Although the majority of roof systems are destined for landfills, this doesn’t have to be the case. By re-covering an existing roof system—no demolition required—a client retains the initial roof investment and intended functionality; the entire building structure is strengthened from the additional tensile strength of the system; and thousands of pounds of roofing material remain in use and out of landfills.
One such example of a successful—yet complicated—roof re-cover is Atlas Foundry Co. Established in 1893, the business produces gray iron castings for the agriculture, construction, transportation and manufacturing industries. Foundry facilities are built to withstand intense processing heat loads because of the high temperatures of furnaces and other equipment used in the material processing.
Atlas Foundry’s 90,000-square-foot Marion, Ind., facility was built in 1958—a time when a new Chevy Bel Air cost $1,987 and asbestos-laden products were all the rage. Asbestos had long been praised for its heat-resistant properties and durability. Naturally, it was widely accepted as a necessary additive to strengthen the performance and durability of construction products, especially roofing panels. After 63 years of use, the Marion facility’s transite—an asbestos-laden, cement-board material—roof was cracking and allowing moisture into the building, which is a serious problem for a foundry.
The client needed a solution that would withstand the high temperatures generated by the foundry’s equipment and processing, as well as ensure the foundry’s production would remain on schedule. Working on a transite roof created additional challenges for the roofing team to consider.
Transite was officially banned from production in 1985 after the public became aware of the health-related effects from long-term exposure to asbestos. In fact, during the heyday of manufacturing construction materials with asbestos, manufacturer spec sheets list many construction products as containing no less than 45 percent asbestos by weight. That’s not a typo!
Fireproofing aside, the longevity of a transite roof was an estimated 50 to 70 years. That aspect alone positioned transite products as a must-have roof system for a multitude of manufacturing facilities built in the U.S. between 1930 and 1980. To this day, hundreds (if not thousands) of original transite roofs are still protecting chemical plants, paper mills, textile factories and foundries.
Asbestos removal is extremely expensive and dangerous and, therefore, regulated by the EPA and OSHA. In addition, transite panels are heavy, weighing anywhere from 50 to 60 pounds for a typical 12-foot-long roof panel. It also costs a small fortune to transport the material to a specially designated landfill for hazardous waste. Many building owners choose to abandon buildings with transite roofs rather than consider other options.
There were many challenges with Atlas Foundry’s re-cover project. For one, the Marion facility’s structural integrity was a concern. Withstanding weather for more than 60 years contributes to the traditional wear and tear of a building structure (think: annual thermal expansion and contraction).
The moisture leaking into the facility not only can introduce contaminants into production, which compromises product integrity, a simple drop of water in the wrong place can cause a catastrophic explosion.
The chemical processing that takes place at Atlas Foundry produces significant amounts of sulfur and other noxious vapors. The years of chemical offgassing had all but decommissioned the fiberglass skylight panels, leaving a safety hazard. The skylights had served as a light source in the event of a power outage. They’re mathematically engineered to cast light in a series of lines, leading the way to exits. The old skylight panels would have to be removed and replaced.
Because the facility is located in a residential neighborhood, the client decided a roof restoration would be safest. Tearing off a transite roof could release millions of tiny asbestos fibers into the air.
PHOTOS: Robert Siterlet