Reroofing and retrofits have been mainstays for roofing contractors since soon after the first roofs were installed. Now a number of factors are converging to create a unique marketing opportunity that's particularly well-timed for these economic conditions. Building owners are seeking economical solutions to a growing inventory of single-ply roofs that are coming due. A recent project in Indiana shows how several players who work in concert can provide solid roofing solutions while addressing budget restrictions.
When the 12-year-old mechanically attached EPDM roof on the Aearo Distribution Center in Indianapolis began to fail, the owners were seeking a low-cost solution that would re-seal the seams, allow the continuous usage of the building and eliminate the need for a tear-off. The owner was familiar with Topcoat and in the bargain, got a sales, technical and contracting team that successfully completed the project before winter.
"When I went to look at the roof, the membrane was in pretty good shape," says Butch Lockhart of Five Star Products Inc., an independent sales representative. "The leaks were coming from the failed seams due to weathering and UV exposure. "We needed to isolate the seams from the weather. That was the most important thing."
Seams to be the ProblemLockhart is intimately familiar with EPDM. Before starting his company three years ago, he spent 25 years in roofing, with a number of them at Firestone Building Products Co., one of two rubber roofing manufacturers in the United States.
On the distribution center, the 7.5-foot sheets were holding up well enough and Lockhart determined that a solvent coating would give the owner adequate protection while allowing a late-season application. "If seam damage gets so far gone, you're not able to salvage the roof," he says. "When the owners saw the cost of resurfacing vs. reroofing, it was a no-brainer."
Lockhart asked Blackmore and Buckner Roofing Co. of Indianapolis to inspect the 2,300-square job. The company found that the mechanically fastened roof system with polyisoncyanurate insulation sat on top of an old BUR. Avoiding an enormous tear-off cost was only one factor, since Aearo Distribution didn't want any interruption of building usage. Andy Buckner of Blackmore and Buckner knew from past experience that there would be falling debris that would not exactly be conducive to the safety products distributor.
"When you do a tear-off of mechanical fasteners, there's a certain percentage that break off and fall into the building," says Buckner, whose company was founded in 1919 and is now a part of generalRoofing.
There was also damage to the metal roof deck, which obviously was not going to stand much more weight. So Lockhart wrote the specifications and after Blackmore and Buckner won the bid, the team set out to inspect the seams, clean the roof, seal open laps, replace damaged insulation and create a monolithic membrane.
Repairing the seams was by far the biggest portion of the job and that was accomplished with Topcoat's Flexseal flashing product using 4-inch rollers over all the seams. Open seams got a reinforcement of polyester sandwiched between layers of Flexseal. Next came Topcoat Surface Seal SB (1 gallon per square) followed by another layer the following day, all done by a four-man crew. The building ended up with about 60 mils of protection in conjunction with the existing single-ply. Buckner - whose company primarily installs BUR, modified bitumen, fully adhered EPDM, and most recently TPO - was thankful to have Lockhart and Topcoat's technical manager Steve Hecht on hand, since it was their first project with this particular product.
"They were very much involved," he recalls, adding that he appreciated Hecht's expertise when it came to troubleshooting and efficiency. "Normally it would scare me to death but he was very knowledgeable. He was always available."
Hecht was there the first day and visited two more times - in addition to answering phone calls and e-mails - so that the project went as smoothly as the surface of the finished membrane. As the crews got more efficient, the company was able to finish the project in five weeks.
Team EffortAlthough he's been in roofing for 41 years and the company's history is a major selling point, Buckner likes the Master Select program for the extras that it offers. It's a feather in the cap for the company, which also offers tangible benefits to the building owner.
"One thing they liked is, because we were a Master Select Contractor, they got a 12-year no dollar limit guarantee out of it," says Buckner. "Sometimes these programs are thrown at us, but this one looked like there were real advantages to us. And certainly to the building owner." He also has built up a strong rapport with Lockhart.
For his part, Lockhart is also seeing tremendous opportunity nationwide when it comes to retrofitting aging single-ply systems, particularly EPDM. Although Topcoat has been a mainstay in resurfacing metal roofs, the EPDM market, by it sheer size, means millions of squares of roofing will have to be fixed or replaced. He considers any roof installed before the seam taping systems were introduced in 1994 to be a prime target.
"In the last year, it's exploded to where metal is only half the business I do with coatings," he explains. "I look at them as budget stretchers. Here, (the contractor) was able to do something over the whole roof area."
Certainly addressing the entire roof is a much better approach than phase construction or piecemeal repairs. An advantage of the Topcoat system is that the smooth finish highlights any deformities in the underlying system so that repairs are more comprehensive. And coatings are no longer seen as the wasteland of cheap fixes, but long-term solutions with solid warranties.
"I just think contractors in the past have not thought that coatings are a good opportunity for them," says Lockhart. It also helps that Topcoat, which was bought by GAF in 1998, is backed by the country's largest roofing manufacturer. "It makes a big difference. I have architects that will have a much better piece of mind specifying Topcoat."
In addition, he also sees a burgeoning business for roofing contractors in the waterproofing field. Expertise with coatings can easily translate into a host of repair jobs for the building envelope and Lockhart hopes to make inroads with his clients. "You have a contractor walking right past an opportunity every time he goes up a ladder," he explains. "It's a mental leap but that's all it is. There's no reason why they can't do that."
Back on top of the building, Buckner is seeing plenty of retrofit business, much of it self-inflicted by short-sighted building owners. For instance, he wonders why schools with a 30-year bond get a roof with a 10-year warranty. "I think there's a wide open window of opportunity," he says, adding that he won't install ballasted EPDM anymore. "All those EPDM roofs we put down are now giving us a lot of work."
According to Buckner, Indianapolis public schools have restrictions on kettles and torch-down systems, as well as an aversion to many single-ply systems. The universe of selection is limited, but that is no excuse for "temporary" solutions. Even in today's tight business climate, he sees more and more conscientious building owners who are tired of leaks and willing to make an investment.
"I'm not in the new market. I'm in the old market," says Buckner. "We come in as a problem solver. The first thing I ask them is, ‘How long do you want your roof to last?'"