By Assistant Director of Publications Katey Springle Lempka
In our ongoing series of RCI member profiles, we highlight Dennis McNeil, who recently retired from Building Technology Associates, Inc. (BTA). McNeil is a Fellow of RCI and Member Emeritus, and holds RRO and RRC designations. He has been an RCI member since 1992, and is active in his local Chicago Area Chapter and as a member and former director of Region III. He has written numerous articles for RCI Interface and the now-defunct RCItems newsletter.
Can you give me a brief overview of what you do in your day-to-day job?
Well, I’m a roof consultant, so my day-to-day tasks vary, depending on the nature of the projects. I could be in the office doing design work for say a reroofing project, or reviewing contractor submittals or shop drawings, or I could be out on project sites for various purposes: prebid meetings, preconstruction meetings, periodic QA observations, client-directed meetings, that sort of thing; suffice it to say, every day is different.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Mostly dealing with existing buildings and trying to determine the nature of the roofing or waterproofing problems, and then pursuing a resolution and developing contract documents—specifications—to resolve the issues, and then following the construction process all the way through to completion.
What was your least favorite part of the job?
My least favorite is dealing with litigation for problem projects, and construction failures.
How did you end up professionally where you are today?
The origin goes back to my college days in the early ’60s, when I was working summers for a small commercial and industrial roofing contractor in the Detroit area, which was my baptism into the roofing industry. And then my uncle, who got me involved in the actual roofing end of it, changed jobs and went to work for a consulting firm in Detroit, so he basically was my entrée into the consulting area. At the time I was primarily involved in QA observation of roofing projects underway, and doing punch list inspections and final inspections of the complete work. This was during the time when there weren’t many roof consultants around the country nationally, and one of the primary roles that most consultants fulfilled was QA observation of roofing projects under construction. Back then we weren’t quite as sophisticated as we are now, and used the term “inspection” when we were looking at projects and writing reports; nowadays we don’t “inspect,” we provide observations and report.
Can you tell me a little about your involvement in RCI?
I had attended a few RCI Region III programs in the Chicago area back in the early ’90s, and my first RCI Convention was in Nashville, I believe in 1992. I was not yet a member of RCI at that point, but after attending the convention, I thought, “This is really a good group of people, and I need to join the organization.” So I did. And I think about two years later, I became the Region III Director for the seven states around the central Midwest. I started to become more involved in committees, initially with the RRC Exam Review Committee, then the Document Competition Committee, and the Nominating Committee. I was a charter member of the Chicago Area Chapter (CAC) in 2002, and subsequently served in the officer and board positions, from director up through treasurer, secretary, VP, president, and then past president. In 2013, my membership status changed to that of Member Emeritus. The following year was momentous, having been bestowed the Fellow of RCI Award, and then the CAC’s “Bill Early Lifetime Achievement Award.” So that’s been my career track through RCI.
Can you tell me about an interesting challenge you’ve encountered in your work, and how you overcame it?
After being in the business for 50 years, and having been involved with both new construction and existing buildings, and dealing with all types of clients, you’d think I’d have a whole range of projects to rattle off. But to generalize into the categories of new or existing buildings, dealing with architects and building owners, there are always concerns for owners, and so I guess one of the challenges is trying to specify and ensure appropriate designs are developed and then followed. But sometimes value engineering enters the picture and, consequently, there are changes in the design and scope of work, which may save the client money, but may not result in long-term serviceability. With existing roofing, one of the common issues is trying to perform work while the building remains unaffected. This is particularly difficult for certain types of manufacturing facilities, especially those that run shifts around the clock and the operations can’t be affected at all by the roofing work. As a result of that, there are creative challenges dealing with interior protection and scheduling the contractor’s work so that it doesn’t affect the operations of the building.
How much and in what way do environmental concerns affect your work?
There are more issues nowadays than back 50 years ago when I first got involved in consulting. Probably the first issue that cropped up was asbestos in various roofing products. But that has almost run its course since asbestos stopped being used commonly in roofing materials in the early- to mid-’80s. Projects that were built at that time have since been reroofed, so there’s not as much of an inventory of asbestos in roofs currently. Certainly the increased emphasis on insulation and the need for improved thermal performance has also had an effect on the design of the roofing and wall systems. Governmental restrictions on certain material products have created the need for alternative materials, with a resulting learning curve. Also, some concerns for health and safety, such as current regulations dealing with silica dust, may affect the contractor’s normal means and methods of operating, which in turn could require changes in procedures to enable achieving the desired results.
What drives you?
For reroofing specifications, it’s important that the construction documents be accurate, clear, and concise so that technically we’re covering all the bases that we need to, and the contractors who are bidding the work have a clear understanding of what’s required. So I guess, accuracy in specification language and drawings and details is something that I’m a stickler for.
What do you do with your time when you’re not on the job?
I’m a regular volunteer with our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, so I’m typically on those construction sites one to two days a week, and am also involved with activities at our parish church. My wife is a retired librarian, and is always bringing home the latest best-sellers to read, so that fills in some of the quiet time around home.
What is one thing most of our readers probably don’t know about you?
Possibly the fact that I’m very interested in trains and railroading, and especially steam locomotives. I enjoy going on trips that are sponsored by various railroad clubs and historical groups that offer steam-powered passenger trains.
If money were no object, how would you spend your time?
Well, probably doing a little bit more traveling, primarily around the U.S. Along with that would be spending a little bit more time with the grandkids.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with RCI’s members?
A reflection that over the past 25 years that I’ve been a member of RCI, I’ve seen a lot of growth in the organization, not only from the standpoint of membership numbers, but also that the extent of involvement of RCI has grown from strictly roofing to now include all aspects of the building envelope. So that’s been quite an expansive change in the focus of the organization. It’s interesting to see that a lot of the people who have been long-time members of RCI have expanded their horizons and are now involved in not only roofing and waterproofing, but also walls and the exterior building envelope. Lastly, that the quality of the RCI organization is a reflection not only of its constituent members, but also the professional staff who serve the members.