The Midwest Roofing Contractors Association (MRCA) was hitting on all cylinders in Indianapolis at its annual conference and trade show. More than 800 attendees were on hand for MRCA’s 61st Annual Conference, held Oct. 27-29, 2010 at the Indiana Convention Center. In addition to a bustling trade show floor and more than 40 hours of educational programming, the event also featured hands-on demonstrations, a TPO welding competition, and a scavenger hunt that qualified attendees for a chance to enter a “Money Machine” and grab some cash. In keeping with the location, the show floor also featured its own mini Brickyard, where attendees raced remote controlled cars on a high-banked track.
The event was preceded by a golf outing at Brickyard Crossing and a welcome reception in the Westin Hotel Grand Ballroom with live music provided by Naked Sundays, a rock band led by the association’s incoming president, Jim Ramser.
Dennis Runyan of Dryspace Inc. won the McCawley Award, the association’s highest honor, given to an individual for dedication to the roofing industry. MRCA also bestowed two new awards this year. KPost Company won the SHARP Award for its commitment to improving jobsite safety, and Ridgeworth Roofing won the Impact Award for its contributions in the local community.
TPO Panel Heats Things Up
The association burnished its reputation for cutting-edge educational sessions at this show.
A standing-room-only crowd was on hand for the panel on “TPO Long-Term Performance.” Moderated by MRCA’s technical advisor, Rene Dupuis of SRI Consultants Inc., the panel featured Helene Hardy Pierce of GAF Materials Corp., Dwayne Wacenske of Firestone Building Products, Tom Taylor of GAF Materials Corp., and Randall Ober of Carlisle SynTec. The panel examined the issue of high-temperature solar loading on TPO roofing products, reviewed lab and field studies and ASTM standards, and offered tips on proper field installation techniques.
Dupuis noted that TPO came onto the scene in the U.S. market the early 90s, but there was no ASTM standard until 2003. He stated that in some areas of intense solar loading he has observed near highly reflective glass, “the product consumed its chemical stabilizers and literally disappeared.”
The panel was a follow-up to the TPO Advisory MRCA issued in February of 2010, which stated in part: “If situations exist that may commonly elevate temperatures over 160 degrees or increase solar loads beyond ‘normal’ incoming solar load, question the manufacturer as to the suitability of their product for the situation; consider changing to a material that will clearly withstand the loading; consider changes in design to forestall the loading.”
Hardy Pierce offered some historical background and an overview of various studies documenting TPO’s successful long-term performance. She noted that people might still think of TPO as “the new kid on the block,” but reminded attendees it has been used in Europe since the late 1980s and TPO roofs in this country are routinely approaching 20 years in service. She pointed to statistics estimating that TPO accounted for about 25 percent of the U.S. commercial market in 2009-2010.
Wacenske reviewed the evolution of the ASTM standard for TPO membrane, noting that it took more than 10 years and 36 drafts before ASTM 6878 was finally approved in 2003. Wacenske walked attendees though the standard, detailing durability tests including heat aging at an oven temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit for 28 days.
Taylor looked at what causes TPO to age and why there is a push to raise the standard. When it comes to sunlight, manufacturers know that ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes problems, noted Taylor. He likened stabilizers that protect TPO from UV to sunscreen on human skin. “Stabilizers have a finite life,” he said. “They are used up protecting the membrane.”
While UV was a known enemy, heat wasn’t thought to be a big problem, Taylor said. “Plus, white roofs were supposed to reflect heat away. With expected temps of 130 degrees or 140 degrees maximum, 165 degrees seemed safe.”
“So what’s changed?” he asked. “TPO is going everywhere — including places where developers never intended it to go. As TPO installations have grown exponentially, the small percentage of premature aging issues has become a noticeable number. It’s a small number, but it’s hurting us.”
These roof failures have a couple of things in common, Taylor noted. “Either they are nearby highly reflective surfaces or there is a buildup of dark dust and debris, which absorbs more sunlight and more heat.”
He pointed to a California factory that produced a lot of dust as an example. Its once white TPO roof was covered in back dust, and temperatures of 180 degrees were common for long periods of time, leading to premature failure.
Taylor also explained that black PV panels installed directly on TPO can easily bring roof temperatures to 180 degrees between the panels. Areas directly below the black edge of panels can reach sustained temperatures of 200 degrees. “TPO is getting far hotter than we ever imagined,” said Taylor.
Ober and Wacenske urged the industry to change test standards. Wacenske argued that the current oven aging test was not aggressive enough. “Any test should be complete in a reasonable time — days, not years; 280 degrees Fahrenheit is aggressive, shows differences, and enables manufacturers to rapidly test,” he said.
Ober agreed shared test results of heat aging conducted at 275 degrees, arguing that extreme heat aging requirements at that temperature for a minimum of eight weeks be added to ASTM 6878.
Wacenske concluded the panel discussion by examining installation practices that affect the performance of both TPO and PVC. “Installation practices affect the long-term performance of the roofing system,” he said. “Initially the roof may be fine, but some problems can arise years later.”
Hot-air welding of the seams was identified as the most common source of trouble. He recommended that test welds be done at least twice daily — at the start of the day and after lunch — and whenever the machine is restarted. The most common problem was excessive heat during welding, which can consume polymer stabilizers. Excess heat can result from the air temperature being too high as well as the welder speed being too low. Wacenske noted the ideal welding temperature should be the lowest temperature that provides good seams at production speeds.
Another common problem is welder drag. “Improper alignment of the hot-air nozzle can create gouges in the membrane outside of the seam,” said Wacenske. “The inside edge of the nozzle should be aligned with the edge of the roller.”
Probing seams can also lead to problems. “Be careful probing seams,” he said. “Use a blunt probe. Probes sharpen with use and occasionally must be dulled.”
Creasing the membrane when it is folded during installation is another error that can lead to problems. “Folding over the membrane can result in a hard crease and surface cracking,” he explained. “Membrane can be folded back for applying adhesives or fasteners, but weight should not be placed on the fold to hold it in place.”
The panel’s PowerPoint presentation and the TPO advisory are available at www.mrca.org.
Sales and Marketing Help
In the session titled “Secrets of Success,” Dave Harrison of Harrison Consulting moderated a panel of MRCA contractors who shared sales and marketing tips. The panelists were Gabe Drake of Tecta America —Zero Roofing, Cincinnati, Ohio; James Huntington, AAA Roofing, Indianapolis; Rick Birman of Texas Roofing Company, Austin, Texas; and Steve Little of KPost Company in Dallas. Harrison invited them to share their core beliefs and detail common mistakes they’ve seen other contractors make.
Drake stressed the importance of returning all phone calls promptly and “always doing the right thing.” Effective communication with customers and employees was crucial, he noted. Most contractors don’t take the time to explain the value they provide, listen to the customer and answer their questions. “Treat your clients like you treat your grandmother,” he advised.
“Your best leads are your current customers,” said Huntington. “Keeping a customer is easier than getting a new customer.” He agreed that listening to the customer was an essential part of problem solving.
While he recommended that contractors offer their best price first, Huntington asserted that selling only on price was a fatal mistake.
Birman said success hinges on targeting customers and focusing on solutions. The key is taking the time to know your clients’ needs, identify their problems and prescribe the right remedies. “Be specific,” he advised. “Invest the time up front to make sure you’re tailoring it to the conditions.”
Little stated that it was important for companies to “play to their strengths.” He advised contractors to shift from reactive to proactive sales calls, work the customer list — and measure the results. “Our salespeople have to touch 24 people per week,” he said, concluding, “We’re not going to participate in the recession.”
Harrison summed up some core themes, including the importance of taking a long-term view and establishing trust with customers. “Keep the customer and the money will follow,” he said.
Forum on the Future
Roofing Contractor Group Publisher Jill Bloom moderated the final educational session, a forum on “The Future of the Roofing Industry.” The panel included Bob Seeley, President and CEO of Derbigum; Fred Stephan, Vice President and General Manager of Johns Manville; Mike Vall, President of Firestone Building Products; and Brian Whelan Sr., Vice President of Sika Sarnafil, who examined key problems and current trends affecting the industry.
Seely pointed to the shortage of qualified workers, the tax burden on small businesses, and rising health care costs as key problems to watch in the years ahead. One potential problem contractors have more control over is succession planning for the owner and other employees. “Have a plan,” he urged attendees. “Know how you will replace key employees.”
Consolidation is another trend to watch. “Every single element of our industry is going to have to justify its value in order to have significance,” sad Seely.
Stephan pointed to volatile oil prices and new trucking regulations as potential sources of problems in the year ahead, but he was cautiously optimistic about the commercial market in 2011. “We think the market bottomed out in 2009,” he said, noting his company’s forecast is for the market to slowly climb to 2008 levels by about 2015.
Vall indicated that more competition will be the norm in the future. “We have a smaller pie to go after, and most growth will be from increasing market share,” he said.
Whelan noted that service and repairs have represented a greater share of the market as building owners hold onto capital. “Maintenance and coating products will continue to grow,” he said.
All the panelists agreed that environmentally friendly products including green roofs and solar systems were growth areas of the future. “Environmentally friendly roofing is here to stay,” said Vall. “We can’t lose our real estate to other trades such as electricians, landscapers and solar integrators.”
The Next Generation
MRCA announced the formation of a start-up group for contractors under 40 tentatively named the Young Contractors Council (YCC). Steve Little of KPost Company moderated the conversation during the first meeting, but he urged the attendees to take over from there and promised to “get out of the way.”
“We’re a generational business, and our kids are not staying in the business,” said Little, noting the MRCA board was calling on the people in the room to help the association determine the reasons people are choosing other industries and offer some solutions.
“We have to sell the industry to the next generation and society as a whole,” said one participant. “We’ve got to make roofing sexy.”
MRCA’s 2011 conference and trade show will be held Oct. 25-28 in Rosemont, Ill. For more information, visit www.mrca.org.