quality in roofing

Achieving quality in roofing installations

Quality control and proper inspection is critical to project success
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
by Doug Wells

In the past, quality control in roofing construction in the past generally consisted of the foreman being an experienced roofer who took pride in his work. These foremen usually had 15 plus years working with hot asphalt, a predominant roofing application at the time and most of the crew had an equal amount of experience. SBS asphalt membrane roofing systems were becoming common as were single ply membranes such as PVC and EPDM. Inspectors were often old roofers that understood how materials performed over time and were able to quickly identify problems with design or workmanship and help resolve them immediately in the field. If the roof didn’t leak, it was a good job!

It’s not that simple anymore. Roofs today are expected to be cost effective, energy efficient, durable, long lasting, environmentally sustainable, safe and aesthetically pleasing… and have documentation to back it up. Today’s roofing designers need to be on the leading edge of product evolution and well versed in all relevant codes and standards. The level of oversight and accountability has increased ten-fold and proper design and quality control throughout the project is paramount to ensure success. Both quality assurance and quality control is needed to create a quality management plan.

The roofing crews have changed significantly. The industry is increasingly dominated by better educated younger workers without the wealth of experience. New materials are introduced to the market regularly and companies are applying numerous roof types. While you might find some highly experienced applicators for certain materials, it is more common to have a “Jack of all Materials”. With litigation risks high and safety being a major factor, today’s foremen are required to provide a far greater level of documentation and oversight than ever before, so are often unable to provide the same level of site supervision as the good old days. Consequently, installers rely on detailed drawings and specifications, manufacturer’s instructions, product specific certification training and third party roof inspections. The need for quality control is greater than ever.

Quality assurance starts with the manufacturers, with factory testing, third party performance verification testing and better installation instructions and training. Manufacturers now provide dedicated technical representatives that assist designers in specifying products correctly and follow that up with quality control in the field on manufacturer warranted projects.

Roofing inspectors and consultants have changed as well. In an increasing number of cases, architects and building envelope engineers are providing roofing consulting services; however they often lack the experience with the installation methods and materials possessed by the traditional “seasoned roofer turned consultant or inspector.” Given the migration to documented quality assurance and code compliance that engineers and architects excel at, the trend is likely to continue and bring quantifiable benefit to the project. That said, it behooves everyone to leverage the knowledge and expertise of the traditional roofing consultants and inspectors that deal with roofing as a primary task.

The quality assurance observers (aka roof inspectors) perform site reviews and generate reports which form the third level of quality control. In the ideal scenario, these are highly experienced roofers or others that have received additional training on the duties of a roof observer (inspector), attend the site on a part time but daily basis and work with the contractor to develop site specific detail solutions in accordance with the design intent.

This collaboration on site has a tremendous impact on the final quality of the installation. There appears to be a trend in the industry to assign junior engineers or technologists to the role of inspecting roofs. While there are benefits to the engagement of these younger professionals in controlling quality, they generally lack hands-on experience and have not formed the ability to effectively resolve issues immediately on site, resulting in lost opportunity to impact quality. Understanding the skills of the roofing consultants and inspectors and ensuring that they match the project complexities is a very important owner responsibility; one size does not fit all.

In addition to building envelope design professionals registered with APEGBC and AIBC, there are organizations such as RCI Inc., that offer the designations of RRO (registered roof observer) and RRC (registered roof consultant). More and more owners and managers are requiring quality control be managed through an established professional. There are ASTM standards for roofing inspections and in our market RCABC Guarantee standards set out additional requirements and recommendations for a prudent frequency of roof inspections. The industry as a whole must understand and work within these guidelines.

The varying levels of experience and skill discussed above, combined with newer materials, insurance costs, liability exposure and the trend of the owners to have all these items quantifiably managed have resulted in a greater need for quality control. While there is a cost associated to providing the appropriate level of consulting and inspection services, the costs associated with leaks, failures, injuries and other deficiencies are typically much greater. These various groups need to work together to achieve a successful project and create a culture of quality now demanded in the industry.


Doug Wells, RRO, is the roofing design manager at IRC Building Sciences Group and sits on the board of directors for the RCI Inc., Western Canada Chapter. Doug has been a QAO for more than 10 years with 27 years in the roofing industry.


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