Vegetative and photovoltaic (PV) systems have yet to dominate Kansas’ roofing landscape, and that’s just fine with the owners of Diamond Roofing in Manhattan and Dodge City, Kan.
Like the pioneers who turned Kansas prairie into productive farmland 150 years ago, Diamond Roofing is looking to break new ground in the vegetative and PV markets.
“We’re not only getting a lot of architects and engineers excited about the new technologies, but we are also looking at vegetative systems as a way of selling traditional roofing,” said Rick Gwaltney, president of Diamond Roofing. “Our initial solar and vegetative projects have earned us a lot of respect from specifiers, and they’ve helped keep our crews busy.”
The company sold its first vegetative roofing system three years ago, in what is essentially a hot-mop or torch-down modified bitumen market.
“Up until a few years ago, we didn’t even install TPO, and now it’s 40 percent of our business,” said Gwaltney. “We’re conservative business people, but the biggest message we can get out to other contractors is they are going to need to be involved in these (vegetative and PV) applications.”
Gwaltney sees a “desperate need” for roofers to represent themselves in the vegetative and solar markets, and the company is not afraid to make those kinds of investments itself.
Gwaltney’s daughter Monica G. Cameron was on the road for most of spring 2010 serving as a co-presenter for NRCA University’s Rooftop Photovoltaics: Energizing Your Business three-part educational program. She also serves as principal of Diamond Solar Solutions and director of sustainability at Diamond Roofing.
“It is vital for roofing to have a voice in the current ‘turf war’ that exists among the trades working on solar and vegetative roofs,” said Cameron. “But it is equally important to have good relationships with the electrical and landscape contractors who understand that the roofing portion of the job is the roofer’s responsibility.”
Most of Diamond’s work is negotiated, where the contractor has a lot of input into the final roofing choice that a property owner makes.
“It’s been a good move for us,” said Kevin Gwaltney, vice president of Diamond Roofing. “A lot of the time, local architects and engineers are coming to us looking for information on vegetative roofs.”
Getting Your Hands DirtyKansas’ climate is not easy on vegetative roofs. The weather throughout the state is changeable, and during the summer months it’s often hot, dry and windy.
“That’s one of the key advantages of the pre-vegetated ‘tray’ systems,” said Kevin Gwaltney. “If you plant seeds, the wind will likely blow them four counties down the road. We make sure the plants get a good start and then we invest in them further - by hiring an irrigation contractor to help us handle that first year of maintenance.”
When asked what low-slope roofing system works best under vegetative systems, Gwaltney gave this writer one of his big, Midwestern shrugs.
“If we knew the best system, we wouldn’t be testing them all out,” Gwaltney said. “We do know that a vegetative roof will shelter the membrane and reduce heat gain and cooling costs in summer.” (See “ORNL Study: Vegetative Roofs Save Energy.”)
Diamond conducts a water test before the vegetative modules are installed on the roof and hasn’t had any problems with the roof membranes it has installed so far.
“One small surprise you’ll find is you have to do quite a bit of detailing up there, even with the tray systems,” observes Kevin. “The biggest thing is managing your exposure and your construction schedule so you don’t have some landscaper putting holes in your roof.”
Fortunately, Diamond’s crew of 40 quickly adapted to working with both vegetative and photovoltaic roofing systems. “We warned them that working here would be a constant learning experience, and they found out soon enough when we switched a lot of work over from mod bit to TPO,” Gwaltney recalls. “So going ‘green’ hasn’t been a big adjustment for them.”
However, Cameron adds that both PV and vegetative roofing represent “obstacles” within the scope of roofing work. These challenges require that a unique set of additional skills be added to a company’s existing business strategy.
“Roofers are generally not licensed electricians or sedum growers,” she said. “So we need to either expand our knowledge and skills to accommodate the uniqueness of these installations, or collaborate with like-minded businesses in the landscape and electrical fields. The operative word is ‘like-minded’.”
Cameron found that out fast, when collaborating with electricians who won low bids on projects and knew little about DC power.
“They simply didn’t want to take the time to fix the installation problems on the roof,” Cameron recalls.
When it comes to PV, many electricians only want to be involved in the electrical aspect of the work and the connection to the grid.
To assist in this working relationship, Cameron proactively determines “defined scopes of work” that are mutually agreed upon for each project prior to bidding a job or working together.
“That doesn’t mean we haven’t experienced a few surprises on PV or vegetative installations,” added Cameron. “Both systems are very new to the roofing industry and surprises are to be expected.”
For example, manufacturers have given the roofing contractor “installed” pricing on PV projects. There have also been situations where local building code inspectors or fire departments have been unwilling to help establish safety recommendations on the job.
“There hasn’t been anything that has directly interfered with a quality roof installation,” said Cameron. “I remain one of the industry’s biggest proponents of roof-integrated PV. But not at the expense of marginalizing the integrity of the roof.”
Training and SupportFor Kevin Gwaltney, on-the-job training, technical support and a single source of supply are integral to a successful vegetative roof installation.
Typically, a roof system manufacturer will partner with a vegetative system supplier and each will offer a warranty of their own. However, Diamond felt more comfortable being under the protection of a single-source warranty for its vegetative systems.
“At this time, we are only aware of one roofing manufacturer that will supply all the vegetative components in one package and cover them under the same warranty,” Gwaltney said. “Either way, we just don’t have the time to gather all these products together from several different suppliers.”
Because 80 percent of the installers in Diamond’s two offices are Hispanic, bilingual training was also a must.
“We knew the roofing manufacturer was doing a great job training our crews,” Gwaltney said. “It was obvious from the questions our Hispanic workers were asking the trainers. They were going into a lot of detail on the installations.”
Diamond has used other vegetative assemblies in the field, but it chose GAF’s GardenScapes system to showcase on its office roof in Manhattan. It took two installers only a few hours to assemble the GardenScapes demonstration roof on the company’s facility.
GardenScapes features a waterproofing system with a choice of single-ply TPO or multiple-ply TriPositeXL for maximum waterproofing ability. TriPositeXL capitalizes on the synergy of the best of asphalt and single-ply roofing systems, combined with state-of-the-art insulating technology.
“Our number-one goal is keeping water out of the building,” said Rick Gwaltney. “Vegetative roofing can’t compromise that.”
Unlike some vegetative roofs, the GardenScapes system can be managed entirely by a roofing contractor. It is also based on proven technology used for decades in Germany.
“We’ve only done a few vegetative roofs a year, but they get you in doors that were previously barred because you didn’t understand the process,” said Kevin Gwaltney.
Diamond’s management team agrees that if roofing contractors don’t embrace new technologies, their businesses will be hurt in the future. These systems include vegetative, PV, reflective and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified systems.
The Gwaltneys’ best advice to contractors working on LEED projects is to put a bid together with a 120-day schedule in mind.
“More than anything, you can expect delays on LEED projects due to their increased complexity, and holding your price for just 30 days may hurt you,” said Kevin Gwaltney. “However, once you are familiar with the process you can install a roof as inexpensively - and as well - as a non-sustainable product.”
The Diamond team agrees that today, architects and properties owners expect professional roofing contractors to be able to offer vegetative, PV, reflective and LEED compatible roofing systems.
“If we didn’t open up our market to single ply (TPO) several years ago, we would have lost a lot of work in Western Kansas,” said Shawn Mead, vice president of sales. “New construction is stable here and has really taken off for us.”
“The ‘green’ movement has a lot of steam behind it,” concludes Kevin Gwaltney. “We need to move with the demands of our customers.”