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HOW DO THEY GET AWAY WITH IT? Some Architects Really Tick Me Off!

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

The facilties manager for a Connecticut school district contacted me and said I was recommended and he needed a proposal to consult on a failing school roof. So I agreed and met him at the school. The building looked like a nice example of educational architecture. It was designed by one of the largest firms in the state and they do a ton of schools. The building was only 8 years old. Fortunately, he also had the plans and specs for me to review after the tour.

The roof was a gable design of about 6:12 pitch. The roof covering were top-of-the-line architectural grade asphalt shingles with a “lifetime” warranty. The shingles had been installed over felt underlayment, plywood sheathing over air space spacers, polyiso insulation board, gypsum board, and steel decking.  Gypsum board ON TOP of the steel decking! The roof structure were engineered light gage steel trusses.

Now here are the problems:

  • Leaks all over the place. It’s nice to see buckets on counters and floors and water stained ceiling panels in a relatively new building.
  • Nail heads backing out and coming up through the shingles.
  • Ice dams galore.

The shingle manufacturer has walked away from the warranty based on the design and construction of the roof.

My quick review of the plans and specs revealed the following:

  • No mention anywhere of the required thickness or R-value of the insulation. It appears to be about 2 inches for an R of maybe 10 to 12. 
  • No explanation of why one would put regular gypsum board (Sheetrock) on top of the roof’s structural steel decking.
  • The spaces for the vented air space under the plywood sheathing are shown 90 degrees to the way they should run for the ventilation to work.
  • No detail to prevent the attic within the thermal envelope from letting air escape through the ridge vent, which it does.
  • No detail to show how the soffit vents will work seeing that it doesn’t appear air can travel up from the soffit to the ridge.

I can’t wait to delve into the causes and cures of these problems. But I would love to know how an architectural firm gets away with such shabby drawings and specifications. A lot of it looked “boiler plate”, like they probably repeated these over and over in so many of the schools they design. I would never do this, especially for what they get paid. But, of course, they get so much of the work in school districts through “Quality Based Selection (QBS)”. Basically if you are a big firm and have done a lot of a particular building type you keep getting the work. Sadly when problems like this creep up they don’t get known because the client goes and hires another architect to fix it or the statute of limitations has passed by on being able to sue.

There is way too much information available to design professionals so that there is no excuse for that kind of practice. Their managing partners should be a little more aware of the legal phrase  “standard of care”.

Feel free to comment on your opinion why the “big guys” or “starchitects” can get away with this.

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