BC Opposite The Rest of North America
The below chart provides the latest available market share percentages for the North American commercial (i.e. flat & low slope) roofing market accounted for by the products shown. TechPro Roofing is factory certified to install the three products shown as representing a combined 72% market share, those being TPO, EPDM and PVC. Source: National Roofing Contractors Association
SBS Modified Bitumen “torch-on” roofing accounts for only a fraction of the 28% shown for oil based “Modified” asphalt systems. Over the past decade the market share for “Modified” asphalt systems has been steadily declining throughout North America and is currently thought to have fallen to as low as 20%.
By comparison, BC’s market share percentages are almost exactly the opposite those for the rest of North America. Within BC, torch-on roofing is thought to account for a 70-80% market share with EPDM, TPO and PVC accounting for only 20%-30%. The reason BC is so far out of step with the rest of North America is because the BC roofing industry has continued to heavily promote the use of torch-on roofing for reasons other than providing customers the best and most cost effective solutions to their roofing requirements.
Torch-on Roofing is a Poor Financial Investment
Torch-on roofing provides a very poor return on investment. It is the most expensive type of system to install to factory standards and the service life it provides is short. A recent report by a long-term industry roofing consultant states that “newer asphalt assemblies are presently being observed as lasting only 15-18 years due to the drop in asphalt quality”. It is TechPro’s experience that the majority of torch-on roofs generally do not even make it to 15 years before needing to be replaced and prior to that have likely required significant repair work to address leaks. There is also talk within the industry that new torch-on roofs are beginning to allow water penetration in as few as 7 to 8 years, particularly in roof areas where water is allowed to pond.
Torch-on Roofing Warranties Are Restrictive, Short, and Not Comprehensive
- Torch-on Warranties Are Restrictive: Because torch-on roofing does not stand up well when subjected to ponded water, the material warranties provided by torch-on manufacturers contain restrictive provisions stating that if a roof’s slope is less than 1%, the manufacturer’s warranty is voidable. The website of the company that is by far the dominant supplier of torch-on materials in BC states under “General Conditions for Roofing Warranties”, that “In all systems the roof must have a minimum slope of 1%”. Another restrictive provision relied upon by torch-on roofing manufacturers is that if a roof retains ponded water for more than 48 hours after the cessation of a period of rain, the manufacturer warranty can be voided. For a material that is intended to waterproof buildings in BC’s wet coastal climate, these have to be considered as significant and meaningful restrictions. Most older Lower Mainland strata, apartment and commercial buildings do not meet these 1% or 48 hour manufacturer warranty requirements. Given this situation, BC roofing consultants and companies with a vested financial interest in having torch-on roofing installed will often fail to inform customers of these restrictions. Should a valid material warranty be an absolute requirement of a contract, the solution proposed by a consultant or company will be to install a costly insulation “taper package” to create the necessary slope. In general however, it is safe to assume that most local torch-on roofs are being installed with material warranties that torch-on manufacturers will not be obligated to honor and that most customers have not be made aware of this fact. By comparison, TPO, EPDM and PVC systems are fully water tolerant and their manufacturer warranties contain no restrictions concerning the occurrences of ponded water. In fact, a major use of EPDM is for use as large commercial pond liners, and PVC membranes have been used as swimming pool liners for decades.
- Torch-on Warranties Are Short in Length: The warranties provided by torch-on manufacturers are normally 5, 10 or 15 years in length and cover material defects only. By comparison the warranty lengths for factory inspected and certified EPDM, TPO, and PVC systems start at 15 years as a minimum and are available in length’s of up to 30 years. This comparison itself should provide ample evidence of the faith these manufacturers have in their respective products.
- Torch-on Warranties Are Not Comprehensive: The warranties provided by torch-on manufacturers do not cover the workmanship involved in installing a roof. Workmanship warranties must be supplied by the installing contractor. If one reads a torch-on manufacturer’s material warrant, it will be very evident that one of the warranties intents is to deflect as much responsibility as possible on to the installing contractor’s workmanship warranty. However, that having been said, workmanship issues are just as likely to be the cause of premature torch-on roof leaks as material defects. With respect to EPDM, TPO and PVC systems, upon completion all are inspected and certified by a manufacturer factory inspector with the manufacturer then issuing a “system warranty” covering both manufacturer material defects and contractor installation workmanship for the full length of the warranty, i.e. between 15 and 30 years, on a 100% non-prorated basis. Duro-Last Inc. is so confident in the PVC systems it provides that its warranties can include coverage for “consequential damages” (i.e. interior building and personal property damage), whether or not the damage was caused by a material defect or a workmanship issue.
Torch-on Roofing Posses Significant Fire Risks
The installation of torch-on roofing requires the use of powerful propane torches and this poses substantial fire risks. Propane torch caused roof fires are a daily occurrence in B.C. Most of these fires are immediately extinguished, it being mandatory to have fire extinguishers present at all times. Some torch-on fires, however, that are not immediately put out require the fire department to deal with them. And a few, such as the following examples, are serious enough to attract media coverage. As one fire official stated, “roofers and plumbers are our best customer”.
- Torch-on Fires Can Smolder for Hours Before Erupting: A major issue with torch-on caused fires is that when propane torch flames are allowed to lick down into an attic space, the fire can smolder for hours before erupting. With regard to the above shown New Westminster fire, flames would have entered the attic area prior to the crew finishing for the day. The fire then smoldered for some 10 hours before finally erupting early in the middle of the night around 3:00am. A similar delayed eruption fire destroyed an Abbotsford church several years ago. In that case the BC Supreme Court upheld a $2 million judgment against the roofing company. Video commentary concerning the Whistler fire noted how quickly the fire grew from just a few wisps of smoke to what is shown above. In addition to these specific instances, other serious torch-on caused fires that have occurred in recent years.
- New York City Made Use of Propane Torches on Roofs a Felony: In the late 1990’s New York City was experiencing an average of 35 torch caused fires a year and finally the City enacted legislation making it a felony to use a propane torch on a roof, “The penalty for violating these rules, built into the rules themselves, is arrest for endangerment of property. Further, anyone sanctioning the illegal use of propane on roofs, including board members, engineers or architects, attorneys who draw up contracts, managing agents and roofing companies, can all be subject to arrest.” In San Francisco and several other US cities, fire permits must first be obtained prior to a torch-on roof being installed. With regard to the major October, 2013 New Westminster fire shown above, news reports indicated the roofing contractor involved narrowly avoided being criminally charged.
- RCABC No Longer Insures Member Companies for Fire Losses: RCABC (Roofing Contractors Association of BC) member companies are supposedly the elite of the BC roofing industry. However, due to the unsustainable levels of torch-on caused fire losses being incurred by these companies, within the past several years the RCABC ceased its program of providing member companies with group fire loss insurance coverage. RCABC member companies must now go to the open market to obtain coverage where premiums are escalating and the number of insurance companies willing to provide fire loss coverage has dwindled to only a few.
The bottom line message here is that it is simply beyond reason to be using powerful propane torches on wood frame buildings with plywood roof decks. No matter how careful a contractor might be in terms of precautions taken, accidents will still happen and it is just a matter of time before a BC torch-on caused fire results in serious injury or death. The better answer is to install membrane systems that do not require the use of propane torches.
Torch-on Roofing Is Environmentally Harmful
Of the available alternatives, torch-on roofing is by far the most environmentally harmful product to produce. In terms of “contribution to global climate change”, based on independent research, with a 15 year service life four torch-on roofs would need to be installed before the first one will have reached its calculated “carbon neutral break-even point” of just under 55 years. Because torch-on roofing is not recycled, the implication here is that this first roof will have been in a landfill for some 40 years (along with two other roofs for shorter periods) before the first would reached the 55 years of service life it would have needed to provide to reach carbon neutrality. Once in a landfill the torch-on material commences to leach asphalt and “modifier” chemicals into the environment for decades and centuries. The technical name for torch-on roofing material is “SBS Modified Bitumen”, with SBS standing for “Styrene-Butadiene-Styrene”. While one mark against torch-on roofing is that it is asphalt based, the “modifier” chemicals it contains that are released into the environment should also be of concern. Styrene for example is being studied as a suspected cancer agent. Overall, not a very good environmental story.
By comparison the calculated “carbon neutral” break-even points for recyclable EPDM and TPO are 15 and 20 years respectively, with their effective service lives potentially being twice that. The break-even point for PVC is higher because its production involves the use of natural gas. However, PVC is the most recyclable of the available products. Duro-Last Inc for example has a very active program through subsidiary companies to turn old PVC roofs into such items as flooring products. In an era where the effects of global climate change are rapidly becoming more apparent, the use of products as dangerous and environmentally harmful as SBS Modified Bitumen torch-on roofing needs to stop.
Torch-on Roofing Unsuitable For The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics
In the years leading to the 2010 Winter Olympics, torch-on roofing commanded a dominating 80% plus share of the BC flat roofing market. Yet when 24 roofing projects were completed in conjunction with the Olympics, none of these were torch-on roofs. Why would this occur in a Province where torch-on roofing was so dominate? The answer lies in statements contained within the Olympic Games literature: “One of the objectives of Vancouver 2010 is to generate no net increase in greenhouse gases. A two-fold ambition: to be the greenest Games ever held and to become a model for future host cities.” and that this objective: “…backs up the plans of the City of Vancouver, which is targeting a 20% cut in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. As demonstrated by the foregoing bar chart, it should be obvious that torch-on roofing was not used in conjunction with the Olympics because it did not provide compatibility with the Games’ “sustainability” objectives, the result being that 23 of 24 Olympic related roofing projects were TPO systems.
The bottom line here is that when the local roofing industry was forced to use a greener environmental product it did so, but as soon as the Games were over the industry went right back to overwhelmingly promoting and installing dangerous and environmentally harmful torch-on roofing. Nothing was learned or carried forward from the example the Olympics attempted to create. And the fact that torch-on roofing continues to be installed at its current dominant levels is completely contrary to Vancouver’s and the Province’s stated environmental objectives with respect to reducing contributions to climate change and global warming.
With regard to international events held after the Vancouver Olympics, the 2012 London Summer Olympics made exclusive use of PVC requiring 30% recycled content for installed materials. The 2014 Solchi Winter Games also made use of recyclable PVC, while new stadiums constructed for the 2014 Brazilian World Cup had TPO roofs.
Torch-on Roofing Posses Potential Health Risks to Installers
As mentioned previously, the full name for torch-on roofing is ”SBS Modified Bitumen” with “SBS” standing for “Styrene-Butadiene-Styrene” and “Modified” standing for the other modifier chemicals incorporated during the manufacturing process. As shown below, when torch-on roofing is blow-torch heated to install it, these styrene and other modifier chemicals are released into the air to potentially be inhaled by the roofers installing it. The problem with this is that there is ongoing research and debate as to whether or not styrene is carcinogenic to humans. The following can be found as part of a Wikipedia article concerning styrene: “The U.S. National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also currently is evaluating styrene’s potential toxicity. To date, no regulatory body anywhere in the world has classified styrene as a known human carcinogen, although several refer to it in various contexts as a possible or potential human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers styrene to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans” . Within the article its is also stated that “Chronic exposure to styrene leads to tiredness/lethargy, memory deficits, headaches and vertigo.”
Why Should Torch-on Roofing Should Be Banned in BC?
The Facts are Clear:
Poor Investment – Restricted Warranties
Huge Fire Risks – Environmentally Harmful
Think of Things This Way:
70% of the Flat Roofing being installed within the
Province will be in a Landfill within 15 years to begin
long term leaching of Asphalt and Toxic Chemicals
into the Environment.
Is this really the legacy we want to be bestowing on future
generations, particularly when better performing, recyclable
alternatives are available? By taking a stand and refusing to
install torch-on roofing TechPro has made its decision. Our
vote is for the environment and doing what we can to combat
climate change and global warming …. so should yours.