My family started Sentry Roof Services in 1982. I was the first employee. Back then we were called Decatur Roofing. In the late 1980s we divided the company in two and then in the early 2000s we joined forces again. In between, we bought a number of businesses and even spun off a few.
Back then, things were very different in the roofing industry in a number of ways — although the mullet held on for a long time in our business.
I can remember operating an asphalt kettle with no shirt on in the summer. The level of professionalism that we expect from our guys now is so far ahead of 1982! It requires continued education for our in-house safety director, regular training of all employees, and even spot checks on our crews with rewards and fines. The guidelines from OSHA are quite extensive but lead to much-improved safety and health for the crew. The inherent danger in working on roofs is falling off them so all of the steps we can take to prevent falls are of utmost importance.
Understanding the building envelope, which includes the roof, is now a greater focus in design.
Since the 1970s when asbestos was recognized as a health problem we have seen waves of potentially harmful substances like mold and silica that have brought new steps to our processes for prevention or remediation. It seems that when the awareness of the threats from mold reached a certain point, it became clear that the entire building envelope was an integrated system that includes roofing.
We have seen a lot of changes in commercial roofing materials and installation processes as well. Coal tar pitch as a roofing system has all but disappeared other than in highly specialized cases. We’ve seen asphalt-based systems give way to high-tech, single ply membranes, particularly TPO, which is lightweight and offers better reflectivity, minimal maintenance and high performance with a non-intrusive application process.
New synthetic materials in underlayments and specialty roofing tiles perform very well over time and make the look of a slate roof available to a greater group of people. One of the most drastic changes to materials is with high-performance adhesives we can now stick a roof to practically anything.
3. Sustainable design
When I first started working on roofs, reusing materials or designing roofing systems to avoid future waste wasn’t a thing. When a roof stopped performing well, you tore it off and put on a new one. Now, there is more than one way to increase commercial roofing system sustainability and it’s something I think about a lot for future generations. Sentry Roof tries to incorporate good insulation material when possible and avoid throwing it in landfills only to replace it with new insulation. We design our roofing systems in ways that allow as many materials as possible to be reused 20 or 30 years later when it’s time to re-roof.
Tools that allow us to have a deeper understanding of what’s really going on with a roofing system help with sustainability, too. The non-destructive thermography of infrared cameras, for example, allow us to identify moisture within the system without cutting into it.
Now even little kids have cell phones. In 1982, we had payphones. I can remember carrying change in my pocket just in case I needed to make a call. The level and speed of communication have increased so much that it has changed our culture and the way we do business. Sometimes that challenge is sifting through all that information and making sure you follow-up with everyone!
It’s been exciting to move from payphones to pagers to cell phones to digital photos — and now to iPad apps that let us send images and data from job sites to the cloud where they can be shared practically in real-time and stored indefinitely.
5. More formalized process overall
The entire construction process is more sophisticated than it was in 1982. Customers requirements have changed and can include financially driven investment models and fixed budgets, which means roofing contractors must be fluent in the intricacies of Capex and Opex. Those requirements also drive collaboration between boots on the ground and numbers in the cloud. Today, it’s not uncommon for a property portfolio manager in Chicago to be involved in local roofing decisions.
I like the advancements.
Our crews are safer, roofing systems perform better and last longer, we can plan more strategically, and the amount of information we have at our fingertips allows us to deliver better service. But it sure doesn’t feel like it’s been 35 years already…until I look at the photos!