Changing codes and regulations have converged to make commercial roofing projects more complicated than ever. I recently spoke with several roofing industry professionals who cited new codes and regulations — and a focus on the entire building envelope — as key areas to watch in 2014. John Geary, director of education and industry relations for Firestone Building Products, summed it up in one word: Complexity. “It’s not enough for roofing systems to just keep the water out of buildings, but increasingly they must perform as part of an assembly that addresses energy efficiency needs as well as provide air and vapor barriers,” he said. “Codes are being updated, and more sophisticated building owners are viewing the roof as part of a building envelope system.”

Tom Gernetzke, RRC, RBEC, project manager for Facility Engineering Inc. and the president of RCI Inc., concurred. “In addition to ongoing technical issues, such as low-VOC adhesives, lightweight concrete substrates and increased reliance on low-rise foam adhesives, the integration of roofing and roofing air barriers with other vertical air/vapor barrier building envelope components will become more of a challenge as code requirements become more stringent,” he noted.

Jonathan Shepard, president of Mule-Hide Products, believes continuous insulation will be a hot topic this year. “Building codes, including the International Building Code (IBC) and International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), have been updated to reflect a growing understanding of the building envelope and how the roof, walls, windows and other parts of a building work together,” he said.

James R. Kirby, AIA, vice president sustainability for the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing (CEIR), also pointed to air barriers as an area to keep an eye on. “The obvious growing trend over the past five years is the big uptick in air barrier materials and installation requirements, both in specifications and in the building codes,” he said. “Verification of air barrier installation comes from post-construction commissioning. And commissioning of completed assemblies is tied to a movement away from prescriptive requirements and toward performance measurements. Roofing continues to be more prescriptive based, certainly when it comes to materials and system design, but as the overall energy efficiency (from insulation and air barriers) of a building moves toward a performance requirement, contractors and roof system designers will likely be held more accountable to the energy efficiency of the building envelope. And because the roofing industry is so heavily reliant on re-roofing of existing buildings, the roofing industry (versus those designing new buildings) has its success in its own hands.”

“Understanding how to design a roof for longevity and energy efficiency will be even more important than it is today, and those in the roofing industry designing and installing roof systems will be accountable for the outcome,” Kirby concluded. “While this sounds like a big hurdle, those who figure out how to do this successfully will have strong businesses with tremendous bottom lines. The challenge can and will yield great successes.”