By Robert Brodsky
From the August 2023 Issue
Repairing or replacing an industrial roofing system can take a substantial bite out of a facility’s operational budget in addition to being a source of high stress for building owners and managers. Alas, performing this roof maintenance work is critically necessary.
Industrial roofing systems are made of durable materials and are typically warrantied for 20 years, though they are designed to perform much longer. While it can be tempting to attribute a shortened lifespan to poor installation, neglected roof maintenance and inappropriate user handling are the most common culprits.
6 Red Flags To Watch Out For
Unfortunately, roofs are “out of sight, out of mind” for many facility owners and managers. To maximize roof lifespan and save on long-term repairs, all personnel should look for signs that the roof may need attention. These are some questions that can help gauge the health of a roofing system in between annual inspections:
1. Are there any leaks inside the building?
If there’s water dripping from the ceiling, take immediate action to prevent further damage. Identify the source of the leak, contain it and work with a licensed contractor to resolve the problem. Visible interior leaks typically don’t appear overnight and often indicate a more widespread issue, so you should prepare accordingly.
2. How old is the roof?
A roofing system that is approaching or has surpassed its life expectancy should undergo a thorough assessment for issues that could affect its performance or safety. Remedial repairs are typically recommended in the first 20 years, as they’re often the most cost-effective solution. However, replacement becomes the most practical and viable option once a roof exceeds its expected lifespan.
3. Are any gutters, drains or downspouts clogging repeatedly?
Water can’t drain properly when debris piles up in the drainage system. This problem can be easily identified by looking for blowouts in the downspouts or overflowing gutters. In addition, compounding debris adds weight to the gutters, which can cause them to peel off the wall, creating additional expenses.
4. Is there standing water on the roof after it rains?
When water accumulates on the roof without draining in a timely manner, it is referred to as ponding water. The presence of ponding water 48 hours after it rains can indicate drainage problems. During dry months, noticeable discoloration or stains on the roof surface can signal areas where water had pooled previously. If left untreated, ponding water can expedite roof deterioration and result in water intrusion.
5. Is water pooling around rooftop equipment?
Neglected rooftop air conditioning units can allow water to leak out from the equipment onto the roof, creating areas of dampness that can deteriorate the membrane. Condensation may also form on the unit or its ductwork, contributing to leaking water on the roof.
6. Is there any evidence of visual damage to the roof?
Cracks or holes on the roof surface indicate that repairs are needed. For facilities with metal roofs, look for signs of rust or corrosion. Open seams on the roof membrane are also important to watch out for since these connection points are the most vulnerable.
Extending Roof Lifespan
Before a full replacement is warranted, facility owners and managers can take steps to extend the longevity of their commercial roofing systems. Here are some suggestions to consider:
Investing in roof coatings. Adding an acrylic or silicone coating over an existing roof system can extend the lifespan of a well-maintained roof by 7-10 years. The coating offers added protection against harsh weather conditions and improves the roofing system’s effectiveness.
What Questions Should I Ask?
By Cale Prokopf, President, RoofTech
Unearthing and addressing questions about your facility’s roof can help prevent unforeseen problems, save money, and ensure the property’s long-term value and safety.
How long is the service life of my roof and how do I ensure its longest possible serviceability?
Per National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), the average life of a low-slope roof is 14 years. That number shocks most people and is far shorter than most owners would assume when investing in a new roof.
I often say that “a new roof doesn’t mean you have a good roof.” Too often we encounter roofs failing well before their estimated life expectancy. The service life of your roof depends mainly on three components. First, was the appropriate design and roof system planned for your building. Remember, all materials, systems, etc. have an ideal time and place but not all materials, systems, etc. are meant for all building types, climates, etc. Second, if the roof is properly designed, has the installation been overseen and monitored for quality assurance? The best-designed roof can be poorly installed, negating the designer’s intent and shortening the roof’s serviceable life. Lastly, regular inspections are a must for maintaining your roofs and extending their serviceable life. Too often we encounter clients who want to stop regular roof inspections following the installation of a new roof. In those instances, I ask, “do we stop changing the oil whenever we buy a new car?” Consider these best practices to maximize the life of your roof assets.
What kind of tests/ inspections should be conducted?
Essential tests to consider include annual infrared moisture surveys using infrared photography and other non-destructive moisture detection tools to identify areas with moist insulation. Additionally, Infrared thermography is recommended to pinpoint unusual heat levels, insulation gaps, and potential air leaks. Utilizing Electronic Leak Detection (ELD), which locates pinholes, leaks, and areas of weakness within the roofing system and waterproofing membranes, is crucial for testing the integrity of your roof and waterproofing installations. These testing options can be utilized as quality control measures during construction/installation or as diagnostic tools if later issues arise.
What should owners be asking before selecting a contractor?
Before even beginning the search for a contractor, it is critical to get a third-party IIBEC accredited consultant on your team that is completely unbiased. You should steer clear of consultants that are tied to certain service providers as it becomes far more difficult to trust the advice you’re being given. By partnering with a third-party consultant, you can be assured the project is non-objectively designed, bid accurately, and the responses are properly vetted. ♦
Expanding walk paths. Although walk paths rarely wear out, improper use by personnel can lead to safety issues and cause damage. Widening designated walkways or adding walkover ladders on roofs with changing elevations can enhance safety and mitigate risk.
Establish and maintain a detailed roof log. Keeping a detailed record of the roof’s maintenance, repairs and inspections helps ensure proper maintenance and identify potential problems before they become major issues. An important step to include in this process is requiring anyone who goes onto the roof to take pictures of the area before leaving. These pictures provide a snapshot of the roof conditions that can be referenced when issues arise. Having to fill out the log will also encourage accountability and mindfulness from those who go on the roof.
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Schedule annual roof inspections. Conducting a roof inspection at least once a year is generally considered good practice. For even better monitoring, schedule inspections twice a year—once in the summer and once in the winter when the weather is harshest.
Preventive Maintenance Is Worth Gold
Far too often, facility leaders take for granted the value of a good inspection program for their roofing systems. However, investing in roof maintenance will always be less expensive than being forced into emergency repairs or, worse, an early roof replacement. Regular servicing enables maintenance personnel to catch issues early on and take corrective measures to avoid costly repairs in the future while prolonging the life of their building envelope.
Brodsky is senior vice president of Thermal Building Envelope at Stellar. He has more than three decades of experience in construction management and specializes in the low-temperature and food-processing sectors.
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