part of the early version of ASHRAE 90.1. “Thermally massive walls have a lower insulation requirement, so there was industry acceptance of the fact that using mass is a way of saving energy,” he says. “But we had a hard time translating that understanding from a wall to a roof. Whether you do that with a concrete block or a bunch of rocks doesn’t really matter. The metric is no different. Roofs or walls.”

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An ERA Study Proves EPDM Easily Lasts More than 30 Years

More and more building owners are seeing the light: Roof systems based on historical in situ performance for more than 30 years are the best roof system choice to benefit the environment. EPDM roof membrane has been utilized as a roof cover for more than 40 years, and there are numerous examples of ballasted roofs greater than 30-years old still performing. New seaming technologies, thicker membrane and enhanced design are creating roof systems with projected 50-year service lives. EPDM roof covers’ physical characteristics have changed little in 30 years, and because potential for 50-year-plus service life is possible, they are a solid choice of design professionals, building owners and school district representatives who truly desire a roof system that benefits the environment.

PHOTO 1: This ballasted 45-mil EPDM roof system has been in service for 32 years.

PHOTO 1: This ballasted 45-mil EPDM roof system has been in service for 32
years.

In 2010, the Washington, D.C.-based EPDM Roofing Association (ERA) was determined to answer the question: “How long can an EPDM roof perform?” Consequently, roof membrane samples from five roof systems with a minimum age of 30 years were obtained for testing of their physical properties. The physical and mechanical properties evaluated (using relevant ASTM standards) were overall thickness, tear resistance, tensile set, tensile strength and elongation, and water absorption. The results were positive, showing that even after 30 years of infield exposure nearly all the physical characteristics of EPDM membrane meet or exceed ASTM minimums. But the question of how long EPDM roofs could last remained. Thus, a second phase of testing was undertaken.

These properties were studied for “as received” and “after heat-conditioning” for up to 1,500 hours at 240 F. Results showing how these membranes performed before and after heat-conditioning are presented with the intent of defining characteristics for long-term service life of roof membranes.

TESTING PHASE ONE

Ethylene-propylene-diene terpolymer (EPDM) has been used in waterproofing and roof applications for more than 45 years in North America. Introduced into the roofing market in the 1960s, EPDM grew, especially after the 1970s oil embargo, to be a roofing membrane choice for new construction and roofing replacement projects. EPDM has achieved long-term in situ performance in part because of its chemical structure, mostly carbon black, which resists ozone and material decomposition, as well as degradation caused by UV light, which is the No. 1 degradation element to roofing materials exposed to the sun (see photo 1). The carbon black also provides reinforcement, yielding improved physical and mechanical properties.

Long-term performance of roof-cover material is dependent upon its resistance to the combined effects of ponding water, UV radiation, ozone, heat and thermal cycling. Geographical location can exacerbate or reduce the impact of climatic factors. In ballasted systems, the ballast acts to provide protection from the UV rays and minimizes the effect of climatic influences.

ERA’s study had three specific goals:

    1. Verify the long-term performance characteristics of EPDM membranes over 30 years. (At the time of the study, the only in situ membranes that were around for 30 years were 45-mil EPDM membranes. Currently 60- and 90-mil are the standard choices. It is assumed that results for the 45-mil material can be prorated for the thicker membrane.)

    2. Scientifically validate the empirical sustainability experiences.

    PHOTO 2: This recently installed, ballasted, 90-mil EPDM roof was designed for a 50-year service life.

    PHOTO 2: This recently installed, ballasted, 90-mil EPDM roof was designed for a 50-year service life.

    3. Create a foundation for specifier-to-owner discussions in regard to long-term service life. Five roofs, four ballasted and one fully adhered, with in situ service lives approaching or over 30 years were identified and samples were taken. All roofs were fully performing without moisture intrusion.

The samples were sent for testing per ASTM D4637 for:

  • Elongation
  • Tensile strength
  • Thickness
  • Factory seam strength (psi)

PHOTOS: HUTCHINSON DESIGN GROUP LTD.

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ARMA, ERA and PIMA Research Advanced Roof Systems in Northern Climates

A coalition of trade groups is funding a research project about advanced roofing systems that were installed on an upstate New York correctional facility to evaluate the benefits of thermal insulation and cool roofing in Northern climates.

The Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA), Washington, D.C.; EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), Washington; and the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), Bethesda, Md., are sponsoring continued analysis of a reroofing project at the Onondaga County Correctional Facility, Jamesville, N.Y. The Onondaga County Department of Facilities Management identified a need to study building energy use and stormwater runoff from roof systems. Temperature and rain data from the project, which includes vegetative roofing, increased insulation levels and “cool” roofs, will provide information about building performance and roof covering selection.

“ARMA members promote a balanced approach to roofing performance, especially when it comes to saving building energy,” says Reed Hitchcock, ARMA’s executive vice president. “Using a whole-building approach, where roofing reflectivity, insulation levels and other design elements are considered in the decision-making process, will help ensure the right system is selected; this project can only help with that decision.”

When the correctional facility was due for a major reroofing project in 2009, Onondaga County saw a unique opportunity to evaluate the water-retention and energy-efficiency performance for a variety of different roof covering assemblies. The project also offered valuable information that could be used to identify the best options for future reroof projects across the county’s entire building inventory.

The county worked with Ashley-McGraw Architects, Syracuse, N.Y., and CDH Energy, Cazenovia, N.Y., to design and install a field monitoring system to collect data on thermal performance, weather conditions and roof runoff from four buildings at the Jamesville facility. CDH Energy released a report in October 2011 that made recommendations on roof covering selection.

Hugh Henderson, P.E., CDH Energy, remarked the original report laid the groundwork for future roofing projects in Onondaga County. “The use of vegetative roof systems as a stormwater control mechanism was the most important takeaway from the first years of the project,” he explains. “Continuing the project will provide a better evaluation of cool roof and insulation products as part of roof designs in colder climates.”

With the instrumentation still in place, it was a simple decision to continue evaluating the roof coverings over a longer time period to better see how roof coverings interact with weather conditions. Of particular interest is the effect of accumulated snow on roofs that may affect the buildings’ thermal performance.

“Roof insulation is an integral part of the design strategy for a building’s energy-efficiency footprint, and this study will help building owners, contractors and architects assess a roof’s performance from a broader basis and ensure the best energy efficient components are used,” adds Jared Blum, PIMA president.

The Onondaga County reroofing project includes an analysis of the comparison of cool roof technologies, consisting of reflective roof surfaces and high-performing well-insulated roof covering assemblies. “Our members produce reflective and absorptive roof coverings; this study will provide meaningful data that can help designers select the right products for their particular project, regardless of where in the country the roof will be installed,” notes Ellen Thorp, ERA’s associate executive director.

The project is expected to run through 2015.

USGBC and other Code-, Regulation- and Guideline-setting Bodies Are Increasingly Working with Industry

Earlier this year, the USGBC announced a 16-month extension to register products under LEED 2009, prior to the implementation of LEED v4 on Oct. 31, 2016. The action set off speculation, both off and online, about what caused USGBC to act with some calling for a more in-depth explanation for the delay. But the real reason, most likely, was simply stated in USGBC’s own press release: In a survey taken at GreenBuild in late October, 61 percent of respondents—almost two-thirds of those polled—said they are “not ready” or “unsure” if they were ready to pursue LEED v4 and required additional time to prepare. USGBC said it was also getting the same message from the international community.

The response to the USGBC action tended to fall into two camps: those who said the council was caving to the pressure of industry and those who said USGBC was taking a reasonable action after having put forward a complicated, unworkable and unneeded ratings system. Based on my extensive work with code-setting and regulatory bodies, I see a third option emerging, one that bodes well for the environment and the building sector.

During the past year, as part of my job as associate executive director of the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), I have attended and testified at more than 20 hearings held by a broad range of groups, including the IGCC, SCAQMD (the South Coast Air Quality Management District, overseeing much of Southern California) and ASHRAE. Frequently, I have been accompanied by representatives of our member companies, Firestone, Carlisle and Johns Manville. And often I have been joined by members of industry groups, such as the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition.

Collectively, we have offered our findings on a range of issues that are critical to our industry, such as the importance of climate in the choice of roofing color and the need to preserve the builder’s choice when deciding on reflectivity options and the unique qualities of ballasted roofing that should be considered in any code-setting activities. Our testimony is based on meticulous research, as well as on empirical evidence and firsthand knowledge gained from years of experience in the building industry. Increasingly, we find that we are listened to and that our interaction with code-setting and regulatory bodies is a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, rather than an adversarial give-and-take.

For instance, we worked closely with the Ozone Transport Commission in its efforts to achieve federally mandated clean air standards in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Initially, we pointed out that their proposed regulations would have mandated the use of low-VOC products that were in development but not yet available in the marketplace. And we also demonstrated that the roofing industry would need ample time to train roofing contractors in the use of these new products. We worked with regulators, state by state, and developed a mutually agreed upon seasonal approach. While the process is still ongoing, many state regulators expressed their gratitude for the advice we offered and the expertise we brought to the table.

I am certainly not privy to the inner workings of the USGBC. But their extension of the deadline for the implementation of LEED v4 seems to be part of a trend: The groups who are drawing up codes, regulations, and ratings systems are increasingly working with the building industry and the end results are based on good science and good sense.

New VOC Regulations Threatened the Quality of Roofing Assemblies until the Roofing Industry Became Involved

Ellen Thorp, associate executive director of the EPDM Roofing Association, makes it a point to be responsive to the many inquiries she gets. Most deal with routine requests for information about EPDM, but one phone call Thorp fielded six years ago from one of ERA’s member companies stood out from the rest. Ultimately, it changed the way ERA and the roofing industry do business.

A manufacturer’s rep had heard from a customer in Connecticut that the state was about to implement VOC regulations. The problem: The new regulations would ban some of the adhesives, sealants, and primers essential to installing EPDM and other roofing products, and there were no substitute products available to meet the new standards. If the new regulations went into effect as scheduled, they threatened to negatively impact the safety and quality of roofing assemblies in the affected area and the roofing industry as a whole.

The proposed regulations were part of an effort by the Ozone Transport Commission, or OTC, to achieve federally mandated air-quality standards in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The OTC was created under the Clean Air Act to develop solutions for the New England states, as well as Delaware; Maryland; New Jersey; New York; Pennsylvania; Virginia; and Washington, D.C. At the time of OTC’s creation, most of these states had not attained federally mandated ozone standards, and the region lagged behind other parts of the U.S. in achieving compliance.

As part of its initial work, OTC developed a Model Rule for Adhesives and Sealants, based on regulations used in California, incorporating provisions effective in the climactic and market conditions of that state. At the time of the phone call to Thorp, the OTC had released the model rule, and states were beginning to draft their own regulations that included implementation dates within the next year. “The VOC limits the OTC was proposing would have required products that did not exist in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic,” Thorp explains. “It was also concerning that they were basing the limits on California regulations. The climate in the Northeast is very different than in California, so we didn’t feel it was good science to be creating a model rule based on a place that had a completely different climate.”

Thorp and the ERA member companies were very interested in working with state regulators. “It certainly is our priority to reduce VOC emissions wherever possible, but it also is important to us to have regulations that our industry could work with and are based on the best available science,” she says. In fact, products that would meet the new regulations were in development but were not yet available. In addition, the new adhesives and sealants would require new or modified application techniques. That meant the roofing industry needed time to train thousands of roofing contractors.

ERA’s first step was to support its assertion that the climate of the Northeast differed dramatically from that of California. ERA hired Jim Hoff of Tegnos Research Inc. to review weather data and the effects the weather has on low-VOC products. “At ERA’s expense, we assembled relevant scientific data and provided it to the state regulators,” Thorp adds.

ERA worked with regulators in each state, sharing the results of its research. ERA provided the state environmental protection and air quality bureaus with detailed information about what sealants were available and explained the time needed to train roofing contractors. Working together, the regulatory bodies and ERA were able to agree on a phased-in or seasonal approach. For instance, in a majority of the states, the new low-VOC products were required initially only in the summer for three months. The year after, they were required for five months. Then, the following year, they were required year-round. Once these states had found success with this approach, others followed suit. “We explained to the regulators the importance of being consistent since many roofing companies do work across multiple states, especially in the Northeast where the states are small and roofing companies are likely to work across state lines,” Thorp notes.

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Roofing Manufacturers and Contractors Embrace Recycling

In the early 2000s, as the green-building movement reached its tipping point, the roofing industry’s contributions to sustainability focused on increasing energy efficiency, improving long-term durability and addressing the heat-island effect. In the years since, significant strides have been made in all three of these areas for commercial and residential buildings.

In recent years, increasing attention has been given to the benefits and challenges of recycling roofing materials at the end of their useful life. This is no trivial task: Owens Corning estimates asphalt shingles alone comprise up to 5 percent of building-related landfill waste. This doesn’t take into account other roofing materials, including EPDM, thermoplastic PVC and metal.

Not surprisingly, rising removal costs, coupled with the growing demand in some areas of the country to legislate landfill content, are putting pressure on contractors and building owners to seek alternatives to traditional roof construction scrap and tear-off disposal methods.

In response, greater numbers of roofing manufacturers and contractors are driving strategies to avoid the landfill. A general review of emerging trends across the roofing industry suggests manufacturers and contractors increasingly are turning to recycling to steer these materials from the waste stream.

Steel is the most recycled material in building construction today. PHOTO: STEEL RECYCLING INSTITUTE

Steel is the most recycled material in building construction today. PHOTO: STEEL RECYCLING INSTITUTE

METAL

Metal roofing’s sustainable attributes are significant. Industry experts cite its ability to improve a building’s energy efficiency, and metal today contains anywhere from 25 to 95 percent recycled material.

On its website, the Chicago-based Metal Construction Association (MCA) encourages installing metal roofing directly over an existing roof, thus eliminating the need to dispose of the original materials. But when an older metal roof or new-construction debris must be removed from a site, contractors and owners in most regions of the country can quickly identify scrap yards that take metal.

“Steel is the most recycled material in building construction today,” says MCA Technical Director Scott Kriner. “There’s an infrastructure that supports it, and metal in general is virtually 100 percent recyclable.” Kriner notes MCA supports recycling as part of the metal industry’s overall commitment to environmental sustainability and transparency in business.

PVC

PVC has been used in roofing systems since the 1960s, and the post-consumer recycling of roof membranes began in North America in 1999—a nice symmetry when one considers roofs in terms of 30-year life cycles.

In general terms, the recycling of PVC roofing is a relatively straightforward process. The material is sliced into long strips, rolled up, lifted off the roof and transported to a recycling center. Recyclers run the PVC through a conveyor system, where fasteners and other metal objects are removed.

Initially, the recovered membrane was ground into powder for reuse in molded roof walkway pads. More recently, some manufacturers have been incorporating a granulated form into new PVC roofing membranes, exclusively on the backside to avoid aesthetic issues with color variations. The first installations of membrane produced with post-consumer recycled composition occurred in the mid-1990s. So far, its field performance has matched that of PVC roofing produced with virgin raw materials.

The Vinyl Institute, Alexandria, Va., says close to 1 billion pounds of vinyl are recycled at the postindustrial level yearly. “The vinyl industry has a history of supporting recycling,” the institute reports on its website, “and this effort continues as companies, alone and through their trade associations, expand existing programs and explore new opportunities to recover vinyl products at the end of their useful life.”

EPDM

Ethylene propylene diene terpolymer is used extensively on low-slope commercial buildings. Yet even this durable synthetic rubber membrane must eventually be replaced, and today recycling is a viable option.

The removal process generally involves power-vacuuming off the stone ballast, where present, to expose the EPDM membrane below. The membrane can then be cut into manageable squares, which are folded and stacked on pallets, loaded onto a truck and transported for recycling. The recycler grinds it into crumbs or powder, depending on the end use. A growing number of recycling centers nationwide now handles EPDM.

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Ballasted EPDM Roof Has Been in Service Since 1979

Rob Nelson is a 44-year-old software consultant who owns a multi-tenant, 137,000-square-foot building in Kingston, Pa. Rob’s dad bought the building in 1985, when it was an abandoned cigar factory and Rob took over management of it in 2002. He considers it to have been a good investment for many reasons. It has attracted a variety of tenants and currently houses about 25 businesses, including small, single-office enterprises, an engineering firm and a home-health nursing business. Rob’s family operates a furniture business and an indoor self-storage facility in the building, as well.

Roof Consultant Mark Sobeck inspects a 35-year-old ballasted EPDM roof on a multi-tenant building in Kingston, Pa.

Roof Consultant Mark Sobeck inspects a 35-year-old ballasted EPDM roof on a multi-tenant building in Kingston, Pa.

Besides its track record of attracting tenants, Rob also values his building for another very important reason: its ballasted EPDM roof has been in place since 1979. If you do the math, that’s 35 years. And Rob’s roofing consultant, Mark Sobeck, based in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., says he can realistically expect his building to get another 10 or 15 years of protection from the roof.

Rob and Mark emphasize that maintenance has been important to the roofing system as a whole. One-third of the original roof has been replaced for reasons not related to the membrane performance, and the flashing and expansion joints have been replaced on the original section of the roof. But the membrane itself, according to Sobeck, is still in great shape. “It’s amazing how the EPDM rubber is still lasting. At thirty-five years, it’s still stretchy and pliable and looks good.”

Nelson’s experience with the longevity of his roof is backed up by in-depth testing by the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA). ERA commissioned studies of five EPDM roofs that had been in use for between 28 and 32 years. The roofs, ballasted and fully-adhered, were first inspected in the field, and then small samples of the EPDM membrane were sent to Momentum Technologies, a testing facility for the roofing industry in Uniontown, Ohio. Five key performance characteristics of the samples were tested: elongation, tensile strength, cross-direction thickness, machine-direction thickness and factory-seam strength. The lab results showed that all the samples had physical characteristic properties above or just below the minimum physical characteristics of a newly manufactured 45-mil EPDM membrane. Put another way, after three decades of use, they were performing like new. Roofing experts point out that installation materials and methods have advanced considerably in the last 30 years, giving new roofing systems an expectation of an even longer service life.

A roof that lasts a long time will deliver obvious financial savings to building owners. In an era when environmental benefits must also be considered, experts say that its important to look at sustainability in the broadest possible terms. “If a roof lasts a very long time,” says John Geary, director of Education and Industry Relations for Firestone Building Products and chairman of the board of ERA, “that’s very good news for the environment. Compared to a roof that has to be replaced every 10 years or so, the choice of EPDM means fewer resources are ultimately used in the manufacturing and maintenance of the roofing system. Additionally, EPDM can be recycled, so it also means less materials winds up in a landfill.”

Rob Nelson may not have seen the results of EPDM lab tests, but he sees proof of the durability and longevity of EPDM every time he visits his building. “It’s pretty wild and definitely surprising that we are still kicking along after 35 years,” he says. Given consultant Mark Sobeck’s projections, Nelson can expect another 15 years or so of “wild” service from his EPDM roof.

ERA Challenges LBNL Study about White Roofs

The Bethesda, Md.-based EPDM Roofing Association (ERA) is challenging a study released by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif., which cites white roofs as the most “cost-effective” roofing option over a 50-year time span. The study, published in the March 2014 issue of Energy and Buildings, also calls for the phase-out of black roofs.

“Our members make both black and white roofing membranes. We strongly oppose any recommendation that irresponsibly promotes the use of one of our products over another based on faulty science. We question the validity of this study since it is based on a sample size of only 22 roofs, and we are challenging the conclusions that the authors draw from the data,” says Ellen Thorp, ERA’s associate executive director. “Due to the complexity of roof and building science, prescriptive requirements that limit design choices are not in the best interests of architects, design professionals or building owners.”

To help provide clarity regarding roofing-system choice and refute some errors in the study, ERA convened a panel of experts to review the LBNL science and its conclusions. A complete analysis can be found on the ERA website.

Overall, the LBNL study was marked by “a systematic failure to understand that roofs are systems, not a single component,” says Thomas W. Hutchinson, AIA, FRCI, RRC, principal of Hutchinson Design Group Ltd., Barrington, Ill., an internationally recognized expert on roof system design and a Roofing editorial advisor. “Additionally, the study completely ignored
ballasted EPDM systems that, in other studies, have proven to be the roof system that provides the greatest service life and energy savings. To suggest that a comparatively ‘new’ roofing material will have a longer service life than EPDM, a material proven to last over 30 years, is naïve.”

“Our members—Firestone Building Products, Carlisle SynTec Systems and Johns Manville—have a vested interest in providing accurate information to our customers,” Thorp adds. “Their knowledge is based on marketing, installing and maintaining thousands of roofing systems. We hope that architects, specifiers and roofing consultants will continue to rely on their field-based knowledge about the comparative costs and effectiveness of roofing systems, rather than on flawed science based on flimsy and biased data.”

Benjamin Mandel, a research assistant in the Heat Island Group at LBNL and an author of the LBNL study, recently responded to ERA’s remarks on Today’s Facility Manager’s website.
Read Mandel’s reaction at bit.ly/1hcD0HR.