Plan a Well Executed Metal Retrofit Project

When John Martindale, President of Brothers Services Company (BSC), Baltimore, MD wanted to expand his market in the local area, he looked into the commercial metal retrofit market. Having been a very successful and large residential contractor for years, he felt he needed to diversify into this market. His first step was to attend the 2003 METALCON International convention held in Tampa, FL. He attended a seminar that described the basics of the metal retrofit roof market. I was fortunate to be presenting this seminar and even more fortunate to meet John after the seminar, which led to an ongoing professional relationship. It was obvious from the start of this relationship that he was acutely interested in entering this attractive market in a manner that would make sure that Brothers would “do it right the first time”. While not every step has been totally flawless the first time, his insistence on making the customer’s finished product right the first time has always prevailed. Their most recent finished project, Orleans Court Condominiums, located in Ocean City, Maryland, is a prime example of this philosophy, and is the example to be used to demonstrate how there is really only one (1) way to construct a metal retrofit roof….”Do it right the first time”.

This story starts at the Virginia School Board Convention in November 2006. A school board member, like most do, proclaimed that he did not understand why school roofs were designed and constructed with a predominately flat profile. His opinion was that to re-roof a flat roof, without adding pitch and a metal roof, was a travesty and their school board was determined not to allow that to continue. He asked us to contact Blake Giddens at Restoration Engineering, Inc. (REI), since their firm provided most of the roof engineering services to their district. That contact yielded no positive information about an upcoming school project, but, instead, an interest in converting a flat roof on a condominium in Ocean City, MD to a sloped, painted, aluminum roof. Blake indicated that he was somewhat aware of the concept of adding slope to a flat roof, but was asking for whatever advise and suggestions we might have in order for him to provide a design that was “right the first time”. Of course he could have prepared a loosely put together specification and generic plan and hoped that a contractor would be capable of filling in the design holes, but he, instead, was very receptive to engineering and detailing that was proven effective over time.

REI provided a full set of detailed plans and specifications that accurately depicted his expectation for the metal retrofit roof. Included in his specifications was the requirement that the contractor prepare a set of engineered shop drawings showing how his basic design concept would be satisfied by the contractor’s approach and materials. BSC was fortunate to be selected out of three (3) bidders to construct the metal retrofit roof.

The bid stage was “done right” and yielded a competent contractor, skilled and experienced in metal retrofit roofing. After a proper contract was executed, the contractor began the design process. Over the years everyone has seen good and bad attempts at providing shop drawings. The “bad” ones use standard details pasted together to yield a patch-work of drawings and details, none of which truly depict the actual conditions of the particular roof. The “good” ones actually measure the existing roof, perform wind design load calculations, perform fastener pull tests from the existing structural components, and provide a set of scaled drawings and details that truly describe how the metal retrofit roof is to be applied to the existing flat roof. The second approach is more time consuming and costly, but was the only way to “do it right the first time”. On this particular project, BSC knew that this was the only way to proceed.

First the new roof needed to be properly designed. ASCE-7-05 was used to determine the wind speeds and corresponding wind uplift loads in all specific areas of the new metal roof. That is the critical foundation for any roof project, but, unfortunately, is one that is often given little importance. A mistake here could have devastating effects in the future. Need I say….”Do it right the first time”?

During the design process, materials needed to be selected. The coastal environment called for an aluminum roof and galvanized steel sub-framing members. An Englert S2500 aluminum panel (.040”), with a Kynar based paint system was selected to be placed on an MBCI, 16 gage, galvanized, sub-framing system. The ASTM E-1592 uplift tests for the Englert panel was obtained to determine where clip supports were necessary, then appropriate framing was designed to adequately transmit the wind design loads into the existing building structure. Normally a light gage banding system would have been utilized to stabilize the new sloped roof structure, but 16 gage angles were used instead to further add stiffness to the framing system which might have to withstand 120 mph coastal winds. In addition, the owner wished to add a 7’-0” roof overhang over the decks of the top units, in order to provide shade. While the structural members were designed to cantilever over this space, exterior columns were added by agreement of the owner, REI, and BSC. This addition, was a little “belts & suspenders”, but assured all involved that we would not ever have to worry about the coastal winds disturbing this condition. We didn’t want to come back later, but, rather, “do it right the first time”.

Now, some14 months after that board member stop at the booth in Virginia, we had located a willing owner with a need, a very capable engineer to create a bid and contract package, a contractor willing to do the work for a set price, and a finished design and needed materials selected. All that had to be done now is to put it all together! The project was started on January 14, 2008 and completed June 20, 2008. An experienced subcontractor was retained to lead the construction activity, with BSC employees working with them to accomplish the needed work. Critical to this process was BSC’s Project Manager, Phil Lisak. Although this was his first metal retrofit roof project of this complexity, Phil provided the necessary controls on material procurement and scheduling, as well as monitoring the progress of the work. This vital part of the construction puzzle is often overlooked. It is sometimes assumed, incorrectly, that a well designed project, with a qualified crew, will always produce a good final product. Unfortunately, metal roof construction is not that simple. Phil proved to be up to the many challenges associated with this job, including one of the most important….motivating the men to perform quality work. That required him to know what the shop drawings were depicting, as well as having the tenacity to make sure things were put where they were supposed to be. At the same time, the men needed to be motivated to perform the work in an efficient and effective manner. The driving force for him was to get the roof components installed as they were designed and “do it right the first time”. With only a few minor exceptions, that was accomplished. The majority of roof lawsuits in the metal roofing industry are caused by faulty installations. The main reason that a project does not make the margins expected is attributed to faulty installations and a lot of re-work dollars spent. Phil did an excellent job of working with the men to insure that there was no faulty workmanship. And the final results… punch-list in late July after a walk-through with Blake Giddens…Great job, Phil.

So, in summary, there are eight (8) major components that make up a well planned and executed metal retrofit roof project:

1. A building owner that understands the long term benefits of converting a flat roof that leaks into a sloped one that doesn’t.
2. A competent design professional providing a detailed set of bid and contract drawings.
3. An experienced metal roof contractor, with experience in metal retrofit roofing.
4. A set of engineered shop drawings based on ASCE 7-05 wind uplift calculations and ASTM E-1592 metal panel wind uplift testing provided by the contractor. These need to be prepared by a licensed professional engineer with experience in this area.
5. Materials which are appropriate for the specific design.
6. Installers who are well qualified in this type of work and who understand the concept portrayed in the shop drawings.
7. A project manager that is capable of motivating the work force to produce a quality product in a specified amount of time.
8. Most importantly, doing all of the above “right the first time”.

There you have it. From John Martindale wanting to make sure his company “did it right the first time” by attending METALCON in 2003, to his company insisting that the Orleans Court Condominium project was designed and installed “right the first time”. The metal retrofit roof market provides a great opportunity for companies like BSC that believe in this, but also provides great risks for those that do not. Make sure you are one of the contractors that are successful and “do it right the first time”.

Lawsuits – Avoid them!

After almost thirty (30) years operating as a metal roofing contractor, I am proud to say that I was never involved with a lawsuit relating to the construction of a metal roof.  Having installed over 22 million SF of them, I can personally attest that it was preferable for me to avoid them rather than engage them.  As a metal roof consultant, I have been involved with numerous metal roof “problem situations” that have either ended with a lawsuit or some type of monetary settlement between the parties.  This article will relate what conditions rise to a metal roof related lawsuit, and what steps can be taken to avoid them before that drastic step is taken.

First, let’s identify the possible parties that can get entwined in such a conflict.  They are as follows:

  • Building owner
  • Specifier (architect, engineer, consultant)
  • Manufacturer of the metal components
  • Contractor

Initially, these parties expect a favorable project from each or their individual perspectives.  The owner has decided that he wants a metal roof for his building; a specifier has been retained to design such a roof.  A contractor has made a conscious decision to prepare a bid for supplying and installing this roof, including making a profit and, finally, a manufacturer is selected by the contractor to furnish the metal materials necessary to perform the work.  Sounds like a win, win, win, win proposition.  Unfortunately, there are many ways that this process can become adversarial.  Let’s look at each of the participants in this process individually.

Building Owner

Just as we all make purchases, the owner has a responsibility to investigate the possibility of a metal roof satisfying his roofing needs.  That includes more than driving by an existing metal roof and falling in love with the color.  The configuration of the roof lines, the roof slope, possible roof-top unit’s locations, to name a few, need to be researched.  The owner may solicit the help of his preferred specifier at this time, as well as a local contractor and/or manufacturer.  The roof is a major aesthetic and functional component of the building envelope and deserves the owner’s attention.  Neglect at this decision stage does not allow the owner the right to recover from others involved with the design and construction of his roof.


The owner should engage a design professional or consultant to assist him with the metal roof design and specifications.  After all, this building element will be responsible to protect most of the other elements, as well as the building’s contents and occupants.  The owner should select this professional based on their experience and competence with the design of metal roof systems. After being selected to perform this design work, the specifier has the responsibility to investigate possible metal roof solutions, including their details, strengths, and weaknesses.  His charge is to select and design the correct metal roof system for this particular project.  In addition (and this is the single most important duty of the specifier), the specifier must inspect the work during construction to insure that the specified design is being followed.  The lack of attention of the specifier to this detail is the reason for the large majority of metal roof lawsuits.  Make sure that the correct panel, clip, fastener, and flashing details are used.  In addition, insure that the correct clip spacing is used.  And finally, physically inspect any place that the panel starts or stops (eaves, ridges, curbs, etc.).  Remember –Water will not go through metal; only through interruptions in the metal.  Insist that these “interruptions” are properly installed and sealed, and look to make sure it is done properly.


Warning!! If you are a contractor, heed this warning:  The large majority of metal roof conflicts are solved with the contractor’s money.  Don’t let this happen to you by practicing the following simple procedures:

  1. Understand the desires of the owner prior to giving him a price for a metal roof.  If you are not sure of his intent, ask questions.  Do not assume that his expectations are the same as your last customer’s.
  2. Prepare an in-depth estimate for the work and make sure that the owner and/or specifier understands what you intend to provide.  This may be done in proposal form or through formal shop drawings and submittals, but it needs to be done.  If there are any areas where you feel that you have made an interpretation that may be different from the specifications, take the time to bring this to the specifiers attention.  It is much preferred, as well as considerably less expensive, to discuss any differences before you buy materials or expend labor costs.
  3. Pay attention here!! – Insist that the metal roof gets installed in accordance with the specifications, shop drawings, and manufacturer’s details and instructions.  If this procedure would be followed for all metal roofs, the incidence of metal roof lawsuits would plummet dramatically.  More than anything else, the contractor must insure that his installers perform their function correctly.  It is the contractor’s responsibility and, therefore, his liability if the roof system fails to perform as expected.  If problems arise in the field, and they always do, correct them immediately.  While the cost factor might want to come into play during this decision period, the cost to fix it after the roof is finished is exponentially larger than “doing it right the first time”.
  4. Document all transactions associated with the metal roof contract.  If a problem occurs later, the first thing the lawyers and consultants look for is the paperwork for the project.  Invariably, the contractor has the least amount of acceptable correspondence, which puts him at a disadvantage from the start.  There are always discussions and negotiations surrounding every metal roof project.  Document the resolution of these situations, distribute them to all parties involved, and keep a record in the permanent job file.


The manufacturer is the most remote entity to the actual metal roof construction.  This industry has developed and tested various metal roof systems for over 70 years, and has systems that are time-tested and very functional, when installed per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Therein lays the vulnerability of the manufacturer.  Even though their warranties and material liabilities state that they cannot be responsible for deficiencies associated with the contractor’s erection procedures, the owner and specifier assume an implied responsibility since the manufacturer developed the finished product and erection procedures.  Some projects require several field inspections to determine the adherence to the published procedures, which greatly reduce the possibility of a faulty roof installation.  That , along with a strong requirement that the contractor obtain and maintain a working knowledge of the proper installation techniques, is the best assurance that a manufacturer can have that his materials will be installed in such a manner that they will perform as they were designed.  The closer that the manufacturer can stay with the contractor throughout the contract process, the better the chance for a successfully installed metal roof.

Lawsuits – Avoid them!

If all of the parties to a metal roof project listed above take the time to perform their work according to the simple steps described, they could all have expectations of a pleasant and lasting experience.  The reason for most metal roof lawsuits is not bad products or bad design, but, instead, bad follow-through.  If everyone involved does their part correctly, the cost and frustration of a lawsuit can be avoided.  That would be bad for my expert witness business, but good for my industry.  I’ll take the latter.

If you have a “problem” metal roof, please feel free to contact me at (919) 465-1762, or at