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AbstRACt lenging due to the shortage of published 1.

In recent years, the roofing industry data on the acceptable moisture limits of 1.1 Consequences of Moisture
has become increasingly aware of the prob- roofing materials. We explore the question While the primary function of a roofing
lems caused by moisture in concrete roof of acceptable moisture limits through an system is to prevent water from passing
decks that migrates into the roofing system. extensive review of published literature, through it into the building or structure
Installing a vapor retarder over the concrete product-specific recommendations from below, water or moisture vapor that col-
deck is the primary method of addressing manufacturers, and some preliminary lab- lects within the roofing system can also be
this problem. This paper summarizes some oratory testing of some common roof cover detrimental, both to the roofing system’s
of the challenges associated with incorpo- boards. This paper is based on the authors’ immediate performance and its long-term
rating a vapor retarder into the roofing sys- experience as designers and investigators durability. Besides leakage to the interi-
tem. For example, selecting a vapor retarder of roofing systems, literature review, and or, moisture in roofing systems can have
of the appropriate vapor resistance is chal- laboratory testing. numerous negative consequences, includ-
ing the following:
• Reduced thermal resistance of insu-
• Loss of strength of the insulation,
coverboard (Photos 1 and 2), adhe-
sive, or fasteners (Photo 3), leaving
the roofing system vulnerable to
uplift damage from wind or crushing
from foot traffic or hail
• Deterioration of the structural deck
• Dimensional changes in the sub-
strate, which can in turn damage
the roof membrane
• Blistering or weakening of the roof
membrane itself, especially with
built-up roofing (BUR)
• Mold growth

1.2 Sources of Moisture

Moisture in the roofing system can come
from a variety of sources, such as:
Photo 1 – Moisture-damaged gypsum cover board. • Installation of wet materials (i.e.,

26 • Interface aprIl 2014

Photo 2 – Moisture-damaged
fiberboard cover board.

Photo 3 – Corrosion of roofing fastener.

building is positively pressurized

due to stack effect or the opera-
tion of the HVAC system. This is
generally addressed by includ-
ing an air barrier in the roofing
system and connecting it to the
air barrier in the wall system to
provide a continuous barrier.
• When a new concrete deck is poured,
some of the mix water is used up in
chemical reactions as the concrete
cures, and some evaporates; but the
rate of evaporation is slow, so large
quantities of water remain stored
within the pore structure of the con-
crete for extended periods of time.
While the concrete itself is generally
not damaged by this moisture, the
moisture may migrate into the roof-
ing system, where it is absorbed by
insulation that was not properly moisture into the roofing sys- materials that are more sensitive to
protected from weather while stored tem is generally acknowledged moisture. Historically, roofing sys-
on site). to depend on the local climate tems were adhered to concrete decks
• Water leakage through the roof and the interior conditions of the in hot asphalt; the hot asphalt (often
membrane, flashing, or adjacent building. Later sections of this with reinforcing felts) provided the
construction paper include additional infor- additional benefit of limiting the
• Moisture vapor from interior humidity mation about determining when rate of moisture migration from the
— Moisture vapor from interior a vapor retarder is needed. concrete into the roofing system.
humidity may migrate into the — Moisture vapor from interior However, modern single-ply roofing
roofing system by diffusion if humidity may be carried into systems are often installed today
no vapor retarder is installed. the roofing system by air leakage without any vapor retarder on the
The need for a vapor retarder if there is no air barrier in the concrete deck.
to limit the migration of interior roofing system, particularly if the Comparison can be made to the

a p r I l 2 0 1 4 Ê Interface • 27
flooring industry, which has also of low-rise foam adhesive). Incorporating a 2.2.1 Rules of Thumb
suffered detrimental effects from vapor retarder into the system means add- One rule of thumb7 that is sometimes
moisture diffusing out of concrete ing another layer that needs to be adhered used is that every layer in the system
and, as a result, has developed con- to the concrete and to which the insulation should be ten times more permeable than
sensus test methods for measuring needs to be adhered. In this situation, the the vapor retarder to avoid creating a vapor
the internal relative humidity (RH) of vapor retarder can affect the wind uplift trap. Table 1 lists the typical range of per-
concrete or moisture evaporating out resistance, so it is crucial that the vapor meance of some common roof membranes
of concrete. Flooring manufacturers retarder be part of the tested assembly. and vapor retarders. Because of the low
typically specify acceptable RH or Most roofing system manufacturers now permeance of most roof membranes, using
moisture vapor emission limits for offer tested assemblies that include adhered a vapor retarder often violates the rule
the concrete as a condition of their vapor retarders, but the relative number of thumb for avoiding a vapor trap. This
warranties. By contrast, the roofing of options for this system is more limited means many roofing systems have very
industry, while it has begun to focus than those without a vapor retarder. Recent limited ability to self-dry any water that
more attention on this issue,1 had searches of FM Global’s RoofNav online leaks through the membrane. Even a small
not, as of 2011, “established any database6 found that there are 2.5 to 3 membrane defect that may not produce a
benchmarks or acceptance levels” times fewer tested systems with a vapor large enough volume of leakage to appear on
for moisture in concrete.2 retarder than the number of systems with- the inside of the building can cause water to
out a vapor retarder. These searches includ- accumulate in the roofing system over time
A 2012 research update3 proposes that ed both adhered and mechanically attached and result in concealed damage. Desjarlais
“Until we have more data, 75% relative insulation systems. In the authors’ experi- explains the disadvantages of compact roofs
humidity appears appropriate for normal- ence, roofing system designs with adhered in several of his publications8,9,10 and recom-
weight concrete” and recommends mon- insulation and a vapor retarder have even mends avoiding vapor retarders where they
itoring the RH of concrete according to fewer options. can be shown to be unnecessary. However,
ASTM F21704 to determine when it is “dry” If the vapor retarder is going to be in many cases—including new construction
enough to roof over. adhered, moisture in the concrete deck with concrete decks—vapor retarders have
However, one limitation of F2170 testing can affect the adhesion, so the question of been shown to be necessary.11
is that the standard requires conditioning acceptable moisture content in the concrete
both the concrete slab and the air above deck still must be addressed. Similar to 2.2.2 Moisture Vapor Transmission
it to a constant “service temperature” and adhering a plaza waterproofing membrane Calculations
relative humidity for at least 48 hours or deck coating to concrete, it is advisable to Calculations provide a more sophisticat-
before making measurements. But con- contact the manufacturer for recommenda- ed analysis than simple rules of thumb, but
stant temperature and RH do not exist tions and use a mock-up as the final criteria they also have their own challenges.
for an in-service roof; the conditions vary for evaluating whether good adhesion can Moisture moves between components of
constantly with the weather. Furthermore, be achieved. the roofing system by diffusion over time.
the effect that concrete moisture has on the Fortunately, designers have other The moisture content of a particular layer
roofing system will depend on the specifics options besides adhesive for securing roof may vary with daily or seasonal weather
of the roofing system and the local climate, insulation. Roof insulation (or membranes) variations, and there may be a net wetting
so it may be difficult to establish an indus- can be mechanically attached through the or drying over the long term (multiple years).
try-wide “acceptable” level of moisture for vapor retarder into the concrete deck, which The construction industry has been
all concrete roof decks. avoids the difficulty in finding a tested developing and publishing methods for eval-
Another recent study5 found that concrete system that relies on adhesion of (and to) uating moisture vapor flow for many years.
retains significant amounts of water after the vapor retarder. Alternatively, roofing Hand calculation methods developed spe-
months of drying; therefore, high moisture systems in some regions can be ballasted; cifically for the roofing industry include two
levels are likely to still be present when the however, building codes prohibit stone bal- published in 198015 and another in 198916;
roofing system is installed. In most roofing last in some high-wind regions. other criteria exist in ASHRAE and NRCA
installations, it is impractical to wait for the publications. In the past two decades, expo-
concrete deck to “dry” fully; it is often faster 2.2. Product Selection nential increases in available computing
and more reliable to install a vapor retarder Another challenge is determining the power have made state-of-the-art computer
over the concrete deck to inhibit the migra- appropriate vapor permeance for the vapor programs for predicting moisture vapor flow
tion of moisture from the concrete into the retarder. Some designers rely on past expe- (e.g., MOIST and WUFI) readily available.
roofing system. Specifying the vapor retard- rience and rules of thumb or the minimum These programs have made moisture vapor
er presents several challenges as discussed requirements of the building code, while transport easier to quantify and are more
in the next section. others use moisture vapor transmission cal- accurate than previous hand calculations.
culations to predict the in-service moisture These state-of-the-art computer programs
2. vAPoR REtARdER CHAllEngEs contents of any moisture-sensitive materials are now in widespread use by building enve-
2.1 Wind Uplift Rating in the roofing system. Rules of thumb and lope consultants.
In many roofing systems installed calculations are discussed in more detail WUFI,17 a computer program by the
over concrete decks, the roof insulation is below. Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics
adhered to the concrete (often with ribbons (Germany), calculates transient one-

28 • Interface aprIl 2014

material thickness Permeance (u.s. perms) - sources13
(mils = 0.001 in.) Astm E96 Procedure b12
Roof membranes
BUR Not reported 0.000 ASHRAE14
EPDM 60 mils 0.030 - 0.040 2 manufacturers
PVC 60 mils 0.050 - 0.220 4 manufacturers
TPO 60 mils 0.010 - 0.050 3 manufacturers
vapor Retarders – loose-laid
Polyethylene or 6 mils 0.059 - 0.130 2 manufacturers
“polyolefin” sheet – 7-8 mils 0.038 1 manufacturer
various grades 10 mils 0.019 - 0.039 3 manufacturers
15 mils 0.009 - 0.021 2 manufacturers
Polyolefin – 14-15 mils total 0.000 1 manufacturer
aluminum composite
vapor Retarders – self-Adhered
Polyolefin – 32 mils total .017 2 manufacturers
bituminous composite
Table 1 – Permeance of selected roof membranes and vapor retarders.

dimensional heat and moisture transport ture, RH, solar exposure, etc.) during the easily reviewed to determine, for each layer
and can be used to quantitatively pre- course of the simulation. An example out- in the roofing system, moisture-related data
dict how moisture levels within a building put screenshot is shown in Figure 1. such as (1) maximum annual moisture con-
envelope assembly vary over time. WUFI WUFI can also simulate several years of tent, (2) quantities of condensate (if any),
uses historical, hourly weather data for moisture migration to analyze seasonal vari- (3) number of occurrences of moisture con-
user-selected project locations to simulate ations and year-to-year cumulative wetting tent exceeding established thresholds, and
time-varying exterior conditions (tempera- and drying trends. The output data can be (4) number of freeze-thaw cycles.

RCI-50-Half-Horiztonal.indd 1 12/11/2012 5:15:41 PM

aprIl 2014 Interface • 29
ions on acceptable moisture content is
available, illustrating the lack of consensus.
We reviewed technical literature spanning
the past 35 years and found several conflict-
ing theories regarding acceptable moisture
limits in roofing materials. The theories for
acceptable moisture limits discussed below
are generally listed in order of least strin-
gent to most stringent, although there is
ambiguity in some of the criteria.
• Thermal resistance ratio (TRR)
80% maximum. The thermal
resistivity (R-value) of insulation
is reduced when it becomes wet.
In 1991, researchers at the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold
Regions Research and Engineering
Figure 1 – Example WUFI simulation screenshot for a roofing system, showing the results Laboratory (CRREL)22 proposed the
for a typical year in International Falls, MN. The physical layers of the roofing system from following criterion: “The ratio of a
top (exterior) to bottom (interior) are listed from left to right. The shading in the top panel material’s wet thermal resistivity to
indicates the range of service temperatures. The lower shaded areas indicate the ranges of its dry thermal resistivity is termed
relative humidity and water content. its TRR. ...Insulation with a TRR of
80 percent or less is, by our defini-
tion, ‘wet’ and unacceptable.” The
A recent study18 used WUFI to analyze 3. ACCEPtAblE moIstuRE ContEnt paper acknowledges that, “For some
a variety of roofing systems in a variety of oF RooFIng mAtERIAls insulations, less moisture than that
U.S. climates and found that in new con- Several industry sources have recog- required to reduce the TRR below
struction, all roofing systems constructed nized the need for more research to deter- 80 percent can be detrimental for
over cast-in-place concrete decks accumu- mine acceptable moisture limits for roofing other reasons (e.g., delamination,
lated problematic levels of moisture within materials. The recommendation in the con- rot, and corrosion of fasteners). It is
the roofing system unless a vapor retarder crete moisture study discussed in the previ- not yet known what those moisture
was included. The study further found ous section echoes an earlier recommenda- ‘limit states’ should be. ...As addi-
that selection of an effective vapor retarder tion by Kyle and Desjarlais19 that “research- tional information on other moisture
depends on the roof membrane; on typical ers must establish a set of moisture limits ‘limit states’ becomes available, it is
buildings, the vapor retarder should have a with a reasonable safety factor by means of expected that maximum acceptable
lower permeance than the roof membrane. well-controlled experiments.” This need was moisture contents for some mate-
The selection of an effective vapor retarder discussed even earlier by Tobiasson,20 who rials will decrease below the 80-
also depends on the local climate; the study stated, “For most roofs in most locations, percent TRR values.” The paper fur-
“did not find systems that perform equally the objective is to limit seasonal wetting to ther acknowledges that equilibrium
in all climates[, and]...each geographical an acceptable level. This level will vary with moisture content (EMC), discussed
location required some fine-tuning of the the moisture sensitivity of the materials below, is a more appropriate pass/
roof system to make it work.” present. ...However, developing moisture fail criterion for new materials to be
One limitation of WUFI analysis is that limit states for each of the myriad roofing installed; TRR is proposed primarily
it focuses on vapor diffusion and generally systems on the market is a sizable task that for deciding when to replace exist-
does not account for bulk air or water leak- has not yet been accomplished.” Kirby21 ing insulation. Table 2 summarizes
age; therefore, the accuracy of the results similarly concluded that “the roofing indus- some the EMC and TRR data for
depends on proper functioning of the roof try does not have a consensus evaluation some other insulation products still
membrane and air barrier. Also, interpreta- method for determining whether insulation in use today.
tion of WUFI results requires knowledge or is wet.” • Seasonal wetting of 1-2% by vol-
assumptions regarding the acceptable mois- This section discusses information on ume.23 For foam insulation with
ture limits of the materials being consid- acceptable moisture limits for roofing mate- 2-pcf density, this equates to 31-62%
ered. The study recommends more research rials based on three sources: (1) limits pro- moisture content when calculated as
“to determine the maximum amount of posed in industry publications, (2) manu- a percent of dry weight.
moisture that roofing materials can safely facturers’ recommendations, and (3) recent • No visible liquid water. Kirby24
tolerate.” Quantitative knowledge of mois- laboratory testing conducted in support of states, “One factor can never be
ture content and acceptable moisture limits this paper. ignored: If liquid moisture is present
would also be valuable when one is asked to in existing insulation, the insula-
evaluate existing roofs to determine whether 3.1 Industry Publications tion is too wet to be left in place or
problematic levels of moisture are present. A wide variety of information and opin- re-covered.”

30 • Interface aprIl 2014

• Only small amounts of condensa- avoid the appearance of blisters may donate water to surrounding
tion. Tobiasson25 stated, “A small when hot asphalt is applied to the air or materials.” The EMCs for
amount of moisture may condense, felts in construction of a built-up unfaced polyisocyanurate insulation
then, without doing any real harm.” roofing membrane. In addition to the were updated in 2003.33 EMCs for
He also stated, “A little conden- blistering concerns, the 1977 paper selected products that are still in
sation on the coldest day of the found that conditioning organic and use today are summarized in Table
winter will do no harm, but when coated organic roofing felts in a 2, along with TRR data.
condensation occurs for many days, moist environment reduced their A material that contains less than
weeks, or months, the amount of tensile strength (compared to oven- 45% EMC is considered dry; between
moisture deposited can create major dried samples) by 6-18% when con- 45% EMC and 90% EMC is consid-
problems.”26 Condren took a sim- ditioned at 40% RH for six weeks, ered moist; and over 90% EMC is
ilar approach but quantified his and by 11-38% when conditioned considered wet.
acceptable “small amount” of con- at 90% RH for nine weeks. The • Avoid three conditions favorable
densation, proposing a limit of no effects of moisture on roofing felts to mold growth. There is broad con-
condensation deeper than 1/16 in. were also studied by several other sensus that mold growth should be
or 1/32 in. below the membrane, researchers around the same time.31 avoided in buildings due to potential
depending on the substrate mate- The 1977 paper also examined the health impacts and because mold
rial.27 Desjarlais and Karagiozis28 EMC of insulation materials, and growth implies at least some level
base their analysis on the criterion notes, “The test results do not allow of decay. The International Energy
that the insulation should not have definite conclusions as to the ‘tol- Agency (IEA)36 states that suscepti-
an RH of 100% (i.e., condensation erable’ moisture level of the insu- ble surfaces are in danger of devel-
occurring) for more than 24 hours, lations. However, we expect any oping mold growth if the relative
which is consistent with one of the ‘excess’ moisture in the insulation humidity at the surface rises above
three criteria in ASHRAE 160 (dis- to be available to influence the roof- 80% RH for a sustained period of
cussed below). ing membrane. ...In view of our several days.
• No condensation. Desjarlais and field experience and pending further Temperature also plays a role.
Byars29 contend that “moisture accu- research results, it seems prudent to Below 32°F, fungal cells may survive
mulation in a roof system must not assume that insulation moisture will but rarely grow; and above 104°F,
be large enough to cause condensa- not damage the system if the mois- most cells stop growing and soon
tion within the roof, since this can ture does not exceed the equilibrium die. ASHRAE 16037 is generally con-
damage the insulation and reduce moisture content attained by 40% sistent with IEA but provides more
its effectiveness.” They also state RH storage.” specific recommendations. ASHRAE
that “moisture accumulation should A 1985 article32 provides EMC recommends avoiding the following
not be great enough to cause deg- for various roofing materials con- humidity conditions in order to min-
radation of the insulation material ditioned at 20°C (68°F) and both imize problems associated with mold
or membrane. To pass this require- 45% and 90% RH. The article notes, growth on surfaces of components of
ment, there must be no condensa- “When the material contains more building envelope assemblies; these
tion under the roof membrane.” water than its EMC, it is wet and criteria apply when the running
• EMC 40%, 45%,
or 90% maxi-
mum. The con- material EmC, mass % @ 20°C34 moisture content,
cept of EMC as a 45% RH 90% RH mass % @ 80% tRR35
metric for deter-
Faced Polyisocyanurate 1.1 2.9
mining acceptable
moisture levels Unfaced Polyisocyanurate 1.7 5 262
in roofing materi-
als was first pro- Expanded Polystyrene (1 pcf) 1.9 2 383
posed in a 1977
Extruded Polystyrene 0.5 0.8 185
paper30 regarding
roofing felts, but Perlite Board 1.7 5 17
later expanded to
include insulation Wood Fiberboard 5.4 15 15
and other mate-
Gypsum 0.4 0.6 8
rials. The 1977
paper proposed D226 Asphalt - Organic Felt 4.1 - 4.3 7.9 - 8.2
40% EMC as the
limit for roofing D2178 Glass Felt 0.5 - 0.9 0.6 - 1.1
felts that were
sufficiently dry to Table 2 – EMC and TRR of selected roofing materials.

a p r I l 2 0 1 4 Ê Interface • 31
average surface temperature (for the isocyanurate insulation and gypsum cover tures its gypsum board to less than 2% free
duration of interest) is between 41°F boards to ask for recommendations on water and recommends that its product
and 104°F: acceptable in-service moisture limits for does not become “wet” but could not define
— 30-day running average surface their products. This section summarizes what moisture content it considers to be
RH ≥ 80% the information provided by manufacturers. “wet” or provide any recommendations for
— 7-day running average surface in-service moisture limits.41 The other man-
RH ≥ 98% 3.2.1 Polyisocyanurate Insulation ufacturer stated that its product often has
— 24-hr running average surface We contacted four manufacturers less than 1% free water as delivered from
RH = 100% of polyisocyanurate roof insulation and the factory, and cited a variety of thresholds
inquired about acceptable in-service mois- of concern for moisture content in service,
In summary, a wide range of theories ture limits. One manufacturer was unre- including 2%, 4%, and 5% but did not pro-
has been proposed regarding acceptable sponsive, and two said they do not have vide clear recommendations for an accept-
moisture limits in roofing materials. Most any data or recommendations. The fourth able level for long-term performance.42 Also,
past physical testing on the effects of mois- manufacturer cited 3% moisture content the manufacturer did not provide any sup-
ture on roofing materials has focused on as a rule of thumb but did not provide any porting data on the strength of its material
two issues: (1) loss of thermal resistance of supporting data.39 at those moisture levels.
insulation, and (2) weakening, decay, and In summary, very little information is
dimensional instability of built-up roofing. 3.2.2 Gypsum Cover Boards available from manufacturers of roofing
In our experience, loss of strength of the A 2001 article40 provides data on the materials regarding their products’ resis-
insulation (or its facers) and cover board water absorption of a gypsum cover board tance to moisture degradation.
are also significant concerns, because they product after 24 hours of conditioning at
affect the ability of the roofing system to 95% RH, two hours of exposure to surface 3.3 Laboratory Testing
resist common loads such as foot traffic, moisture, two hours of immersion, and 24 To collect some initial data on the
hail, or wind uplift. Moisture-induced deg- hours of immersion. The article also pro- moisture resistance of roofing materials,
radation of water-based membrane bonding vides peel adhesion data for hot asphalt we selected three insulation cover board
adhesive has also been reported.38 application to boards at ambient conditions products for testing. Two of the products
However, we are not aware of any indus- and after seven days at 95% RH. The article are gypsum-based, the third is high-density
try publications containing data on how does not provide any recommendations for polyisocyanurate, and all are nominally ½
moisture affects the strength of insulation, acceptable moisture limits; its main focus in. thick. Insulation and bonding adhesive
cover boards, or bonding adhesive, with the is on avoiding heat damage to the gypsum are also of interest, but are excluded from
exception of some limited data on gypsum during installation of roofing membranes this initial testing.
cover boards discussed in the next section. set in hot asphalt or torch application.
In addition, we contacted two manufac- 3.3.1 Description of Testing Program
3.2 Product-Specific Manufacturer turers of gypsum cover boards and inquired We exposed the samples to a variety of
Recommendations about acceptable in-service moisture limits. moisture conditions and tested their flexur-
We contacted manufacturers of poly- One manufacturer stated that it manufac- al strength. Flexural strength is relevant to

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to 2,500 words, containing five to ten graphics. Articles may serve commercial interests but
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submitted at any time.
IssuE subJECt submIssIon dEAdlInE
July 2014 Entrapped moisture April 15, 2014
August 2014 Insulation May 15, 2014
September 2014 Building envelope issues June 13, 2014
October 2014 Roofing failures July 15, 2014
November 2014 Traditional materials August 15, 2014
December 2014 Codes and standards September 15, 2014

Submit articles or questions to Executive Editor Kristen Ammerman at 800-828-1902


32 • I n t e r f a c e Ê aprIl 2014
Photo 4 – Flexural test setup.

Photo 5 – Flexural test in progress.

the wind uplift resistance of intermittently

attached cover boards. Tensile strength and
compressive strength perpendicular to the
plane of the board are also of interest; these
properties are excluded from this initial
testing but should be considered in future
Three samples of each of the three prod-
ucts were exposed to each of the following
ten different moisture conditions (90 sam-
ples total):
• Oven drying at 100°F (below the 110
to 115°F maximum recommended by
one of the gypsum manufacturers)
• Standard laboratory conditions (50%
RH and 74°F)
• High humidity (95% RH and 74°F)
• High humidity (95% RH and 74°F)
followed by oven drying
• Water immersion for 30 minutes
• Water immersion for 30 minutes fol-
lowed by oven drying goals and scope of our test program. Our the load resistance of the sample
• Water immersion for 1 hour test method is briefly summarized as follows decreased; the maximum load was
• Water immersion for 1 hour followed and is depicted in Photos 4 and 5: reported.
by oven drying • Samples were cut to 12 x 16 in., with The polyisocyanurate board has anom-
• Water immersion for 24 hours the 16-in. dimension parallel to the alies in the foam structure, known as “knit
• Water immersion for 24 hours fol- long dimension of the board. Some lines,” where the ribbons of foam came
lowed by oven drying samples included the factory edge of together during the manufacturing process.
the board. All samples were tested The knit lines are parallel to the long dimen-
After conditioning, we tested the flex- face up. sion of the board. By testing only samples
ural strength of the samples according to • The flexure fixture was set up with spanning parallel to the knit lines, we avoid-
modified ASTM C47343 method B. The test supports at a 14-in. span and a center- ed testing the weaker orientation.
procedure generally followed C473, but the loading nose.
sampling procedures and the definition • Load was applied at a constant 3.3.2 Results
of breaking load were modified to suit the crosshead rate of 1 in./minute until The results of our testing are summa-

aprIl 2014 Interface • 33

absorption when immersed. After 24
hours, GYP #1 had gained 4% weight,
GYP #2 had gained 24% weight, and
ISO had gained 11% weight (Figure
2). All three products rapidly lost
strength when immersed in water
(Figure 3). Most of the strength loss
occurred in the first hour of immer-
sion. In the first hour, the two
gypsum products were reduced to
approximately 60% of their standard
laboratory strength, and ISO was
reduced to approximately 70% of its
standard laboratory strength. The
rate of loss slowed significantly after
one hour of immersion; at 24 hours,
the two gypsum products retained
approximately 50% of their stan-
dard laboratory strength, and ISO
retained around 70%.
Figure 2 – Moisture content (% of original mass) vs. duration of water immersion (hours) for • Moisture content – When we plot
three cover board products. Each data point indicates an average of three or more samples. strength versus moisture content
rather than wetting time (Figure
4), we see that the most dramatic
strength loss occurs in the range of
0 to 3% moisture content by weight.
We also see more of a difference
among the three products. At 6%
moisture content, GYP #1 is reduced
to approximately 45% of its stan-
dard laboratory strength, GYP #2 is
reduced to approximately 63%, and
ISO to 73%.
• Oven drying after wetting – All
three products regained all of their
original strength (to within the level
of accuracy of the test method) when
oven dried after one wetting cycle.

3.3.3 Discussion of Test Results

Our testing showed that some common
cover board products lose strength quickly
and at relatively low moisture contents (less
than 5% by mass) when wetted. This result
is consistent with our field observations on
Figure 3 – Flexural strength (lbs.) vs. duration of water immersion (hours) for three cover
existing roofs with wet cover boards and is
board products. Each data point indicates an average of three or more samples.
also consistent with statements from one
gypsum board manufacturer that moisture
rized as follows. We refer to the two gypsum conditioning to standard laboratory content over 2-5% is a concern.
products as “GYP #1” and “GYP #2,” and the conditions (50% RH) compared to The polyisocyanurate product was less
polyisocyanurate product as “ISO.” Our test oven-dry conditions. affected by moisture than the two gypsum
results are not suitable for design-strength • 95% RH – The ISO was unaffected products.
values; our testing was intended only to at 95% RH, but the two gypsum Our testing further showed that some
explore the trends of strength loss caused products lost some strength. GYP #1 common cover board products exposed to
by exposure to moisture. was reduced to 70% of its standard one relatively short wetting cycle will regain
Moisture conditioning had the following laboratory strength, and GYP #2 was virtually all of their original strength after
effects on the flexural strength: reduced to 80%. oven drying. While this result supports the
• 50% RH – None of the three prod- • Water immersion – The three prod- concept that a small amount of short-term
ucts was significantly weakened by ucts showed differing rates of water condensation may be acceptable in some

34 • Interface aprIl 2014

circumstances, it does not provide sufficient
data to define those acceptable circumstanc-
es. On many roofs, the wetting is longer
term, and the drying is less complete than
in our tests. In addition to longer-duration
wetting, other factors that could result in
unacceptable strength loss in cover boards
include: (1) a greater number of wetting and
drying cycles, (2) freeze-thaw cycles, which
are common because the coldest weather
coincides with the peak moisture levels
directly under the roofing membrane, and
(3) loading from wind or foot traffic during
one of the wetting cycles when the materi-
als are temporarily weakened may result in
permanent strength loss or even immediate
failure. There is no guarantee that loading
will occur only when the materials are dry
and at their maximum strength.

4. ConClusIons And
We conclude the following regarding Figure 4 – Percent of original flexural strength retained vs. moisture content (% of original
roofing system design for moisture in con- mass) for three cover board products. Each data point indicates one sample.
crete decks:
• Most roofs on new concrete decks
need vapor retarders. This poses our data are insufficient to establish 2. Structural Lightweight Concrete Roof
some challenges with wind uplift acceptable moisture levels. Decks, MRCA T&R Advisory Bulletin
rating and product selection, but • We recommend additional research
these challenges can be addressed into the acceptable in-service mois-
through careful design. As addition- ture limits of roofing materials. In
al roofing systems that include an the interim and until additional data
adhered vapor retarder are devel- become available, roofing profession-
oped and tested for wind uplift, als will have to continue to rely on
designers will gain more flexibility. their experience and judgment.
• State-of-the-art analysis tools are
available to predict time-varying ACknoWlEdgmEnts
moisture levels due to vapor migra- The authors would like to thank the
tion through the roofing system and management and shareholders of Simpson
assist selecting an appropriate vapor Gumpertz & Heger, Inc. for their financial
retarder. Interpreting the results of support of the laboratory testing described
these analyses requires knowledge in this paper.
of the acceptable in-service moisture The authors would also like to acknowl-
limits of roofing materials. edge the significant contributions made by
Stephen Condren, Joseph Piñon, and Paul
We conclude the following regarding Scheiner in their August 2012 work refer-
acceptable in-service moisture limits: enced in this paper. Their work has lent
• Prior publications have proposed much-needed clarity to the issue of mois-
various acceptance criteria for mois- ture in concrete roof decks, and provided
ture content of roofing materials. An a clear direction for future research needs.
industry consensus does not exist,
and product-specific data and rec- This article is republished from the
ommendations from manufacturers Proceedings of the 28th RCI International
are lacking. Convention and Trade Show.
• Our test data show that some com-
mon cover board products lose FootnotEs
strength quickly and at relatively 1. Mark S. Graham, “Moisture in
low moisture contents (less than Concrete Roof Decks,” Professional
5% by mass) when wetted. However, Roofing, February 2010.

a p r I l 2 0 1 4 Ê Interface • 35
1/2011. September 2011. Drying Low-Slope Roofs,” CON 380, telephone conversations with techni-
3. René Dupuis, “Research Continues Oak Ridge National Lab, p. 82, May cal representatives, September 2012.
on Moisture in SLC Roof Decks,” 1994. 14. ASHRAE Fundamentals, American
Midwest Roofer, June 2012. 9. A. Desjarlais, N. Byars, “A New Look Society of Heating, Refrigerating and
4. ASTM F2170-11, Standard Test at Moisture Control in Low-Slope Air Conditioning Engineers, 2009.
Method for Determining Relative Roofing,” Proceedings of the 4th 15. S.J. Condren, “Vapor Retarders in
Humidity in Concrete Floor Slabs International Symposium on Roofing Roofing Systems: When Are They
Using in-situ Probes, ASTM Technology, pp. 341-346, NRCA, Necessary?” Moisture Migration in
International, 2011. September 1997. Buildings, ASTM STP 779, M. Lieff
5. S. Condren, J. Piñon, and P. 10. A. Desjarlais, A. Karagiozis, “Review and H.R. Trenschell, eds., American
Scheiner, “What You Can’t See Can of Existing Criteria and Proposed Society for Testing and Materials,
Hurt You – Moisture in Concrete Calculations for Determining 1982, pp. 5-27.
Roof Decks Can Result in Premature the Need for Vapor Retarders,” 16. W. Tobiasson, “Vapor Retarders
Roof System Failure,” Professional Proceedings of the North American for Membrane Roofing Systems,”
Roofing, August 2012. Conference on Roofing Technology, Proceedings of the 9th Conference
6., searched Sep- pp. 79-83, NRCA, September 1999. on Roofing Technology, NRCA, pp.
tember 2012 with the following 11. Condren et al., 2012. 31-37, May 1989.
search terms: single-ply roof system, 12. The conditions at which permeance 17. A free educational version is avail-
new roof application, adhered cover, is measured can significantly affect able online at
structural concrete deck, board the result, but most manufacturers sci/btc/apps/moisture/; the profes-
stock insulation, and wind uplift only report data for standard con- sional version is for purchase.
ratings ranging from 60 to 300. ditions. Some manufacturers do not 18. Condren et al., 2012.
7. Like any rule of thumb, this is a gen- report the test procedure, but most 19. Kyle and Desjarlais, 1994.
eralization, and there are some con- do. Those that do report a proce- 20. W. Tobiasson, “Condensation
ditions where it may not be suitable. dure, report Procedure B. Con-trol in Low-Slope Roofs,”
8. D. Kyle, A. Desjarlais, “Assessment 13. Manufacturers’ data is from a combi- Proceedings of Workshop on Moisture
of Technologies for Constructing Self nation of published data sheets and Control in Buildings, Building

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36 • I n t e r f a c e Ê aprIl 2014
Thermal Envelope Coordinating Bureau of Standards, July 1978. Buildings, 2009.
Council (BTECC), Washington, DC, 32. Carl G. Cash, “Moisture and Built- 38. “Noteworthy Limitations of Water-
September 1984. Also available as Up Roofing,” published in A Decade Based Bonding Adhesives,” MRCA
CRREL miscellaneous paper 2039. of Change and Future Trends in T&R Advisory Bulletin, 2/2011.
21. J. Kirby, “Determining When In- Roofing – Proceedings of the 1985 39. Telephone conversations with man-
sulation Is Wet,” Professional Roof­ International Symposium on Roofing ufacturers, September 2012.
ing, February 1999. Technology, September 1985. 40. Colin Murphy and Robert Wills,
22. W. Tobiasson, A. Greatorex, and 33. Carl G. Cash, Roofing Failures, Spon, “Dens-Deck Roof Board: Product
D. VanPelt, “New Wetting Curves 2003, p. 46. Review, Testing, and Application
for Common Roof Insulations,” Pro­ 34. Extracted from Cash, 1985, and Recommendations,” Interface, March
ceedings of the International Sym­ Cash, 2003. 2001.
posium on Roofing Technology, pp. 35. Extracted from Tobiasson et al., 41. Telephone conversation with manu-
383-390, 1991. 1991. facturer, September 2012.
23. Tobiasson, 1984, cites the following 36. International Energy Agency 42. Private correspondence from manu-
source: K. Hoher, Environmental and (IEA) Condensation and Energy facturer, 2010 through 2012.
Climatic Factors in the Specification of Sourcebook, Report Annex XIV, 43. ASTM C473-10, Standard Test
Roofing Membranes, 1982, Sarnafil, Volume 1, 1991. Methods for Physical Testing of
Canton, MA. 37. ASHRAE Standard 160, Criteria for Gypsum Panel Products, ASTM
24. Kirby, 1999. Moisture-Control Design Analysis in International, 2010.
25. Tobiasson, 1989
26. Tobiasson, 1984.
27. Condren, 1982 Greg Doelp, RRC, Phil Moser, PE,
28. Desjarlais and Karagiozis, 1999 PE, is a senior prin­ LEED AP, is on
29. Desjarlais and Byars, 1997. cipal with Simpson the building tech­
30. Thomas A. Schwartz and Carl G. Gumpertz & Heger nology staff at
Cash, “Equilibrium Moisture Content Inc. (SGH) and has SGH and holds a
of Roofing and Roof Insulation 27 years of expe­ BS in civil infra­
Materials, and the Effect of Moisture rience as a con­ structure from
on the Tensile Strength of Roofing sulting engineer. Cornell University.
Felts,” Proceedings of the Symposium Doelp specializes He specializes
on Roofing Technology, National in designing and in designing and
Bureau of Standards and National investigating roof- investigating roof-
Greg Doelp, RRC, PE ing, waterproofing, Phil Moser, PE, ing, waterproof-
Roofing Contractors Association, pp. LEED AP
238-243, September 1977. and exterior wall systems. He holds a BS ing, and exterior
31. H. Busching, R. Mathey, W. Rossiter, in civil engineering from the University of wall systems, and is also actively involved
W. Cullen, “Effects of Moisture in Delaware and an MS in civil engineering in ASTM Committee D08 on Roofing and
BUR: A State-of-the-Art Literature from Cornell University. He is an RRC and Waterproofing as a task-group chair.
Survey,” Tech Note 965, National member of RCI.

Engineer The engineer who declared that a mall was safe two days before its roof
collapsed, killing two, has been charged with three counts of criminal negligence.

Robert Wood, 64, former president of M.R. Wright & Assoc. Inc., Sault Sainte
Marie, Ontario, had inspected the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, just
prior to its collapse in June 2012.
With A judicial inquiry heard that the roof of the poorly designed structure leaked
from the time of its construction, and decades of water and salt penetration
Negligence caused severe rusting of the steel support structure. In a 2011 conversation
attested to during the hearing, Wood was said to have told a prospective buyer
in Mall Roof that it would cost $1.5 million to fix the mall’s roof and reportedly warned that the
structure had to be fixed or the roof would cave in.

Collapse Wood was stripped of his professional engineering license in November 2011
after admitting to misconduct related to the mall.
— Canadian Press Enterprise

a p r I l 2 0 1 4 Ê Interface • 37