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By Michael Finney, D.C. Taylor Co.
Published in the November 2004 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
What’s the one part of a building that’s rarely seen and seldom thought about, but it provides protection and security for people, products, and equipment? It’s the roof, and for the most part, it’s out of sight, out of mind.
Like the rest of a building’s infrastructure, the roof adds nothing to the bottom line. But if a leak constantly interferes with the people and equipment below, it definitely impacts productivity and profits.
Ignoring the roof often leads to premature roof failure, which means water can invade the building and wreak havoc with people, equipment, and productivity. Clearly, regular preventive roofing maintenance should move up higher on the facility professional’s list of major priorities.
Getting Priorities Straight
The first rule of preventive maintenance is to protect what’s under the roof to make sure the building and everything inside can operate at maximum efficiency—without major disruptions. Every time inventory gets soaked and has to be thrown away or written off, or a worker slips, falls, and files a claim, the roof is no longer out of mind. Roofing peace of mind can even take the form of corporate policy.
“Preventive maintenance is very important to the success of our business,” says Bruce Malecha, facilities maintenance technician for the Northfield, MN-based Malt-O-Meal Company. His company has a zero tolerance policy for roof leaks.
“We make every effort to prevent leaks before they start….Our view is that we simply cannot afford roof leaks, because of the way they could impact our business, which is the production of food items,” Malecha explains.
Finding The Right Program
Implementing a regular, twice-a-year roof maintenance program is critical to validating the warranty, prolonging the life, and avoiding failure of a commercial roof. However, budgeting funds for roof maintenance never seems to be easy.
Planning and funding are vital to preserving what some refer to as a building’s most important hidden asset. Plan to budget 5¢ per square foot annually for a semi-annual preventive maintenance program, and periodically budget as much as 25¢ per square foot for more extensive restoration. (These estimates come from the publication entitled, How Roof Maintenance Saves Valuable Dollars, available from RSI and GAF.)
When choosing a roof maintenance program, look for more than a mere inspection. Search for a program that includes these standard elements:
1. An inspection of critical areas of the roof (using set guidelines).
2. Removal of environmental debris from waterways (to promote drainage).
3. The repair of minor deficiencies that can be addressed in the timeframe provided.
4. A report of activities performed on the roof (along with the option to make suggestions for future actions).
All repairs made during preventive maintenance should meet standards set forth for that roof type by the National Roofing Contractors Association. These standards are outlined in official publications such as The Repair Manual For Low-Slope Roof Systems (available at www.nrca.net/pubstore/tech.asp).
Some contractors offer secure, Web-based software that tracks the preventive work completed and lets facility professionals quickly grasp the conditions of their roofs and make informed decisions regarding roof repair, maintenance, and replacement. This knowledge base can be especially important when roofing decision makers are transferred or leave the company.
A preventive maintenance program brings with it a list of measurable benefits. For instance, it can:
- increase the expected service life of a roof by as much as 50%;
- reduce roof related expenses to free up capital for other uses; and
- cut the time and effort required to address emergency repairs.
All commercial and industrial roofs can benefit from regular preventive maintenance, regardless of ownership or floor space utilization. Those building types include schools, manufacturing plants, warehouses, hospitals, food processing plants, large office buildings, shopping centers, strip malls, and big box retailers.
Facility professionals may also want to pay special attention to the roofs of empty buildings and inspect them and the inside regularly to catch any problems early. Even though there may be nothing inside the facility, water infiltration can lead to slow rotting or deterioration and ruin of an otherwise valuable asset.
How To Establish A Program
It’s easy to set up a regular preventive maintenance program. Simply follow these steps:
1. Establish objectives. The program can be as simple as implementing semi-annual housekeeping and maintenance, and inspecting after any major storm. To be more proactive, use a contractor who provides comprehensive Web-based software products to track all inspections and work performed.
2. Select competent people. The inspection should be completed by trained and experienced people. Because of the many dangerous areas on a roof, safety should also be a primary consideration.
3. Gather and prepare relevant information. Collect historical data related to the dates of design and construction of the original building, major repairs or additions, structural support and design loads, and capacity and warranty information. Next, collect information related to roof activity and use.
- Is there documentation identifying previous roof problems?
- Could current tenants or employees provide information that might be helpful in determining the performance of the roof?
- How much traffic is on the roof?
- Is maintenance of the building organized from the roof?
- Are there discharges from the equipment directly on the roof or from nearby facilities that may impact roof performance?
- Have there been significant changes in the use of the building or roof?
4. Conduct the roof inspection. A roof inspection establishes the current condition of the roof which includes a listing of immediate and future repair needs. The inspection covers all aspects of the roof, such as deck, insulation, structure, flashings, penetrations, drains, membranes, and roofing materials. Inspections should be documented in a consistent format and photos should be used to support findings.
5. Create a budget. Budget for yearly preventive maintenance and repair expenses, and allocate money for future replacement at the end of the projected roof life.
A little planning, data collection, and recordkeeping will give facility managers a better perspective on their roofing obligations. And when “out of sight, out of mind” turns into a huge expense, it only makes sense to invest in a preventive roofing maintenance program.
Finney is regional manager for D.C. Taylor Co.’s East Service Area. For more information, call (800) 876-6346. To order a free copy of The Preventive Maintenance Report: A Guide To Low-Slope Roofing Peace Of Mind visit www.dctaylorco.com/knowledge/whitepapers.