By Rick Cunningham
The scorching summer of 2016 is winding down in many areas of the country and in most of the United States, it won’t be long before the fall chill arrives. That makes early fall the perfect time for commercial, industrial, and retail building owners, managers, and maintenance engineers to inspect the materials and integrity of their commercial roofs before winter is here.
Summer can take a toll on commercial roofs, and if not inspected and repaired before late fall and winter – one of the busiest times of year for most commercial roofers – building owners and facility managers could be faced with delays of weeks or months for emergency service requests. This summer was particularly hot and intense, with NASA saying many heat records were equaled or broken throughout the United States and claiming it could be the hottest year on record. Commercial roofs in the southwest especially took a beating, and there may be latent issues that need to be addressed right away.
The Roof Inspection Toolkit
Commercial roofing contractors recommend a building’s roof should be inspected at least twice a year; in the spring and early fall. While this may seem obvious with most building roofs exposed to the harshest weather during summer and winter, inspecting roofs after the extreme weather can reveal trouble areas before they turn into disasters later.
Many facility and building managers have a process for roof inspections, but if not, here are a few things to keep in your roof inspection toolkit:
- A flashlight to look into all the nooks and crannies that you find around equipment, pipes, ductwork, vents, antennas and other points where water could seep in.
- A camera to take pictures of any suspected leaking, cracked, weakened or damaged roofing materials. Make sure to keep a list of images taken to match up later.
- A Google Earth map that shows the entire roof (or roofs) from an eagle-eye view. This way, you can mark areas of concern for your commercial roofer to see in an all-in-one picture. If a Google Earth map is not available, you can search for images of your commercial building roof or even use a drone to capture roof images.
- A notebook or inspection folder to keep records of all inspections, notes, photos and reports. In addition to physical documents, have all the paperwork scanned into a digital format to be placed on a server or on a flash drive for recovery, if lost. A paper inspection form can be accessed and then printed here.
All of these items will be helpful for your commercial roofer to review before going on the roof for a physical inspection and to make recommendations.
What To Look For
Post-summer inspections should focus on exterior roofing degradation from the harsh summer rays and basic signs of weathering, including the following:
- Fading, stretching or thinning of the roofing membrane
- Caulking throughout the roof that shows wear and tear, especially around masonry, HVAC equipment and other areas where leaking could occur
- Areas that are torn or cracked, or pulling away from where they are joined to other materials
- Excess trash, debris, plants, leaves or things that can cause damage to roofing materials or could grow into and underneath roofing materials or cog drains or scuppers
- Loose gutters and piping that could fall off in a strong wind (we recommend your maintenance staff or manager inspect these issues as well)
- Areas that look as if water has pooled or collected during occasional summer rain or hail
- Brittle, torn, or separated roofing material near seams
When it comes to the interior of a commercial building, it’s wise to pay attention to everything that looks odd or different, just as you would in a house. Signs of dangerous or potentially dangerous damage include:
- Stains on walls, ceilings, and even flooring spell major issues with leaks
- Mold anywhere is a red flag and needs immediate attention
- Areas of the ceiling that are bowed or puffy could also mean moisture or water damage
- Rusty pipes, venting, joists, beams, and equipment components
Even if your building is occupied when the repairs need to be made, professional commercial roofers can do most commercial roof repairs or installations with minimal intrusion and with little disruption to tenants and occupants.
While most commercial roofs have a 10-, 15- or 20-year lifetime expectation, some are exposed to extremely harsh conditions and can experience early roof degradation if not properly maintained. If the roof was not installed correctly, or if the wrong materials for the area is used for repairs, the life of a roof could be much shorter. This is why, even if your commercial roof came with a 20-year warranty, it needs regular, thorough inspections. Ignoring the danger signs can cost you more money when that small leak or stain turns into a roof collapse or structural compromise, forcing emergency repairs and possibly causing tenants to evacuate temporarily. After this year’s record breaking heat wave, and with the threat of another “El Nino” to hit the West Coast, now is the time to make sure your roof is in shape to handle whatever weather situations happen this winter.
Rick Cunningham, president of Highland Commercial Roofing, has more than three decades of construction industry experience and is an industry leader in commercial roofing. Rick is a member of the Roofing Consultants Institute, Waterproofing and Building Envelope Professionals, National Roofing Contractors Association, and the U.S. Green Building Council. His company, Highland Commercial Roofing, has successfully installed more than 100 million square feet of roofing on commercial properties throughout the southwestern United States since it was founded in 1991.