Roofing Contractor, along with a host of other nameless and faceless individuals (presumably persons representing all segments of the roofing industry), was invited to an online teleconference put on by some folks with FM Global and FM Approvals.

Roofing Contractor, along with a host of other nameless and faceless individuals (presumably persons representing all segments of the roofing industry), was invited to an online teleconference put on by some folks with FM Global and FM Approvals. The event was titled "FM Global Roofing Industry Forum." With an online teleconference, the moderator maintains a high level of control. Participants do not see the other participants, who can post questions by typing them into a box on the computer screen. The moderator is able to "manage" which questions are asked, and participants do not know who asked each individual question. To their credit, the folks on the FM team did field a couple of tough questions. We were also invited to a "media only" call following the teleconference, and we seem to have been the only media outlet to take them up on that invitation.

The session was moderated by FM Global assistant vice president, manager of public relations, Steve Zenofsky and was conducted primarily by Sergio Prete, underwriting engineering manager, FM Global. He was joined by Dick Davis, senior engineering technical specialist, FM Global, and George Smith, director, materials section, FM Approvals. Davis and Smith fielded a number of questions and added some comments.

FM's stated reason for conducting this online teleconference was to discuss some of "the most pertinent roofing issues affecting many business property owners" and how "FM Global and FM approvals are working to address those issues." Company representatives went on to state, however, that the reason the conference was held at this time was due to "increasing catastrophic losses" following the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Indeed, the most impressive slide in the presentation shows the incredible spike in losses from natural disasters in those two years that far eclipse any loss years since the beginning of the chart (1970).

Company Overview

The beginning of the session was devoted to an explanation of FM Global and FM Approvals. Short version: FM Global is a $4 billion "mutual" insurance company (which used to be called Factory Mutual). FM Approvals is an independent product testing and certification company. FM Global states that it focuses on risk management through engineering. A mutual insurance company is owned by its clients - its insureds - and FM Global claims the majority of its client base is made up of major companies. FM's loss prevention engineering is designed to "prevent, minimize or control property loss." FM Global publishes engineering guidelines known as Loss Prevention Data Sheets (LPDS), and one of them - LPDS 1-29 - is an "A" topic in the world of commercial roofing right now. It quickly became the subject of interest when the forum was opened up for questions. So, while FM Global publishes the LPDS, FM Approvals approves products, writes approval standards, publishes its Approval Guide, and oversees the online RoofNav system.

Following the basic explanation of the world of FM, Prete launched directly into what seemed to be his central point of the day with the slide that boldly and simply stated, "About 70 percent of all property losses are due to human factors." He went on to explain that in terms of recent hurricane damage and roofing, that means "poor workmanship." There was a series of slides presented (and more photos added on the presentation that was sent to participants after the presentation) to bolster this point. Shown were installations that had failed (presumably from wind damage) and even a couple of photos showing improper fastener placement taken as the work was being completed. Most showed roof membrane failures, but there was one photo of a poorly constructed plywood deck and one failed lightweight insulating concrete (LWIC) deck.

The assertion that 70 percent of losses are due to poor workmanship may create a new dustup within the roofing industry, the likes of which we have not seen in a while. When the flap over 1-29 first began, the main concern was over the lack of notice and the fact that there were suddenly a lot of roofing systems that no longer met the FM wind uplift standards (primarily 1-90 and above). This is not the first time this notion has been put forward. In fact, most post-hurricane studies we have seen over the past two years yield much the same conclusion. While contractor and other industry groups may or may not agree with these findings, how to remedy the problem of catastrophic wind-damage losses on commercial roofs should produce a very interesting debate. FM's George Smith stated plainly that FM Approvals will not revisit the prospect of contractor certification that was previously proposed in FM 4490.

Key Statistics

During the Web-teleconference, Prete went on to show some statistics following Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These statistics were developed from FM's insureds, and they show that "improved locations" suffered significantly lower losses than "unimproved locations," with losses reduced 75 percent during Georges and 85 percent during Katrina). Very impressive. The "improved" referred to construction guided by FM recommendations that prevailed at the times of the respective storms (before the changes to 1-29 published in January 2006). Very impressive statistics. We wondered (and inquired about this) what was so bad about these standards when they produced clearly phenomenal results. Read on.

Next, Prete explained "Hurricane Dynamics" and how the "Radius of Maximum Winds" (RMW) forms only a small arc to the east of tropical storms occurring in this hemisphere - the point being, most losses from a catastrophic hurricanes like Katrina occurred in areas where the winds were considerably lower than the sustained maximum winds in the RMW.

There was some explanation of the importance of proper engineering and placement of fasteners to go along with the "poor workmanship" argument (which became the most repeated phrase in the session). There was one interesting slide showing the cover of the American Society of Civil Engineers Minimum Design Load for Buildings and Other Structures - ASCE 7-02, which the (roofing) Industry Coalition (a group of contractor and manufacturer trade associations formed to work on the issues relating to 1-29). They highlighted and crossed out the word "minimum" and wrote in "maximum" to differentiate themselves from this other standard. In fact, the second most interesting slide is the one comparing "Expected Hurricane Damage" that is anticipated according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Intensity Scale (the one that is used to describe hurricanes as category 1 through 5). The comparison shows the amount of damage expected using "minimum" building standards followed by the "FM Basic Wind Speed Design" and the "Optimum Wind Speed Design." Refer to the chart, but it seems that FM's owners' intent is to virtually eliminate catastrophic losses from wind and have us building "hurricane-proof" roofs. The "minimum" standard expects minimal damage in a Category 1 storm and it gets progressively worse from there. The FM basic standard calls for less (negligible) damage through Category 1 and halfway into Category 2. The "optimum" standard calls for negligible damage nearly to the top of Category 4, with only minimal to moderate damage through Category 5. (For details on the Saffir-Simpson scale, visit the NOAA Web site, www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshs.shtml.)

This notion has the potential to produce showdowns on a number of different fronts. The conventional industry is going to cry foul, while others are going to try and take advantage. Which, of course, could produce some interesting results. Let's say you have an idea for a hurricane-proof roof. Will roofing manufacturers, who already take some incredible risks with their wind-resistance claims, be willing to go even further? Who will be willing to warrant their roof against a Category 3 or Category 4 storm? Scary thing is that someone out there might, which will be very interesting indeed.

Testing and More Testing

One of the complaints about changes called for in the January 2006 issue of 1-29 is that it has laid to waste a lot of testing performed by roofing manufacturers for their higher wind-load systems. FM Approval's George Smith went to great lengths to explain that there are a lot of misconceptions in this regard and that there are a number of manufacturers who have reengineered their systems and are meeting the new standards.

As stated, FM Global and FM Approvals made a number of points in this presentation, but the key takeaways for me were these key points asserted by FM Global: (1) Catastrophic roofing losses were overwhelmingly the fault of poor workmanship, and (2) their owners want them to cure the problem of poor workmanship by way of their Loss Prevention Data Sheets.

With regard to the actual changes to LPDS 1-29, FM did provide some slides toward the end of the presentation. Company representatives stated that they had moved the safety factor on edges and corners to 2.0 (up from 1.7 to 2.0). They stated that the "Safety factor accounts for defects in materials and workmanship, effects of aging on material strength, loads in excess of design." I plead guilty to not being an engineer or roofing expert, but I could understand the basics of one point they made in regard to the changes in 1-29. Their concern is that the changes affect primarily construction that requires the higher wind load ratings, 1-90 and above. George Smith again cited misinformation as the cause of "overspecifying" that seems to be causing problems in areas where there should be no problem at all. They further point out that "If an 1-90 system is specified, but only a 1-60 or 1-75 is needed, prescriptive enhancements may be used to meet intent of Data Sheet 1-29."

FM Global did acknowledge that the lack of notice to the industry was regrettable and did offer something of an apology. Representatives stated that the reason these changes were rolled out so quickly was due to pressure from the FM ownership to get the standards in place in advance of reconstruction following Hurricane Katrina. They promised that further changes such as these would come with notice to the roofing industry. They do point out, however, that the FM standards owned by FM, and they (the engineers and executives of FM) will follow the orders of their owners.

Speaking of changes, those are in the works now. Dick Davis spoke to changes that will involve torch-applied modified bitumen systems (not so much to individual systems, but to application methods). Lightweight insulating concrete roof deck systems and the membrane securements to these systems were not addressed in the January 2006 version of 1-29. Davis says FM is working with makers of LWIC on enhancements to the existing standards. Use of LWIC is very limited, but is very popular in storm-prone areas such as Florida. Other items worthy of note include the finding that windborne debris caused considerable damage, particularly to single-ply systems. January changes to 1-29 have included recommending thicker membranes in hurricane-prone areas, and FM goes on to state that their long-term solution will include recommending membranes that will be resistant to windborne debris.

The Web-teleconference, said to have had "hundreds" of participants and scheduled to last one hour, went on for over an hour and a half. It was decent of FM to offer us the chance to go one-on-one with the presenters. Most questions were answered in the basic session, including one of two we asked (again, questions were anonymous to the participants and sent in via the Web). There were, however, a couple of nagging questions that were not answered to my satisfaction (that is to say I either did not understand or agree with their answers). I cannot understand how a data sheet will overcome poor workmanship. Building construction starts with a competitive bid, and the successful bidder is generally the one with the low bid. Providing great construction is the main concern for many roofing contractors, while others focus on the bid process and providing workmanship at the minimum level they can get by with. The notion that you simply call for many more fasteners than you really need in the hope that some incompetent person putting the roof down will screw up and put in just enough is just lost on me. It seems the beginning of a vicious cycle that will involve a lot of arguing, second-guessing and continuing poor construction (where there is poor construction now).

Key Questions to Consider

But the reality for the roofing industry is that FM's customers are our customers, and they are not very happy with these losses. So I propose a couple of questions for the industry to consider (and Roofing Contractor will study this with you in the months and years to come).
  1. Do you believe that "About 70 percent of all property losses are due to human factors"?
  2. Does this statement apply to the damages caused to commercial roofs in the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons?
  3. If you agree there is a problem with workmanship on commercial roofing, and if you believe that simply putting out data sheets does not cure the problem, then what is the solution?
  4. Are we about to enter an era with a dramatic increase of post-catastrophe litigation that will pit owners and insurance companies against roofing contractors and roofing manufacturers?
  5. If that is the case, what should roofing contractors do now to get ahead of this trend?

Roofing Contractor will feature an interesting article by roofing contractor Richard Baxter of CRS Inc. in Monroe, N.C., in a future issue. We have invited FM Global to submit editorial outlining their position relating to all the issues discussed at their forum, but as of this writing they have declined.

Look for Roofing Contractor to follow this issue in print and online at www.roofingcontractor.com, as this will no doubt be a hot topic at the contractor's and consultant's panel at our third annual Best of Success conference, Sept. 21-22 (see details on our Web site and in our magazine).

We would love to hear from you about your experiences relating to this issue. Write me at rickdamato@yahoo.com or by mail at 2200 Cook Drive, Atlanta, GA 30340.

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