By Abbey Feinstein on January 12th, 2023
As labor shortages born out of the 2008 recession continue to impact construction today, contractors depend on the speed of their crews to derive the most profit from jobs. This is especially true in commercial (low-slope) roofing, where slow progress can disrupt business operations, negatively impact sensitive clients (e.g., sick people in hospitals, children in school), and even result in burdensome fines. It also keeps contractors from moving on to the next billable job.
While many low-slope contractors focus on finding construction materials that can save them time, research shows that leveraging the right tools can significantly impact a crew’s ability to get to the next job faster and with fewer errors. This is true whether your team uses traditional single-ply TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) roofing coverings or newer self-adhering polymer-modified bitumen roof membranes.
CertainTeed’s Low-Slope Labor Study
In its ongoing efforts to develop products that aid the contractor, CertainTeed recently commissioned Trinity|ERD, a Seattle-based building envelope consulting firm, to conduct “Factors Impacting Low-Slope Roofing: A National Labor Study.” The purpose of the study was to objectively quantify the labor savings offered by self-adhering roof membranes. This independent, five-year project looked at the installation of 45 roof systems with six roof coverings in multiple configurations in five U.S. regions. The researchers isolated and timed product and task-level installation data and observed where efficiencies or inefficiencies occurred.
The study produced a wealth of important information about how various low-slope roofing systems install and the various factors impacting the installation speed of torch-applied, hot-mopped, and self-adhered base and cap sheets. It also demonstrated that quickly and profitably installing a low-slope roof system isn’t isolated to the specific type of roof cover being installed. Managing the use of tools, understanding how weather conditions impact tool use, and advanced tool staging are all ways contractors can maximize their productivity.
The Impact of Tools and Management
The study also observed that roofing contractors can do a lot, regardless of roof covering type, to improve their crew productivity and their bottom line. Here are some examples:
- Consider the Temperature and Environment – Environmental factors should always be factored into project estimates. Cold weather often adds work in the form of heating adhesives, longer time periods for relaxing rolls and longer welding times of membranes (APP, SBS, TPO, PVC) – not to mention decreased mobility from bulky cold-weather clothing. Heat often causes fatigue and makes workers thirsty, resulting in more break periods. Also, night projects are typically slower than daylight projects, as work areas are constrained to lighted areas and tools are harder to find.
- Stage Materials Thoughtfully– Staging materials properly for installers ahead of time makes projects move faster. Crew members are most productive when their individual work is defined to a narrow scope as opposed to a range of tasks. For example, when hand-held screw guns were used, workers that staged and placed screws/plates as one phase of work and were followed by another crew member to install were more efficient than a single person carrying pouches of screws and plates. The rhythm of work is maintained when the worker focuses on a single task and the crew installing the roof cover works as a coordinated team.
- Employ Strong Management and Quality Control – Rooftop supervision and direction plays a key role in quicker installation times. This includes proper management of roof loading, break times, staging materials, prefabrication (e.g., combining screws and plates) and relaxing materials prior to installation. A lack of in-application quality control saves time and labor on the front end, but typically requires a crew to go back and correct issues noted by inspectors. In-application quality control is recommended in order to avoid the time and money wasted sending crews back to the jobsite to complete repairs.
- Use and Manage Your Tools Wisely– Efficient tool and accessories use has a measurable impact on installation times. According to our labor study, the installation of a bituminous cap membrane with a ‘dragon wagon’ multi-torch cart was completed 86 percent faster in comparison to using a hand-held torch. Automated screw and plate installers offer a noticeable time advantage, but require a knowledgeable mechanic or crew member with rooftop access to spare parts to avoid machine jams or malfunctions. Poorly maintained automatic welders with inconsistent power and/or damaged parts can also slow down productivity and negatively impact application quality. Blowers used on roofs to clean surfaces and move large sections of membrane also increased productivity in multiple applications.
Tools matter. Even though self-adhered roofing coverings can offer significant time savings, working smarter with the tools and products you have makes a world of difference. The wrong tools, poorly managed tools, malfunctioning tools, and extreme climates will reduce efficiency and increase installation times.