Before his presentation on The Increasing Role of the Roof in Green Buildingat the IRE, Martin Grohman, the director of sustainability from GAF, shared his insights on green building practices with Roofing Contractor.


Roofing Contractor: Why is the roof so important when it comes to a green building?

Martin Grohman: Even though every building has a roof, the roof’s role in green building can sometimes be overlooked. Of course, the primary role of the roof is to control moisture (and if the roof doesn’t get that done, all the other green building investment isn’t going to matter, because the building won’t last!). But at the same time, for many buildings, the roof is the largest part of the building envelope, and I think there’s starting to be this realization of how much more the roof can do than just keep you dry. You’ve got well insulated roof assemblies, you’ve got cool roofing, you’ve got solar and vegetative roofing, you’ve got a lot of valuable real estate up there on the roof and that opportunity should not be ignored.


RC:What is the roofing industry’s role in green building? And how has it changed throughout the years?

MG: There’s just a lot of opportunity for “re-greening” of buildings via the roof. If the roof is going to come off of a home, that provides a lot of opportunity to make air sealing and other energy efficiency improvements. Commercially, according to the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing, there is five times as much re-roofing taking place as new construction, so there’s five times as much opportunity to make a difference. I think what’s changed, or is changing, is that there’s a recognition to not take the roof of a structure for granted; to look at all it can do to contribute to the greening of the structure. For example, when you replace, upgrade or maintain your roof, you’ve got a real chance to improve the energy efficiency of the building. That gives you this rare ongoing chance to make energy efficiency improvements. So I think there’s been a growing awareness of what an opportunity this key portion of the building envelope represents, by the green building community, and also by large property owners, like the government and major logistics outfits or major retailers. Still, I often attend green building presentations or USGBC chapter meetings that will give you the wattage of an individual air to air heat exchanger or the solar heat gain coefficient of every window in the building, and never once mention the roof. So there’s plenty more to do to get awareness up, for all of us to get out there and interface with the green building community.

RC:How can recycling membrane and asphalt shingle roofing be part of a greener construction industry?

MG: At GAF we focus on practical sustainability, what I like to call “Green Meets Green” programs, where the green of saving the earth meets the green of saving dollars. Recycling roofing materials, for many jobs, is the best example of a Green Meets Green program. If you look at recycling shingles into pavement, it’s really pretty remarkable. One hundred percent of the shingle gets recycled, and it doesn’t take any government grants. And for membrane jobs, the economics are getting pretty favorable, too. In both cases, you’re looking at a good opportunity for reducing disposal costs, cost avoidance. So we as an industry can really feel good about supporting these programs that both save money and save the earth.

At the same time, something like 40 percent of construction and demolition waste is roofing related. So there’s an industry positioning opportunity, to try to drive this percentage down. Plus, recycling roofing materials is great marketing, as far as being a one-time effort that is not too technically challenging and can really rack up impressive numbers. So it can help you win jobs, too.


RC:How can contractors position themselves to make the most of the opportunities posed by the green movement? Is this something that’s just of interest to large commercial firms?

MG: Firms big and small can be part of the movement. A good place to start is to join a USGBC Chapter. Membership generally includes architects, general contractors, and other green building professionals, but I’ll bet you a Pepsi you’ll find you’re the first and only roofing contractor there. The chapters often hold monthly breakfasts called Green Eggs, and involvement can be a great networking and business building opportunity for you. Plus, it is one more way we can get the word out about the roof’s role in the green home. Most annual chapter memberships are less than $100. Locate a chapter at
Another idea is to pursue a green designation, like GAF Certified Green Roofer, or GAF Sustainable Roofing Council. Also, try scoring one of your jobs using the Roofpoint scoring tool, and do a big press release about it.


RC:Where do you think LEED and other green building certifications are heading?

MG: If you look at the LEED Rating System specifically, it’s really interesting. It’s been around for 12 years and three major versions now, and one of the things that’s happening is that there’s this realization that Existing Buildings present the biggest opportunity. No single building can save the world, any more than any of us can save the world by recycling one bottle. So what needs to happen is for programs to develop that can sweep whole swaths of the building stock. For that to happen, the programs have to be practical. Unfortunately, I think the main LEED Rating System, New Construction, is headed for an update that is going to make it much harder to use, and it may see declines in usage. But quietly, Existing Buildings, which can really drive a lot of opportunity for those of us in the roofing industry, has become the no. 1 LEED Rating System in terms of square footage under certification. So I think that’s a good thing for the industry. Another good thing for the industry is the RoofPoint Rating System, which I describe as LEED for Roofers by Roofers. It evaluates and scores roofing projects on a variety of things like traffic plans, moisture management, maintenance plans, and so forth. It’s a practical rating system that almost can be used prescriptively, as an instruction manual for good roofing practice, and it’s much easier to work with than LEED, too. If you just look at a good, well-installed, well-designed and detailed roof with good insulation, that’s going to score well – it’s not just for the showpiece vegetative and solar projects.
Also, we’re supporting and seeing growth in other Rating Systems like Green Globes and BOMA 360.


RC:What’s next? What are the areas of opportunity?

MG:Building Commissioning is a systematic and documented process of ensuring that the owner’s operational needs are met, building systems perform efficiently, and building operators are properly trained. Because of the growth in LEED-Existing Buildings, which requires a re-commissioning of the building’s systems including the building envelope, we think Building Envelope Commissioning may represent a significant business opportunity for the Professional Roofing Contractor or Roof Consultant.

 Lastly, when you look at roofing recycling, the one major roofing system without a good end-of-life outcome that is fairly well defined is modified bitumen and built up roofing. There’s no question these are high value materials. A very good possibility exists to use them for example in cold patch or pothole repair. But because they’re fairly hard materials to grind — ironically because they have so much valuable asphalt and polymer in them, — we haven’t seen it happen on a large scale yet. So that’s something that I am looking to work on, personally, together with the industry.