SAT for School Roofing

We give our children standardized tests to measure progress and gauge the level of future success. Educators are under pressure to prepare students to do well on State Assessment tests in accordance to No Child Left Behind. When I was in school it was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the ACT, and the SAT.

Winston Churchill once said,“First we shape our buildings and then they shape us.” Based on this premise, why don’t we use a new“standardized test” to grade out the materials we use in the design of our school buildings? This test would measure the progress that the manufacturer’s products have demonstrated in the field and gauge the level of future success. I propose the SAT as the test for roofing systems. The SAT? Sure, Sustainability, Application and Technical support are all core indicators of a proven, reliable and environmentally sound roofing system.


What does sustainability mean?

In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development determined that sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In 2007, this is still the common connotation, so if nothing else, the definition has proven to be sustainable.

The question you need to ask is “Why should sustainability influence my decision on what roofing system I choose?”

A. Benjamin Handler, deceased Professor Emeritus University of Michigan, divided the life cycle of a school building into five phases:

  • Phase One — 20 Years of Less
    o Limited maintenance should be needed
  • Phase Two — Between 20 and 30 Years
    o Increased annual maintenance
  • Phase Three — Between 30 and 40 Years
    o Rapid increase of maintenance, equipment replacement, roofs, lighting
  • Phase Four — Between 40 and 50 Years
    o Accelerated deterioration needs, neighborhood/community changes
  • Phase Five — More than 50 Years
    o Building should be completely reconstructed or abandoned

Information presented at Green Tools for Healthy Schools in September of 2007 suggest that California school buildings are on a 25-year cycle for modernization. A sustainable roofing system should, at a minimum, be measured with the same timeline. Building a new school or a major renovation of an existing school building is a long-term investment and your initial roofing system should last into phase three of the building life cycle with low or no maintenance to provide the best life-cycle cost.

Notice that the first mention of roof replacement is into phase three (between 30 and 40 years). Your maintenance staff will appreciate in the initial investment and the taxpayers in your district will appreciate the life cycle cost vs. the initial cost (bond issue every 30 years vs. every 10 to 15). Most manufacturers offer a 20-, 25-, or 30-year guaranty. Ask them to back up the claim with a proven track record of in place performance. Laboratory simulations can indicate the way a system will react to controlled adverse conditions, but ask the manufacturer to take you on a field trip. Visit installations that have been in place 20-plus years and talk to the owners. Ask the manufacturer what has changed in their system design since this installation. Why were the changes made? Is there an added benefit?

Government agencies, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), and special organizations specific to school building design, like the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), have introduced legislation to establish guidelines to better define sustainable school design. These organizations present studies indicating higher test scores for students, better health for building occupants, lower energy costs for taxpayers, and environmental stewardship as benefits of sustainable design during new construction and major renovations.

Ask questions relevant to your climate, regional needs and local incentives when choosing additional sustainable benefits of your roofing system:

  • Does the manufacturer have experience with cool roof or green roof systems? How does the integration of these additional features affect the 20- or 30-year performance of the system? Are there increased maintenance concerns?
  • Does the system offer a recover opportunity at the end of the initial 20- to 30-year system design that would eliminate the need for tear-off and landfill waste with an additional 20 to 30 year guaranty (taking the roof into phase five)?
  • Can the roofing membrane be recycled if a tear-off and replacement is needed?
  • Does the manufacturer practice environmental responsibility in the manufacturing process? Do they have an audited environmental management system or certified as an ISO 14001: 2004 facility?
  • Has the roofing surface tested PH neutral providing an opportunity for water reclamation?
  • What is the opportunity for an integrated alternative energy system such as photovoltaic systems? Does this particular system enhance the productivity of the energy system?

Depending on your area of the country, the right answer to one or more of these questions can mean qualification for rebates, incentives, increased longevity, and enhanced durability for the life or your roof and school building.


The second core indicator to grade out roofing systems for your school is the application technique. Assess your situation. Is it beneficial to have the installation done while school is in session? Do you have concerns regarding the safety and health of your students, faculty and staff?

If you answered “Yes” to either of these questions or have regulations in your area against the use of a torch, open flames, or fumes during installation, then you need to consider a roofing system that will provide alternative means of installation and contractors trained in these techniques.

Roofing systems are available that can be applied using a cold mastic adhesion or a combination of cold mastic and electric heat welding to secure the side laps. Ask if the contractor has experience with cold mastic applications and if they have been trained by the manufacturer for this particular system. Verify that the contractor will have personnel at the jobsite with proper identification issued by the manufacturer demonstrating his/her completion of the training.

There are regulations in place by the EPA as well as various state and local governments regarding the level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can be present in the cold mastic. VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids and include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Ask for documentation that the mastic surpasses these regulations.

Additional questions that should be asked are:

  • Is the mastic proposed approved by the manufacturer for this particular system?
  • What are the application options (squeegee or spray) and what are the pros/cons of each?
  • Are there temperature restrictions for the use of the mastic?

Additional safety issues may come into play if this is a complete re-roof. Coordinate dumpster and recycling bin locations with the contractor. How will they keep these areas restricted from students or on-lookers? Has the contractor informed you about the extra precautions that will be in place to secure classrooms or offices under the tear-off areas? Can they provide you a timeline and plan to make disruptions as minimal as possible?

These questions will assist in identifying the quality of contractor associated with each roofing system. Some manufacturers limit the number of contractors that can install their systems to assure that they are getting the best available. Remember, it doesn’t matter how sustainable or reliable a system has been designed to be if it is compromised during the installation process or if safety becomes a concern.

Technical Support

The final core indicator to consider is support provided through all phases of the project.

What support does the manufacturer provide to the architect, consultant and you during the design process? They need to understand the legislation and guidelines that pertain to the overall concept of the project. If this is a project striving to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, can they provide accurate documentation regarding the points their system qualifies for? The manufacturer should have a representative available to address questions from administration, faculty, staff, students, PTA, school board, and taxpayers that have to approve the bond.

How does the manufacturer support the contractor? The roofing manufacturer should have a training school or field training available on their particular systems. The Technical Service department should be available for consultation on application techniques, special requirements, or sequence of events that need to take place. Is there a process in place for inspections before, during and after the installation process?

When the project is completed, do the manufacturer and contractor make it clear who you should contact for questions regarding the roofs performance? The Technical Services department and the contractor should work as a team to ease your mind. You have made a long-term investment and should feel confident that you made the right choice. The manufacturer should present the maintenance staff, administration, and other concerned stakeholders a handbook of preventative maintenance guidelines to keep your roof performing at its highest level.

Bottom line is to take your time and educate yourself regarding the options available. If you make a decision based on Sustainability, Application and Technical support your students, faculty, staff, and community will thank you for it.

Travis Wallace is the marketing manager for Performance Roof Systems, Inc. He can be reached at 800/727-9872 ext. 128 or at