By Jim Tierney
From the November 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Heading into the winter and anticipating cooler temperatures, it is important for facility managers (fms) to focus on their roofs and to consider the latest trends and advancements in safety, maintenance, and warranties. Cold weather—especially when it turns severe—can take a toll on the entire building envelope. This is especially true for roofing systems, which can take the brunt of heavy rains, increased precipitation, and snow. Making sure the roof is in tip-top shape is integral to maintaining high facility performance and limiting risk.
Rooftop safety programs and protocols are not new. However, the industry focuses on improving measures to ensure everyone from contractors to fms are safe when inspections or work on the roof are needed. It is especially important to take safety measures when dealing with specific areas of the roof, such as access points (ladders, hatches, and doorways) and around mechanical equipment requiring maintenance. Extra safety precautions are also necessary in the winter months or following a storm since roofs can be slick after rain, frost, or snowfall.
A recent trend is the use of safety guards around roof hatches and “ladder up” safety posts on roof hatch ladders. Roof hatch safety should be taken very seriously, and guards and posts can help to minimize the risk of falls.
Another trend is an increased use of safety tapes and markings around roof perimeters and hazards. These products serve to create a perimeter around the roof edge, mechanical equipment, and other hazards by visually drawing attention to these areas.
Walkway pads can be another essential item that helps increase safety levels. Walkway pads serve two purposes. First, these provide a non-slip surface for those accessing the roof. Second, the pads actually protect the surface from wear and tear associated with individuals accessing the roof for maintenance and repairs. Walkway pads safeguard people and roof systems year round, but these are also ideal for the winter months as they can be manufactured to display cold flexibility.
Another important aspect for fms to note is awareness. Rooftop access should be restricted to trained professionals who are mindful of their surroundings. Safety protocols and products are being driven by organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well as rising insurance costs. By making safety a priority, fms can minimize risk and accidents, keep insurance premiums low, and help to maximize the service life of their roofs.
Inspection And Maintenance
A rooftop is a valuable asset for a building and can help increase facility performance. In order to protect this investment, fms should ensure roofs undergo periodic inspections and maintenance to maximize performance and maintain their warranties. Strategies fms can use to extend the life of their roofing systems include:
- The roof should be inspected at least twice yearly and after any severe storms. A record of all inspection and maintenance activities should be retained, including a listing of the date and time of each activity as well as the identification of the parties performing the activity. Roofing contractors are the best people to perform these checks. However, a maintenance person can remove debris from the roof—specifically at drainage points (drains, scuppers, or gutters)—and do a visual inspection for issues.
- Proper maintenance and best practices require that a roof does not have ponding water (industry standards state water should be gone within 48 to 72 hours after it stops raining). Roofs should have positive slope to drainage, and drain areas must remain clean. Facility staff should bag and remove all debris from the roof since such fragments can be quickly swept into drains by rain. This allows for proper water runoff and prevents overloading.
- The roofing system should not be exposed to acids, solvents, greases, oil, fats, chemicals, etc. If it does become exposed to any such materials, these contaminants should be removed immediately, and any damaged areas should be inspected by a manufacturer’s licensed or approved applicator and repaired if necessary. (See sidebar below for tips to protect a modified bitumen roofing from acids, greases, etc.)
- A roofing system is designed to be a waterproofing membrane, not a traffic surface. Any traffic other than periodic visits to maintain equipment and conduct occasional inspections should be prohibited. In any areas where roof traffic may be required to service equipment or to facilitate inspection of the roof, protective walkways should be installed by a licensed applicator as needed to protect the roof surface from damage.
- All metalwork, including counter-flashings, drains, skylights, equipment curbs and supports, and other rooftop accessories, must be properly maintained at all times. Particular attention should be paid to sealants at joints in metalwork and flashings. If cracking or shrinkage is observed, the joint sealant should be removed and replaced.
- Any alterations to the roof, including but not limited to curbs, pipe penetrations, mounted accessories, and tie-ins to building additions, must be performed by a licensed applicator.
- Should a facility experience a leak, facilities staff should check for the obvious—clogged roof drains, loose counter flashings, broken skylights, open grills or vents, and broken water pipes. Staff should also note the conditions that result in leakage. Heavy or light rain, wind direction, temperature, and time of day that the leak occurs are important clues to tracing roof leaks. Fms should note whether the leak stops shortly after rain occurs or if it continues to drip for hours until the roof is dry. If an fm is prepared with the facts, the diagnosis and repair of the leak can proceed more rapidly.
Duration Of Warranty
When it comes to warranties, fms often purchase preventive maintenance programs from commercial building manufacturers in order to maximize the life of their roofs and follow warranty guidelines. There is a trend of moving away from purchasing the standard 10 year warranty and investing in 15 year or even 20 year warranties.
A commercial roof is an investment. Preventive maintenance is one of the best ways for fms to protect and extend the life of their roofing systems. So, as the weather changes, it is a good time to evaluate the facility’s process to validate current procedures reflect best practices and to kick off the cold weather season feeling confident in the performance of a facility’s roofing system.
Tierney is the building owner services manager at Firestone Building Products, a manufacturer and supplier of a comprehensive “Roots to Rooftops” portfolio of products for commercial building performance solutions.