FM Issue: Withstand The Weather

Photo: © Getty Images

By Chuck Miccolis
From the January/February 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The roof is a commercial building’s first line of defense against natural hazards such as wind, rain, fire, hail, ice, snow, and extreme heat; it is also the most vulnerable part of a facility. Every day, roofs are exposed to weather and other elements that may contribute to decay and deterioration, increasing the risk of damage to the roof itself and the contents below it.

The International Building Code (IBC), which sets safety standards for commercial buildings, requires that roofs “serve to protect the building.” Having such a roof begins with design, materials selection, and installation at the time a facility is built or remodeled. But it also includes a regular program of inspection, maintenance, and repair—activities that are part of a facility manager’s (fm’s) operational planning in order to prolong the useful life of their roof and make sure it protects the organization from weather damage.

A key is to identify and address common trouble spots in order to prevent problems before they start and fix them before it is too late.

Recognizing Signs Of A Problem

If it’s been a while since the roof has been inspected, the first priority should be to identify and repair any major problems. Signs of serious problems may be apparent even from inside the facility. For instance, water stains on a ceiling may signal a leak, which can be caused by a crack or hole in the roof. It is important to understand that even the smallest leak can be a sign of big trouble. Similarly, if the building has unexplained mold or odors developing inside, this may indicate a roof leak that has resulted in water penetration. While internal water damage or mold may signal trouble above, it’s also important to inspect the roof visually to look for problems that are likely to worsen over time.

Depending on the slope of a roof and the ease of access, facilities staff might perform the inspections in-house, but in many cases it makes sense to hire a contractor to make sure the job is done safely and correctly. Even if hiring a professional, fms should review the condition of the roof and potential problems in order to understand the significance of what the contractor identifies and the need for action.

Visual Clues

Ponding (Photos: Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.)
Ponding (Photo: IBHS.)

Prolonged standing water or ponding on the roof (as seen at the right) can lead to premature aging and deterioration of the roof cover, which will lead to leaks. Leaks that go undetected can slowly rust steel roof decks, rot wood decks, and turn lightweight insulating concrete and gypsum decks into a thick paste-like substance. Additionally, excessive standing water can lead to significant additional weight, which can weaken the roof deck.

Bubbles may indicate trapped moisture within the roof cover, which can also lead to leaks, reduce the lifespan of the cover, speed up premature aging of the deck, and reduce the effectiveness of the roof cover system against uplift forces associated with a windstorm (see photo below).

Uplift (Photos: Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.)
Uplift (Photo: IBHS.)

Another cause of bubbles is the release of gases from insulation board that get trapped below the cover. A roof cut or moisture survey of the roof cover can be completed to assist in the diagnosis.

Roof flashing is another area where problems may occur. These are strips of metal or other impervious material installed around the perimeter of the roof edge where the roof cover meets the wall. Flashing is also installed around objects that protrude from the roof (such as rooftop equipment) in order to deflect water away from seams and joints. However, a gap in the flashing or roof cover perimeter greatly increases the potential for roof cover failure during a high wind event as well as the possibility of water intrusion or mold.

Tears (Photo: IBHS).
Tears (Photo: IBHS.)

Meanwhile, tears in the roof cover, or worn or cracking seams (as seen at right), can allow water to enter below the cover.

Additional Areas For Inspection

If there is a lightning protection system on the roof, inspectors should check if it is loose or detached. These conditions can lead to a tear or puncture in the roof covering, especially during strong winds. A lightning protection system that has disconnected metal cables or aerials is no longer capable of providing the intended protection for the facility and its occupants.

If a roof has skylights, these should be checked to ensure they are secured. Skylights that are not well sealed and secured around the frame’s edge can leak. This may cause them to become dislodged and allow for wind driven rain and debris to enter the facility, especially during a high wind event. Also, over time the plastic domed panels can become brittle and very susceptible to cracks.

Care And Maintenance

The best way to avoid roof related problems and strengthen weather resistance is through regular care and preventive maintenance. Proper maintenance also prolongs the life of a roof and in many instances will allow for repair instead of replacement when a problem is identified. The frequency of inspections for routine maintenance will depend on several factors, including the age of the roof, recent weather events, rooftop foot traffic, and conditions identified during previous inspections. That said, scheduling inspections every six months (in the fall and spring) is an effective way to make sure these are not sidetracked by the press of other important tasks. Fms can keep in mind several things.

  • All inspections should look for and develop a repair plan for the items that indicate signs of problems described above.
  • After a severe windstorm or hurricane, staff should inspect roofs, as repeated storms can reduce roof strength. Even if a roof survived a storm, it may have been damaged or weakened enough to fail in the next storm, or the one after that.
  • Inspectors should look for signs of previous leaks or other problems to make sure that repairs have remained intact.
  • Loose objects and accumulated debris should be removed. Leaves and other materials tend to hold moisture, which can speed up deterioration of roofing materials. In dry areas, roofs should be kept clear of debris to reduce the risk of embers from a wildfire igniting the roof.
  • Trees should be kept trimmed. This prevents branches from rubbing against the roof and leaves from accumulating on the roof and clogging drains and gutters.
  • Staff should check gutters and downspouts for leaves, twigs, and other debris that will inhibit proper drainage.
  • If located in a hurricane prone area, staff should check if the gutters include gutter straps designed to resist uplift.
  • Rooftop vents and equipment should be inspected to make sure these are well sealed. Any gaps should be sealed with flashing cement. Replacement may be necessary if the metal flashing is badly deteriorated, or if vents can be wiggled back and forth.
  • After a hail event with hail stones larger than 3⁄4″, fms should contact their insurers and have the roof inspected even if not aware of any damage.
  • Consulting a professional roofing contractor may be helpful if concerns exist after a maintenance review of the roof. The contractor can also help to determine the health of the roof, estimate its remaining life, help fms develop a maintenance plan, and identify additional steps to protect the roof.

The following is a list of items for fms to consider when hiring a roofing contractor:

  • Look for established, licensed, or bonded professionals.
  • Obtain several bids for services.
  • Ask for references that specifically include other local commercial facilities.
  • Ask to see certificates of insurance. Make sure that coverage for liability and workers’ compensation insurance is current.
  • •Contact the local Better Business Bureau to check for complaints filed against the inspector.
  • Make sure the bid clearly defines the work that will be done, including hauling away of debris and grounds cleanup.
  • If a new roof is being installed on an existing building, make sure the deck is examined for water soaked or deteriorated material; have damaged material replaced as part of the contract.
  • Discuss, verify, and receive in writing the warranty information. Confirm what is and what is not covered. Keep copies of all warranties and a record of work performed.
  • Check to see if contractors are members of a roofing industry organization that provides up-to-date information about roofing trends and developments.
  • The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) has a Roofing Contractor Qualification Form that helps fms prequalify contractors.
  • RCI, another association, provides roofer designations including Registered Roof Consultant (RRC) or Registered Roof Observer (RRO). In brief, an RRC should have an in-depth knowledge of roof system design, and is qualified to provide condition assessments, repair and maintenance recommendations, project management, and administration of asset management programs, and system installation quality assurance. RRO are neutral parties that may be retained to observe workmanship to ensure it complies with standards described in contract documents.

A properly maintained roof is necessary to protect facilities and the business conducted within them. A little maintenance can result in a lot of savings, especially when compared to the cost of damage from a small, undetected leak or a catastrophic roof failure.

Miccolis is commercial lines engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. The Institute is a non-profit applied research and communications organization dedicated to reducing property losses due to natural and man-made disasters. The Institute is headquartered in Tampa, FL with a research center located in Richburg, SC.


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