Retrofit your operation

By Mark James, RetroSpec     /       Have you considered commercial roof replacement to make money?

Author Mark James of RetroSpec LLC, presented “Retrofitting for Profit” at METALCON International in Atlanta in October. This article is taken from that presentation.

To be a successful metal roofing installer, you have to be installing metal roofing … meaning you have to go where the business is. When the economy is not as exuberant as we’d like it to be and potential customers are not spending money, you may have to explore other options to keep busy.

One option is the commercial retrofit market — for the purposes of this article, that means complete fully engineered structural roof systems used for:

  •  adding slope to existing buildings with flat or nearly flat roofs
  •  re-roofing over existing sloped roofs including metal
  •  correcting problematic roof geometry
  •  extending the life expectancy of a roofing system


Roof Hugger retrofitA driving force creating the need for new roofs is old roofs! For new metal roofs over conventional membrane roofs, the concept has and will continue to be accepted as the most valid alternative to traditional tear-off and replacement. For new metal roofs over existing metal (metal-over-metal), there is a staggering opportunity for roofs that have passed their service life expectancy.

You know the benefits of metal and they apply to retrofit projects. Because new metal roofing systems offer durability, sustainability as well as improved aesthetics, you’re delivering to your customers a product that offers reduced maintenance and longer life, a contribution to LEED points and increased property value. Metal roofing is available in cool colors to reduce the heat island effect and is virtually 100 percent recyclable to reduce landfill waste.

There’s more than one way to retrofit a roof with metal and these were developed because, as you may have guessed, there’s more than one problem that creates the need for retrofit.

1. Sloped build-up retrofit is the installation of a light-gauge steel framing system with a new metal roof over an existing flat roof for either of the three applications.

  • a. Utilitarian low slope retrofit, typically driven by economy, is functional applications designed to simply discharge rainwater from the roof without improving curb appeal of the existing building, most commonly by installing a new trapezoidal standing seam metal or exposed fastener rib panels in slopes of 1/2:12 to 2:12.
  • b. Architectural steep slope retrofit is employed when the roof will be a design element in the beautification of an existing building or during additions where the existing roofs are upgraded to match new construction. Intended for roof slopes greater than 2:12, normally 3 to 5:12, this method has been embraced by schools as well as federal, state and municipal government for more than two decades. The recommended new roof system is vertical rib standing seam. This framing system method is also gaining acceptability in new construction projects.
  • c. Problematic roof application retrofit can be employed on building facilities that have undesirable roof geometry issues with discharging rainwater due to past building additions or for accommodating future expansions. Examples: Fill-ins and crickets; multi-gable or stepped roofs; to increase slope; to reverse slope; or to remove a barrel.


2. Sloped roof retrofit is the installation of a steel sub-framing system with a new metal roof over an existing sloped metal roof for the following applications.

  • a. “Metal-over-Sloped” conventional roof, where the existing roof may be of virtually any type of construction with a asphaltic or rubber based weathering membrane.
  • b. “Metal-over-Metal” re-roofing where the existing metal roof has reached the end of its service life or has prematurely failed due to environmental exposure or neighboring conditions.


Retrofit framing systems are best used in situations where you’re dealing with replacing a leaky roof, correcting roof geometry or making structural changes.

Additional opportunities
Englert retrofitAlso, when installing a metal retrofit roof, it provides the installer a prime opportunity to include these upgrades or building code requirements:

  •  upgrade to minimum Model Energy Code thermal resistance (R-value)
  •  update roof to current design wind speed and snow loads
  •  incorporate convective and other ventilation
  •  employ renewable solar generation equipment (air, water, power)
  •  include rainwater collection for non-potable uses (landscape irrigation, etc.)
  •  take advantage of available federal, state and local tax incentives





Market demand
Chart 2If you’re looking to take your business to where the money is, retrofit may be your goal.
According to research compiled by McGraw-Hill Construction (Construction Outlook 2011), total U.S. commercial, institutional and manufacturing construction for 2011 was estimated to be $154 billion.

Of that total, $150 billion was estimated to be in renovation/retrofit, while only $4 billion was to go toward new construction. (See chart at right.)


Chart 1More specifically, during 2011, money spent on construction went down in residential, institutional and public works projects, but increased 12 percent for commercial/industrial buildings. (See chart at right.)

Ultimately, there is an abundant opportunity for retrofit in both the private and public sectors.

Green building is here to stay and government mandates are driving the opportunity to employ highly efficient and solar generation retrofit roof assemblies.

Keep in mind, there are abundant energy savings and tax incentives available.

Design considerations
Retrofit metal roofing is the only roof replacement system that provides long-term reliable performance with a payback, but as you know, there’s more to successfully completing a retrofit job than being able to sell it. Many metal roofing manufacturers offer retrofit products or help for a variety of retrofit projects. Partner with such a manufacturer to help ensure success on your projects.

Knowledge is key. It’s extremely important to obtain any information you can about the existing roof and its support structure. This phase is considered the “Due Diligence” stage of a potential project. It is extremely vital to your success.  Analysis, testing and inspection is normally the responsibility of the builder owner or his hired design professional, who must provide this info to the retrofit systems manufacturer through you the contractor. 

AEP Span retrofitHowever, you may have to provide some or all of these services, which is not uncommon in many cases. They can easily be accommodated through qualified sources available in your local market. Whenever you add weight to a structure, it’s important to know if the existing structure can support the new system. Conduct anchor pullout testing in order for the anchorage system to be calculated to withstand wind uplift forces. You have to know what you’re getting yourself into before you take on a project.

When retrofitting an existing flat membrane roof, compression strength is defined as the ability of the existing roof substrate to resist the forces created by the attachment of the retrofit roof framing systems so the underlying material is not crushed and excess deflection/undulation is not introduced into the new roof.

Evaluate the existing substrate for trapped moisture, deterioration and the presence of harmful materials (asbestos).

McElroy retrofitDetermine all existing collateral loads on the exterior and interior of the building’s roof, including HVAC, electrical, plumbing, ceilings, sprinklers, etc. Locate rooftop equipment and include equipment locations on any bid documents or communication.

Ultimately, bid documents should include a comprehensive roof plan; information on roof joists and their supports; internal and external collateral loads; pullout test results; and a compression resistance evaluation.

Always make sure you enlist experienced registered professional engineers, manufacturers and installers to insure the best results.

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