Featured Project: Hotel Donaldson, Fargo ND - PART 2

Read our last post to learn about the Hotel Donaldson; the persistent leak; the investigation; and the conclusion.

Logistical Issues Abound

Hotel Donaldson is an old building in the heart of a busy downtown, so there were plenty of logistical issues that we don't see at industrial parks or hospital campuses. We crafted a plan to crane up new insulation membrane and all the accessories early in the morning and perform the work, then return after rush hour with dumpsters and cranes to offload all the debris. The stage was set, and the clock was ticking.

Once All Elements was on site, we cut and removed the rubber membrane over the suspected area, along with layers and layers of saturated insulation and wood fiber. This brought us face-to-face with the next logistical problem. Because there was no space for a dumpster during the day, and no place to leave a crane, we had to stack all the debris on pallets or in demolition bags out of the work area until the end of the day. They couldn’t be stored in the work area or where the new materials were loaded.

And remember, this is no ordinary roof: It's the location of the hotel hot tub and cocktail lounge, and their beautiful rooftop garden, called The Sky Prairie. Typically we can spread out while we work, but not here. Space was seriously limited. With three guys working in a restricted space, the rooftop began to feel like a beehive, with constant movement of materials and people back and forth all day.

Three Leaks Revealed

Removing the membrane confirmed the two diagnosed leaks and added one more “mystery leak”. Diagnosis was aided by a layer of wood fiber immediately below the membrane which showed any moisture very clearly. Confident all the holes in the area were removed along with the sheet of membrane, we began reinstallation.

Repairs Performed

We installed insulation to match the existing elevation, along with tapered insulation panels to match the saturated taper panels that we removed. To complete the roofing system, a new 60 Mil EPDM membrane was put in place and sealed up. To provide a safer walkway and to protect the roof, walkway pads were added.


Success! Leak is Resolved

Since the repair, the dreaded leak has not reappeared. The staff at the Hotel Donaldson had to change their daily routines for the better. No longer must they inspect the room daily for water damage or an active leak; no longer is the room blocked out and unavailable to rent.

Financial Advantages of a Reliable Room

Management is delighted that the trouble and expense of an unrentable room has come to an end. They had been spending money on labor daily to check the status of the room, and frequently to address the leak when active. They had spent too much money on sheetrock replacement and other damage mitigation. They had also lost money when they couldn't rent the room out because the room was leaking. Ultimately, the increased income from returning the room to circulation, and the reduced labor and repair expenses, more than made up for the cost of roof repair.

Management Reflects on the Experience

When I asked manager Tanner Tweten why he approached me at the Chamber that day, he said quite simply “your sign said ROOFING and I needed roofing help. I needed a solution”. Previous roofing contractors had proposed solutions that weren't acceptable to the leadership at the Hotel Donaldson for a variety of reasons. Some roofers said the entire roof needed to be replaced, while others just faded out of the picture and walked away from the problem.

When I ask Tanner what he learned during his three-year ordeal, his first reply was “don't hesitate to cut the membrane to find the leak.” We see that all the time, people hesitate to cut open the roof. Consider, however, that it’s going to be repaired anyway, so save the time and frustration and make the cut.

Tanner also reflects that the biggest impact this leak had on the hotel was lost booking nights. It felt like the room was always on the “do not rent” list because of maintenance, which cost the hotel lost revenue. He also observes that the work and expense of a permanent solution is well worth the trade-off of eliminating daily work, leak mitigation, and simply the worry of confronting the daily question of "is it leaking today?"

Warranties Matter

The existing roofing system was a ballasted, reinforced EPDM sheet of rubber with a ten-year, expired warranty, so unfortunately all of the repairs were the responsibility of the owners.

Talking with Tanner about typical roofing membrane warranties I explained that the Benchmark warranty for roofing is a 15-year, no-dollar-limit labor and material warranty issued from the manufacturer, not the contractor or a third party. With such a warranty, his leak would have fallen inside the 15-year warranty period and some of the work may have been covered under the Manufacturer's warranty. However, two of the three holes found by All Elements were apparently caused by third party damage -- specifically, by something very heavy being rested or dropped on the roof. Since every manufacturer’s warranty will exclude third party damage, Hotel Donaldson would still have born much of the cost

Tanner feels as if they got “screwed” because of their shorter than normal warranty on their re-roofing project. Lowering the cost of installation by reducing the warranty term or coverage is a risky decision, leaving building owners crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

Lessons Learned

Lessons in the Hotel Donaldson experience abound:

  • Make sure you know who you're dealing with engaging a roofing contractor. What is their experience? Are they licensed? Insured? Do they have the resources needed to complete the project? Do they have a resume of industry recognition or awards to back up their claims of competency?
  • Examine the details of the warranty. What does it cover? What additional expenses might you confront? Who does the work? Who's writing the warranty--is it a manufacturer's warranty or a contractor's warranty?
  • A lesson for roofers is not to be complacent. 80% of the repairs we perform are for the same 20% of failures. Roofers see the same type of leak over and over, but when it isn't one of those same failures, are you a diligent investigator, using your experience and skills to look for other possibilities?
  • A lesson for building owners is to stay on top of a leak. While this leak was exceptionally exotic and difficult to find, some leaks do take several attempts. Under some circumstances, the amount of time to diagnose and repair the leak might be weeks or months depending on the weather pattern. During a dry season, it may be difficult to know if you have fixed the leak.

Resolving This Leak Was a Lengthy Process, But Successful

It was about seven months from my first meeting with Tanner to the last time All Elements worked on their roof. That's a long time to resolve a leak. Now, Hotel Donaldson has returned the room to its pre-leak condition and have happily forgotten about all the extra daily attention it used to demand. Their leak story has a happy ending. Does yours? Are you living with a nagging leak? Take Tanner's advice, don’t hesitate to call so you can find out what’s at the source of the problem. You may not like the answer, but you can be confident All Elements will offer the solution that best resolves the problem.

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