Roof consultant Mark Kelly estimates that in the United States alone there are more than 250 billion square feet of residential roofing and over 750 billion square feet of commercial roofing. Kelly has more than 30 years of experience in the design, construction, restoration and preservation of buildings, and his experiences inspired him to write an in-depth look at the U.S. roofing industry.
The result is American Roofing: Roofing in America, in which Kelly shares stories about the roofing industry and ponders the question, “What goes into making a good roof?”
According to Kelly, the book explores the history, development, design and technology of American roofing. Kelly examines roofing projects throughout each of the 50 states, including historic buildings such as the Flat Iron Building in New York, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and the Wrigley Building in Chicago.
Kelly, who resides in Resides in Dedham, Mass., was born in Boston in 1956. After graduating from Northeastern University, Kelly was hired by UPS as a Regional Project Engineer and became the company’s expert on roofs. After stint at a large engineering and architectural firm, he opened his own business, Kelly and Stewart Roofing, based in Boston. He became licensed in roofing, buildings for general construction and asbestos removal. Kelly moved back into consulting in 1991 as a building envelope designer. He has been an expert witness in a number of roof-related class action lawsuits, including numerous cases in Florida after hurricanes Wilma and Katrina.
The BookKelly began work on the book in 2007. He described the genesis of the book this way: “Coming into the fall, I could see we were headed for a period of an economic slump. There’s a lot of negativity and criticism that comes up during these periods. But we have time to reflect on the positives. Roofing has improved so much in the last few decades it was time to celebrate those achievements. And, because I had travelled across the country, I wanted to cover the local differences. So that’s how the book evolved.”
The book pays tribute to the excellence of the American roofing industry. Kelly said the overall theme of his book is “quality, service and pride in the industry.” “When I ran my company, we had quality, service and pride in every product we produced,” he said.
Kelly expressed gratitude for those who helped him throughout his career, and said his book was his way of saying thank you. “There are so many people I’ve worked with throughout my career - mentors. I couldn’t thank them all.”
Kelly pointed to projects at Princeton, Harvard and Holy Name Church in Boston as some of the favorite roofs he’s worked on as a contractor. Now he brings his experience to bear as a roof consultant.
“The role of the consultant is to prevent problems and solve problems,” he said. “In that regard, you need to be a team player. When it comes to the cases that were evolving with the new systems, it was important to put in your mind that you were representing the people to get it perfect - the right roof every time. And now we are about as close to perfect as we can be. We want to be the country with the greatest roofs in the world.”
Kelly has worked with clients with specialized facilities including Waring Labs, Digital, Polaroid and food processors and retail stores with coolers and freezers. The right roof is crucial to preserving the goods that drive the world economy, he pointed out.
“Without specialized roofing applications, the availability of health and life are greatly diminished,” he said. “When you look at Malinowski’s hierarchy of needs, you realize just how important roofs are.”
However, not all roofs last as long as expected. Diagnosing and correcting roof problems is another task of the roof consultant. Leaks can be hard to find, and sometimes what looks like a roof leak can be something else. “Mechanical units on a roof have often been missed when a building owner is troubleshooting roof leaks with a roofing contractor or maintenance personnel,” Kelly said. “The percentage of leaks caused by mechanical contractors is very high. Roofers are generally as close to perfect as can be. Quite often there can be a leak in other parts of the building that looks like a roof leak.”
Kelly used a leaky building at West Point, which he details in his book, as one example. In this case, a new building at the military academy was leaking, and no one could diagnose the problem. Kelly was called in and spotted the problem right away: a gap between the concrete chimney cap and the stone walls of the chimney that wasn’t caulked. “The gap was easy to miss,” said Kelly. “Unless you were right on top of it, you wouldn’t notice it.”
A Group EffortKelly maintains the key to a great roof is determining the right type of roof for the individual structure. “Each building needs a specific kind of roof,” he said. “You need to know the environment inside that building. You have to do your homework, do your design - and then you have to work with several key people including the manufacturer, distributor and roofing contractor. Within the roofing contractor you have everyone from the estimator, foreman, the person who manages safety within each company. There are roles for consultants on some projects - not always. It always adds value to have a consultant on the team during construction.”
He noted how many people beyond the designer and contractor are involved in roofing, from production and testing of products to the education and training of installers. “I’m always amazed by the human part of putting up a roof - the talent displayed. Even the distribution and manufacturing is amazing - it works so well.”
Kelly recalled a 1 million-square-foot warehouse re-roofing project in Edison, N.J. “There were 30-odd people with tankers, pump kettles, repairing the deck, removing debris,” he said. “It went on for an entire season. To watch a BUR roof go down, it could have been set to music. It was a beautiful thing. The coordination was impressive.”
One of his goals in writing the book was to improve the image of roofing contractors. “We’ve come a long way, he said. “NRCA and RCI have helped out, but it’s the people who make it happen.”
Kelly said roofers have to live by the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. “You can’t run away from a leak,” he said. “You have to respond to problems - even if they aren’t your problems. You can’t leave them hanging. If you look at the qualities of the Boy Scouts - trustworthy, loyal, helpful, brave, thrifty, reverent - it’s true of the vast majority of people who work on roofs. They’re all there. I’m very impressed with the people I’ve worked with and the products they manufacture.”
To order American Roofing: Roofing in America, visit www.roofinginamerica.com.