Thomas Portaro is the owner of NTEC Systems, a company headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga., that specializes in roof restoration projects. Portaro owns the company, but on a recent project on the campus of Georgia Tech, it was definitely the college students who were in charge.
Portaro was contacted by students who were researching different roof systems as part of a class project. Members of the class had been tasked to come up with ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions on the school’s Atlanta campus.
Students were exploring all sorts of environmentally friendly building systems, including LED lighting and HVAC equipment. One group of students explored various building envelope modifications, eventually narrowing their focus to the roof system.
“This particular group of students showed the school and their professors how they were going to reduce carbon emissions and the energy footprint of the O. Lamar Allen Sustainable Education Building by doing a roof restoration,” Portaro said.
Portaro, a Georgia Tech graduate, was contacted by the group to provide some insights on the potential benefits of coatings. “I was asked to come down to the campus and give a brief lecture on the values of roof restorations, the types of coatings I was familiar with, how they were applied, and how they could restore this particular roof.
The building was built in 1998, and its roof was the original modified bitumen system. When students learned how a cool roof system would extend the life of the roof and save on utility costs for the building, they not only presented their findings to their professors but officials at the university. The school ultimately decided to fund the project.
NTEC Systems completed the installation of a high-solids silicone roof coating manufactured by GE. “The students pioneered all of this,” Portaro says. “This is an amazing group of kids. To be invited back to my alma mater and to execute this project really hit a chord with me. The project really worked out well, and it was really cool because I got a check from Georgia Tech. Think about all of the money I’ve paid them over the years. It was nice to get a little bit of that money back.”
One key concern for the university was achieving a 20-year warranty, so the first step was to ensure that the existing roof was compatible with the system. “One of the big value adds of GE Performance Coatings is that their tech side is very strong,” Portaro notes. “GE has great specifications, and they make it pretty simple for me as an engineer to go up and evaluate a roof and make sure it meets certain criteria. You have to evaluate each roof to ensure it meets the criteria for a restoration.”
“A great phrase—and I forget who coined it—is, ‘We do roof restorations, not roof resurrections,’” Portaro continues. “The existing roof has to be in a restorable condition.”
Infrared analysis was conducted to ensure the roof system was dry. Some minor repairs were needed, but overall the modified roof was in good shape. It was cleaned with pressure washer and primed with an asphalt bleed-blocker from GE Performance Coatings. NTEC crews then spray-applied two coats of GE Enduris 3502 high-solids silicone roof coating to a minimum thickness of 40 mils when dry. The system forms a monolithic coating that is self-flashing. “We detailed it all out, the inspectors inspected it, and at the end of the day it was all done, the 20-year warranty was in place, and everyone was happy,” Portaro says.
He points out that the GE silicone coatings rarely require a primer. “This is the only type of roof that requires a primer, and the only reason it does is that asphalts tend to bleed through silicones and can tobacco-stain them,” he notes. “It’s aesthetics—that’s it. The GE system is one of our ‘tried and trues’ in part because for 99 percent of the roofs we do, it’s a primerless system. So, we save that step, which saves us time and ultimately saves the owner money.”
NTEC Systems excels at large, high-volume jobs, and the company is always looking for tools to make it more productive. “We are highly automated here,” Portaro says. “That’s our strength. It’s what we do. We have the ability to do a ton of square footage in a short period of time because we have the latest and greatest machinery. We’ve actually created our own method of going from ground to roof and getting coatings spray applied.”
The company has modified some industrial machinery to move large volumes of high-solids silicone under control, according to Portaro. “Now, it’s not robotics,” he explains. “It still takes artistry. It still takes an expert pulling the trigger. We have guys that are very talented, and now the machinery is keeping up. We can do four or five times as much work in a day as we used to do just a few years ago. Our production levels have blown up.”
A Learning Experience
One of the challenges on this project was taking the time to use the application as a teaching tool. “The students were there the entire time,” Portaro remembers. “We were surrounded by some of the smartest people in the world. I’ve never had so many managers on a project in my life. These students brought a passion to the building industry like you’ve never seen before. They believe they are going to change the world, and they probably will.”
Portaro also shared his passion for environmentally friendly roof systems. The students apparently took that message to heart. “These kids are something special,” he says. “They went to Washington, D.C., to present this project to the Congress of the United States. These kids weren’t happy with just affecting one building on the campus of Georgia Tech. They wanted to share the story. This project got national recognition. I was really proud of these kids, who I met for the first time on this project. My hat’s off to them.”
Portaro has installed a lot of cool roofs, but the Georgia Tech project was special. “This was certainly the coolest project I’ve ever done,” he says.
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