The Honest Roofing Industry

I attended the recent International Roofing Expo where I was reminded of what I love about the roofing industry. The people are so real! Manufacturers and contractors alike shared with me how their businesses are doing, the mistakes they made this past year, their plans for the coming years and how they really feel about where business is headed. I must say this was one of the most optimistic shows I have attended in quite awhile. (Read a post-show wrap-up about IRE in “New & Notable”.) Everyone I spoke to during the show was positive and full of energy for what’s to come—a welcome change from previous years when the construction industry struggled.

Gaining perspectives like these is a huge reason we structured the magazine as we have. Our tagline, “The Industry’s Voice”, is meant to clarify what types of articles you’ll find within the issue: Our authors are part of this industry and are willing to be honest with you—their peers—about their successes and failures in the hopes that you’ll learn from them just as you would if you were networking at IRE or another industry event.

For example, in “Business Sense” you’ll hear from Iain Fergusson, owner of Highland Roofing Co., Wilmington, N.C., who recently purchased the assets of his competitor, a 133-year-old roofing contracting company with almost 30 full-time roofers. Fergusson admits he made some mistakes during the merger but, he says, “You will learn way more from one mistake than you will from 10 good decisions.”

Meanwhile, Kaney O’Neill, who overcame a spinal-cord injury that ended her military career but launched her roofing profession, shares how she perseveres in a tough business climate. In “Business Sense”, O’Neill describes how she embraces lifelong learning for herself and her employees. “No matter where you are in business, you have to keep learning and growing to persevere,” she says.

O’Neill notes her military training has helped her stay “mission focused” and committed to excellence. Seeking employees with that sort of work ethic drew Chad Muth, president of Muth & Co. Roofing, Westerville, Ohio, to the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program. The program, which is covered in “Special Report”, helps veterans, active service members and their spouses transition back into the workforce through nationwide hiring fairs and an online process. Muth successfully hired and has since promoted Grant Smith, a former Marine, and hopes to hire more veterans. “We’re hoping we can … showcase what we have to offer [veterans] for the long-term future,” Muth notes.

Helping prospective employees recognize there is a long-term future in roofing is one of many goals of The Roofing Industry Alliance for Progress, a 501(c)3 organization that was established by the National Roofing Contractors Association, Rosemont, Ill. In “Education”, Alison L. LaValley, CAE, NRCA’s associate executive director of Member Services, highlights the partnerships, training initiatives, technical and educational programs, and awards the Alliance funds as part of its mission. According to Tom Saeli, CEO of Duro-Last Roofing Inc., Saginaw, Mich., everyone should consider supporting the Alliance: “The organization funds important scholarships, sponsors innovative research to advance the roofing industry and partners with members from all walks of the industry who really care about what the future holds. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

A Bermuda-style Roof Composed of Aluminum Includes Intricate Hips, Ridges, Vents and Gutters

Sometimes the most interesting roofing jobs don’t start out as planned. That was the case for Iain Fergusson, owner of Highland Roofing Co., Wilmington, N.C., when he bid on an asphalt shingle reroof for an 11,000-square-foot ranch-style home located along a coastal creek in Wilmington.

Initially bid as an asphalt-shingle reroof, this 11,000-square-foot ranch-style home located along a coastal creek in Wilmington, N.C., features an aluminum Bermuda-style roof. PHOTO: Chris Fisher

Initially bid as an asphalt-shingle reroof, this 11,000-square-foot ranch-style home located along a coastal creek in Wilmington, N.C., features an aluminum Bermuda-style roof. PHOTO: Chris Fisher

After he submitted his bid, the architect, Michael Kersting of Michael Ross Kersting Architecture, Wilmington, asked for an option for standing-seam metal roofing, which is the specialty with which Fergusson established Highland Roofing in October 2005. Although Fergusson was confident about his crew’s ability to install an exceptional metal roof, he became a little nervous when the next request came from the architect.

“We were asked to price out an option for Bermuda-style metal roofing,” he recalls. “Of course I knew what a Bermuda roof was but I had no experience with it; you don’t get much opportunity to do that here.” However, Fergusson put the price together and won the job.

On the island of Bermuda, roofs are constructed of rectangular slabs of local limestone that are mortared together in a stepped pattern over a hip roof frame. The distinctive beauty of these roofs has begun to enter the U.S. though traditional stick-frame housing doesn’t lend itself to heavy limestone. The Wilmington residence consists of a wood-framed roof and brick veneer walls that would not support the weight of limestone, so Kersting opted for metal—specifically aluminum, ensuring the roof would be fully warranted in the coastal environment.

Once the team began moving forward with the Bermuda-style roof, a final set of plans made Fergusson even more anxious. “The plans had all kinds of details that came out of left field—built-in gutters and EPDM sections of the roof,” he says. “The big curve was that the architect wanted to make a feature out of the hips and ridges, because traditional Bermuda-style roofing is wrapped seamlessly around the hips and looks really neat and clean. Kersting knew that it wouldn’t be possible with sheet metal; it would have to be cut and mitered on the corners, so he had the idea of putting raised 2 by 4s on all the hips and ridges and having us wrap that.”

These details are what make this home’s roof impressive and where most of the work came in for Fergusson, who acted as project manager, and his team, which consisted of Roofing Superintendent Richard Hill, Sheetmetal Fabricator Michael Mai and a four-man install crew led by Foreman Marvin Mungia. After considering different panel sizes to ensure oil canning would be avoided, Kersting and Fergusson settled on 0.032 aluminum in 12-inch panels, and Fergusson’s crew was ready to put its skills to the test.

The architect wanted to make a feature out of the hips and ridges; traditional Bermuda-style roofing is wrapped seamlessly around the hips.

The architect wanted to make a feature out of the hips and ridges; traditional Bermuda-style roofing is wrapped seamlessly around the hips.

PROFILES IN COMMUNICATION

Although Fergusson established Highland Roofing in 2005 with a focus only on residential metal roofing, he expanded into all types of steep-slope products within the first couple years. In 2009, Fergusson began moving into the commercial roofing market; today, 70 percent of his revenues are commercial. In the residential sector he has a good mix of reroofing and custom new construction. It’s the custom side that Fergusson takes most pleasure in. “I really enjoy custom residential so much because it’s challenging and so different and it’s generally the most aesthetically appealing project we get to do,” he says.

Because of the firm’s focus on custom work, Fergusson’s crew already was proficient in good communication with each other. But the complexities of the Wilmington job would put Fergusson in direct communication with Kersting, which is unusual. “A lot of times the architect is insulated from the roofing contractor by the GC on the job,” Fergusson explains. “Communicating directly with the architect was a good thing. We could explain which of his ideas would and wouldn’t work.” In addition, Fergusson brought roofing samples to Kersting’s office where they were tweaked before 1-square mockups were tested onsite to see how the installation would be completed along the hip.

Photos: Chris Fisher, unless otherwise noted

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Construction Writing

I recently reconnected with an old friend. We’d been in touch via social media but we hadn’t had a chance to actually sit down in the same room and catch up for many years. As we were talking about our careers, she asked me whether I like writing about construction. I actually am asked this question quite often, and I always admit construction wasn’t what I had imagined myself writing about when I dreamt about a career in writing. However, I am always quick to say how much I love it. There are a couple reasons why:

First, I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world and hoped my career would allow me to give back to others. Construction writing does that. With each issue of the magazine and e-newsletter and post on the website, I am able to share innovative ideas that make buildings more energy efficient, help contractors find new ways of doing things and promote products that make everyone’s lives easier. I especially love when I hear someone completed one of his or her projects differently because of something that appeared in the magazine. For example, when Iain Fergusson, owner of Highland Roofing Co., Wilmington, N.C., first reached out to tell me about the Bermuda-style roofing project that became this issue’s cover story he shared the following with me:

    “You ran a series of articles a year or two back covering all aspects and types of metal roofing, including a section about traditional lead roofing. I had a custom builder at the time who wanted to use ‘something different’ than copper for 3,000 square feet of porches and dormers on a custom home. Having just read the article, I suggested lead and he liked it. We have just finished installing the 24-inch-wide flat lock and soldered lead panels. It’s very cool and different!”

Those of us who work on Roofing may not always know when an idea that appeared in the magazine is constructed somewhere in the country but I can tell you when we do hear about it, it makes for a very gratifying day!

Secondly, I have made a number of very special friends in this industry. I’ll admit I was a little intimidated when I attended my first construction trade shows and industry meetings many years ago. I assumed I was entering a “good ol’ boys club” where women weren’t readily welcomed. I was completely wrong. Everything I have learned about installing a roof, I’ve learned from industry professionals. I feel extremely lucky to work in an industry in which I look forward to trade shows and meetings because I know I’m going to see friends from all over the country. In fact, I’m excited about METALCON, which takes place Oct. 1-3 in Denver. Please say hello if you see my colleagues and me on the show floor.

Construction writing has been an extremely fulfilling career path. If given the choice again, I can’t think of anything I’d want to write about more.