NEW ORLEANS - Metal roofing has grown so popular here, it needed its own pavilion.

That was just one of the changes at the 116th NRCA convention.

Metal Forming Inc. Vice President Larry Chandonnet shows the Schechtl MAB 3100 folder.
NEW ORLEANS - Metal roofing has grown so popular here, it needed its own pavilion.

That was just one of the changes at the 116th convention of the National Roofing Contractors Association, a gathering that organizers said was about transformations taking place in the construction industry.

The theme of this year's convention was "Succeeding Through Change," and organizers say they most certainly succeeded with this year's event: About 6,300 NRCA members came to the city for the meeting, a 5% increase over last year's San Antonio show.

"We were extremely pleased," said William A. Good, NRCA executive vice president. "(New Orleans) has always worked well for us."

NRCA officials credit the warm locale and guest speakers such as former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for the attendance boost.

"It's been a pretty tough winter in lot of places, and people were looking to get away," Good said.

Giuliani spoke at the Feb. 12 opening luncheon. Before addressing the audience about the importance of leadership in America, Giuliani thanked the contractors for helping to repair the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and helping the U.S. economy's recovery.

"Keep doing what you are doing, and that is rebuilding America," Giuliani said. "The kind of work that you do is enormously valuable and very, very important."

John Robinson shows off the Orion control system on the Roper Whitney Autobrake 2000.

Trade-show values

Value was something many attendees were looking for at the NRCA trade show, which saw contractors haggling over shears and press brakes. The Feb. 11-13 event saw steady traffic, although a few exhibitors were grumbling that turnout was less than they would have liked. Several manufacturers used free food and beverages to attract passers-by, and most contractors weren't complaining.

"I've had a great time, I really have," said Barry Sellers of River City Roofing and Sheet Metal in Port Allen, La.

"Super. Great," added William Vascocu, another River City Roofing worker. "This is the first one we've been to in four years."

The role of roofing products as an energy-efficient building material was heavily promoted this year. Several manufacturers showcased their "cool" roofing products. Cool roofing refers to roofing materials that reflect a high percentage of the sun's rays, helping keep the building occupants more comfortable and decreasing the load on the hvac system.

The trade show was staggered with the convention's educational sessions to allow contractors to attend both if they wanted. Seminars aimed at metal, residential and commercial contractors were offered, along with presentations for building inspectors, designers, consultants and building owners. A few, such as the Feb. 12 seminar, "The Construction Industry's Newest Nightmare! How Mold and Other Environmental Issues Can Destroy Your Bottom Line," were open to everyone.

The mold seminar was new for the NRCA, and Good said it was among the convention's most popular.

Construction 'nightmares'

If you think roofing contractors are less likely to be targets in the wave of mold lawsuits now gripping the construction industry, think again.

If mold is discovered in a building they helped cover, roofing contractors could be held liable, according to attorneys Stephen Phillips, Perry R. Safran and industrial hygienist Kyle B. Dotson. During their seminar, the three offered suggestions on how contractors can reduce their liability if mold is discovered on a job site.

Mold has indeed become a bad dream for many contractors, where the discovery of mold behind walls erected years earlier could be enough to drive them into bankruptcy. It has also captured the imagination of the mainstream media, where stories about Stachybotrys and other so-called "black molds" infiltrating homes and causing occupants to become ill are regularly landing on the front pages.

In the past year, thousands of people, including former Tonight Show sidekick Ed McMahon, have sued insurance companies, contractors and developers, claiming poor workmanship caused mold to flourish in their homes. In his $20 million lawsuit, McMahon blames mold growth in his 8,000-sq.-ft. Beverly Hills, Calif., home for the death of his dog.

Phillips, who acts as general council for the NRCA, told attendees he's heard there are 10,000 mold-related lawsuits in U.S. courts right now. He called mold lawsuits "the No. 1 issue facing contractors" today.

"Mold claims are today what asbestos was in the last 10-15 years," Phillips said.

Dotson Group President Kyle B. Dotson told contractors at the seminar on mold that there is much that scientists still do not know about the subject.

Toxic talk

Kyle B. Dotson is president of The Dotson Group, a Houston-based safety and health-consulting firm. A certified industrial hygienist and former hvac technician himself, Dotson told attendees he doesn't like to talk about "toxic mold."

"The media made (the term) up," Dotson said. "What we do know is mold causes allergies." He estimated that up to 10% of the U.S. population is allergic to one or more forms of mold.

"We don't know that one group of mold is more toxic than another one," he said, adding that it is impossible to determine safe or unsafe levels of mold, since everyone reacts differently when exposed to it.

That uncertainty means contractors must take steps to protect themselves, said Perry R. Safran, an attorney in North Carolina and one-time construction contractor. That isn't always easy, however: Citing huge losses in the last three years, many insurance companies have removed coverage for mold from their standard policies, Safran said.

It's another reason why it's important for roofing contractors to document everything they encounter while they are on the job, he said.

"You need to start looking at this as if you're going to have a new safety issue," Safran said.

Deal with it

For some contractors, mold might be an issue they don't want to deal with at all: Dotson said the discovery of mold might be enough to make contractors reconsider if they really want the work.

"If you go to install a roof and the underside of that deck has a lot of mold on it, you may want re-evaluate what you are going to do," he said.

If mold is found on the job, Safran and Dotson both suggested getting an unbiased, professional opinion on the situation, although Dotson cautioned contractors to check references on any mold cleanup companies.

"There's a bunch of people who have gone to a two-day course in Phoenix or a three-day course in Florida and come back instant 'experts' on mold." Look for companies that belong to an accredited certification organization, he said.

Safran said the lack of established standards in the mold remediation industry could also be a new way for contractors to make money by becoming certified mold experts themselves.

"Chaos can create opportunities. In some situations, you might (offer to) remediate when you see a problem," he said.

At a minimum, Safran said all contractors should develop a mold policy that includes:

  • Rules that comply with all laws and regulations.

  • Procedures to prevent mold.

  • Always using sound means and methods of construction.

  • Making employees aware of the potential problem.

  • Providing employees with training.

  • The development a self-monitoring program.

  • Ensuring that subcontractors comply with your company's rules.

  • A statement that you will cooperate with the authorities.

  • A commitment to stay as current on mold issues and reasonably practical.

  • Making mold training a part of your company's overall health and safety program.

NRCA's 2004 convention will be held Feb. 22-25 in San Diego. For information, write NRCA, 10255 W. Higgins Road, Suite 600, Rosemont, IL 60018; call (847) 299-9070; fax (847) 299-1183; see on the Internet.