Rise of Specialty Consultants

Posted on March 21, 2011


Recently I read an article in a trade magazine on the benefits of a roofing consultant. I read how this person would provide an owner with these benefits:  a roof assessment, help manage a roofing budget, provide roof design services, administer construction, and inspect during construction.

To me, these services are an exact match to what an architect provides. I spent the better part of my design apprenticeship working on roof design, and learning how to avoid leaks through subtle detailing. I even landed a summer job because of the roof details I included in my portfolio when I interviewed. This earned me construction administration roof duty for hot mopped, built-up roofs throughout Florida’s Taylor and Wakulla Counties in July. And no, I could not wear shorts.

Every small firm I worked in had at least one design bugaboo—some aspect that a principal takes on and is stentorian about in its design and detailing. For two of my bosses it was roofs. When I read the “roofing consultant” description, I thought ‘heck, I could do that.’

But that is not the point. My point is more in the way it is sold. The article, touting the consultant as a project requisite, explained that such a specialty consultant was needed to provide “independent” roof consultation with a “non-biased solution”.  Somehow the consultant was trustworthy because he is “not selling a product, not selling a service, does not need to sell labor for men to put something on.”

The flip side of a consultant’s apparent neutrality for not needing to “sell” anything (isn’t everybody selling something?), is that a consultant only ‘advises’. A consultant is paid to ‘recommend’, yet never puts a professional license or any liability on the line. A builder may be guilty of being eager to do a job for a price, but they have skin in the game:  their work is licensed, bonded and insured. Likewise, an architect and engineer seal their drawings and are responsible for what is drawn. Carpetbaggers will always exist, but for the other 97% of the market there is no real incentive to do poor work because the architect’s design will be questioned and the contractor will have to come back and fix it. And for defective products, we have warranties. Yet, there is no recourse for poor advice from a consultant.

Perhaps more disturbing is that the rise of specialty consultants, especially roofing consultants, arises because owners are not maintaining their buildings. Owners would do well to not skimp on facilities departments, prevention and routine maintenance. This behavior will inevitably come back to bite a short-sighted owner.

Consultants have their place. It just seems like they have been multiplying lately, overlapping with the expertise and skill sets of licensed professionals, and in the process, possibly not adding equivalent value to the marketplace in all cases. If a particular facility has been burned by more than a couple bad roof installations, has problems with maintenance, and feels helpless in its quest against Mother Nature, then by all means, hire yourself a roof consultant.

Sometimes the redundancy or another opinion is valuable, but they are not required to get a warranty. Given the inability to hold a consultant’s opinion up to professional scrutiny versus the expense premium, each owner will need to decide how important a specialty consultant is to their given need.