Roofing contractors in Chicago have been engaged in a civics lesson recently that should give roofing contractors all over the country a reason to supplement, enhance, or begin a relationship with City Hall.

It’s 10:00. Do you know where your building officials are?

Better yet, do you know what your city councilpersons or county commissioners are up to lately? Roofing contractors in Chicago have been engaged in a civics lesson recently that should give roofing contractors all over the country a reason to supplement, enhance, or begin a relationship with City Hall.

In March 2001, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley introduced, “An energy code for Chicago that promotes efficiency and protects the environment.” Given the rolling blackouts in California and problems during a summer heat wave in Chicago, just about anyone would stand up and cheer his honor for making such a proposal. In May 2001, a public hearing was held regarding the new energy code and on June 6, 2001, “Amendment of Title 18 of Municipal Code of Chicago Concerning Energy Efficiency Requirements” passed by a margin of 47 to 0.

Roofing contractor Larry Marshall of L. Marshall Roofing and Sheet Metal Inc. was the first to bring this to our attention in November. He had learned about it from Mark Graham, associate executive director of technical services for the National Roofing Contractors Association at the Sept. 2001 meeting of the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association. According to the terms of the ordinance, the new code goes into effect at the first of January 2002.

Included in the code are new requirements for roof, ceiling and wall insulation; a requirement calling for building plan certification by a “Registered Energy Professional;” and minimum reflectivity requirements for roof surfaces. The new insulation requirements generally meet with the approval of the CRCA and NRCA and were introduced as a means of energy conservation. On the other hand, the requirement calling for the certification of building plans, which will encompass roof replacements, has opened up a number of different questions, including one echoed by several CRCA members: “We don’t even have plans on many re-roofs. What are they going to approve?”

The lightning rod for roofing contractors is the new requirement for reflectivity on roof surfaces, which was introduced to combat the “Urban Heat Island Effect” (see Roofing Contractor August 2001 – “Learning Some Cool New Systems”) and to improve air and water quality. If the rules stand without modifications, a gravel-surfaced built-up roof, mineral-surfaced modified system, or a smooth-surfaced (uncoated) or ballasted EPDM system would not be accepted or approved in Chicago. As of this writing, several industry groups are working with building officials in an attempt to alter these requirements.

This new code was developed with the cooperation of a number of government, private, and industry groups. It references standards as developed by many groups from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers Inc. to the Window and Door Manufacturers Association — to name but two of the total of 13.

But not one standard attributed to any roofing industry association or affiliate was included.

The good news is that the world is waking up to the fact that roofing systems have a great impact on energy consumption, and must be upgraded. That helps the building owner and the roofing industry. The bad news is the emerging codes, if they are not written with input from leaders in the roofing industry, may be written in ways that could prove devastating to some building owners and roofing contractors.

Graham suggests that roofing contractors should always be in touch with their building officials. It would seem an especially good time to do so. Having had some experience with building officials, I can tell you they do value the opinions of industry professionals, especially ones who support them on a local basis. Let me also make a suggestion to the movers and shakers in the roof design, specification, manufacturing, and testing communities: Take a good look at how these energy conservation and anti-pollution issues play out in Chicago. Chances are similar initiatives are already being considered in many other communities around the country.

Do these things now, before the codes are written and enacted.