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
Initially, these parties expect a favorable project from each of their individual perspectives. The owner has decided that he wants a metal roof for his building and has retained a specifier to design such a roof. A contractor has made a conscious decision to prepare a bid for supplying and installing this roof and hopefully making a profit. 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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 allows for a 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.