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A leaky roof can damage ceilings, walls, and furnishings. To protect buildings and their contents from water damage, roofers repair and install roofs of tar or asphalt and gravel, rubber, thermoplastic, and metal; and shingles made of asphalt, slate, fiberglass, wood, tile, or other material. Repair and reroofingreplacing old roofs on existing buildingsprovide many work opportunities for these workers. Roofers also may waterproof foundation walls and floors.
There are two types of roofs, flat and pitched (sloped). Most commercial, industrial, and apartment buildings have flat or slightly sloping roofs. Most houses have pitched roofs. Some roofers work on both types; others specialize.
Most flat roofs are covered with several layers of materials. Roofers first put a layer of insulation on the roof deck. Over the insulation, they then spread a coat of molten bitumen, a tar-like substance. Next, they install partially overlapping layers of roofing felta fabric saturated in bitumenover the insulation surface and use a mop to spread hot bitumen over it and under the next layer. This seals the seams and makes the surface watertight. Roofers repeat these steps to build up the desired number of layers, called "plies." The top layer is either glazed to make a smooth finish, or has gravel embedded in the hot bitumen for a rough surface.
An increasing number of flat roofs are covered with a single-ply membrane of waterproof rubber or thermoplastic compounds. Roofers roll these sheets over the roof's insulation and seal the seams. Adhesive, mechanical fasteners, or stone ballasts hold the sheets in place. The building must be of sufficient strength to hold the ballast.
Most residential roofs are covered with shingles. To apply shingles, roofers first lay, cut, and tack 3-foot strips of roofing felt lengthwise over the entire roof. Then, starting from the bottom edge, they nail overlapping rows of shingles to the roof. Workers measure and cut the felt and shingles to fit intersecting roofs, and to fit around vent pipes and chimneys. Wherever two roof surfaces intersect or shingles reach a vent pipe or chimney, roofers cement or nail "flashing," strips of metal or shingle, over the joints to make them watertight. Finally, roofers cover exposed nailheads with roofing cement or caulking to prevent water leakage.
Some roofers also waterproof and dampproof masonry and concrete walls and floors. To prepare surfaces for waterproofing, they hammer and chisel away rough spots or remove them with a rubbing brick before applying a coat of liquid waterproofing compound. They also may paint or spray surfaces with a waterproofing material or attach waterproofing membrane to surfaces. When dampproofing, they usually spray a bitumen-based coating on interior or exterior surfaces.
Roofers' work is strenuous. It involves heavy lifting, as well as climbing, bending, and kneeling. Roofers risk injuries from slips or falls from scaffolds, ladders, or roofs, and burns from hot bitumen. In fact, of all construction industries, the roofing industry has the highest accident rate. Roofers work outdoors in all types of weather, particularly when making repairs. Roofs are extremely hot during the summer.
Roofers held about 126,000 jobs in 1994. Almost all wage and salary roofers worked for roofing contractors. Nearly one-third of all roofers were self-employed. Many self-employed roofers specialize in residential work.
Most roofers acquire their skills informally by working as helpers for experienced roofers. They start by carrying equipment and material and erecting scaffolds and hoists. Within 2 or 3 months, they are taught to measure, cut, and fit roofing materials and then to lay asphalt or fiberglass shingles. Because some roofing materials are used infrequently, it can take several years to get experience working on all the various types of roofing applications.
Some roofers train through 3-year apprenticeship programs administered by local union-management committees representing roofing contractors and locals of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers. The apprenticeship program generally consists of a minimum of 1,400 hours of on-the-job training annually, plus 144 hours of classroom instruction a year in subjects such as tools and their use, arithmetic, and safety. On-the- job training for apprentices is similar to that for helpers, except that the apprenticeship program is more structured. Apprentices also learn to dampproof and waterproof walls.
Good physical condition and good balance are essential for roofers. A high school education or its equivalent is helpful, as are courses in mechanical drawing and basic mathematics. Most apprentices are at least 18 years old.
Roofers may advance to supervisor or estimator for a roofing contractor or become contractors themselves.
Jobs for roofers should be plentiful through the year 2005, primarily because of the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or who leave the labor force. Turnover is high; roofing work is hot, strenuous, and dirty, and a significant number of workers treat roofing as a temporary job until something better comes along. Some roofers leave the occupation to go into other construction trades.
Employment of roofers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Roofs deteriorate faster than most other parts of buildings and periodically need to be repaired or replaced. About 75 percent of roofing work is repair and reroofing, a higher proportion than in most other construction work. As a result, demand for roofers is less susceptible to downturns in the economy than some of the other construction trades. In addition to repair and reroofing work on the growing stock of buildings, new construction of industrial, commercial, and residential buildings will add to the demand for roofers. However, many innovations and advances in materials, techniques, and tools have made roofers more productive and will restrict the growth of employment at least to some extent. Jobs should be easiest to find during spring and summer, when most roofing is done.
Median weekly earnings for roofers working full time were about $371 a week in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $278 and $498 a week. The top 10 percent earned more than $630 weekly and the lowest 10 percent less than $219 a week.
According to the Engineering News Record, average hourly earningsincluding benefitsfor union roofers were $23.98 in 1994. Wages ranged from a low of $13.90 in Denver to a high of $38.58 in New York City. Apprentices generally start at about 40 percent of the rate paid to experienced roofers and receive periodic raises as they acquire the skills of the trade. Earnings for roofers are reduced on occasion because poor weather often limits the time they can work.
Some roofers are members of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers.
Roofers use shingles, bitumen and gravel, single-ply plastic or rubber sheets, or other materials to waterproof building surfaces. Workers in other occupations who cover surfaces with special materials for protection and decoration include carpenters, concrete masons, drywall installers, floor covering installers, plasterers, terrazzo workers, and tilesetters.
For information about roofing apprenticeships or work opportunities in this trade, contact local roofing contractors; a local of the Roofers union; a local joint union-management apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of the State employment service or State apprenticeship agency.
For information about the work of roofers, contact:
National Roofing Contractors Association, 10255 W. Higgins Rd., Rosemont, IL 60018.
United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, 1125 17th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
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