Roofing Maintenance: Five Questions To Ask

A trio of experts discuss roofing issues their facility management customers are most concerned about, and questions they ask about maintaining their roofs.

By Teddy Williams
From the August 2019 Issue

Maintaining the roof on any building or facility can be an arduous task. Often the first line of defense against the elements, the roof is an important structure that must be carefully monitored and maintained to protect the overall integrity of a structure. Leaks in roofs are often difficult to track down and can lead to damage to interior finishes, unhappy occupants and costly repairs.

Roofing Maintenance
Roofing materials and methods all play a role in the performance of this building envelope component. Here, contractors install a mechanically fastened TPO roof using an induction welding system for membrane attachment. (Photo: Western Specialty Contractors)

Western Specialty Contractors, a St. Louis, MO-based specialty contractor for the building envelope recently shared insight from three of the company’s roofing branch managers. In this article, Keegan Tune, Kansas City roofing branch manager; Jack Schneider, St. Louis roofing branch manager; and Michael Boyle, Peoria roofing branch manager discuss the roofing issues that their facility management customers are most concerned about and the questions those clients are asking when it comes to maintaining their roofs.

How much life does my roof have left? This is a tricky question that even roofing experts can have trouble answering if they are seeing a roof for the first time. Most properly installed new roofs will receive a 15- to 20-year manufacturer’s warranty. So, this is a good starting point if it can be determined when the roof was installed. However, many things can affect the life of the roof such as slope, composition, weather and climate, installation, foot traffic, maintenance, and even interior conditions of the building.

If you’re unsure of the age of your roof, let it speak for itself. When roofs are nearing the end of their service life, they start to “talk” in the form of leaks. The older a roof gets, the more it leaks and the more it costs to repair. If your roof is leaking every time it rains despite best efforts to repair it, then it’s probably time for a replacement. Since every roof and every situation is different, it’s best to set up an inspection with your roofing professional to help answer this question.

What are effective ways to identify and stop leaks? Roof leaks are often a nuisance for a building owner or facility manager. Often difficult to track down, leaks can cause damage to interior finishes and lead to complaints—and, if not resolved, unhappy occupants. Those leaks can become a nightmare when the decision is made to replace the entire roof of the building—and it still leaks.

Most building structures today are constructed out of many different materials that move at different rates. Marrying all of these components together is complex and, at the same time, can make the roof more vulnerable to errors and failure when re-roofing.

In roofing, details around penetrations at the parapet walls and around building systems are very critical to successful projects. Those are the points where the majority of leaks occur. However, in a re-roofing project, even if all the details are done correctly, it may not be enough.

Often the materials located above those details have aged and weathered as well, leading to deterioration and allowing moisture through. That moisture then finds its way behind the newly installed roof.

It is important to review the condition of building components that rise above the roof level such as a penthouse, elevator shafts, stair towers, parapet walls, and coping and to evaluate the parapet walls from both the interior and exterior. The most visible signs of potential avenues for water infiltration are broken/missing masonry, deteriorated mortar and sealant joints, deteriorated concrete, etc. Sometimes moisture can penetrate even what looks to be a solid wall but may be porous. If those signs exist, there is most likely a leak.

When such repairs need to be performed, it is extremely important that the new roof is well protected, and the original installer is notified. If the re-roofing project is just in the budgeting phase, it is important to evaluate those building components and make the repairs prior to installation of a new roof. It is not only the right way to do a re-roof, but the most cost-effective technique as well.

What are some maintenance tips to extend roof life overall? Roofing materials such as BUR, TPO, EPDM, PVC, Modified Bitumen, and even green roofs can be vulnerable to environmental stressors such as organic debris, growing vegetation, or ponding water. Other contributors to premature roof failure may include poor craftsmanship, improper flashing, clogged or leaking downspouts, or damage by other contractors.

Roofing Maintenance
All types of roofs are vulnerable to environmental stressors, and these
include organic debris, growing vegetation, and ponding water. (Photo: Western Specialty Contractors)

When roofs are not maintained properly, open seams, splits, blistering, wrinkling, and cracking can result. This can lead to expensive damage to a building’s interior and exterior, if not identified and repaired promptly.

A roof inspection by an experienced roofing specialty contractor is recommended at least twice a year, preferably in the spring and fall, and after severe weather, such as hail, heavy rains, and high winds, to check for any roof damage.

A good way to begin any roof preventive maintenance program is to create a file of all the records related to that roof, and this may include warranties, repairs and maintenance records, past inspections, and original drawings and specifications for the building.

Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the preventive maintenance program is to get the maximum service life out of the roof, for the least possible cost. So, keeping accurate records of the history of each roof is vital to overall maintenance.

There are several, basic preventive measures that facility managers/owners can perform throughout the year to extend the life of a roof and deter water infiltration. These include the following:

  • Remove debris such as leaves, branches, dirt, and trash from gutters, scuppers, downspouts, and drains to ensure proper water drainage.
  • Keep metal roof components such as flashings, expansion joints, and pitch pockets in good working condition by replacing deteriorated sealants, painting rust, and making necessary repairs.
  • Maintain rooftop equipment (satellite dishes, solar panels, air conditioners, skylights), and check the roof after equipment service calls and repairs to make ensure the roof was not damaged in the process.
  • Repair roof coatings and membranes damaged by spilled oils, grease, coolants, and other liquids.
  • Minimize roof traffic by authorized personnel, and install walkway pads in high-traffic areas.

What notable developments in roofing have been introduced in the recent past? Roof coatings is one area where offerings have increased significantly, but these are not suitable for every roof and certainly not in every situation. Coatings have also made it possible for some less qualified contractors to tackle projects that they don’t have the expertise to perform. R-value requirements are continually increasing, so being aware of local codes and compliance needs is key.

There have also been recent changes in the energy code laws, which some states have adopted, and others haven’t (e.g., R-30 insulation code above roof deck).

Roof coatings over existing roofing with long-term NDL (no dollar limit) warranties are becoming more prevalent. New products are out that minimize or stop odors from entering the building through air intakes and openings. And, in some cases, R-values can be increased without raising units and mechanical equipment by using a new insulation material.

What are some tips for working with contractors for the best results? Evaluate the contractor as a whole—considering their reputation, qualifications, and dependability, not just price.

Don’t assume all contractors have the same level of expertise and qualifications. Do you have a process to gauge the level of expertise and qualifications of the contractors being considered? Research the expertise and qualifications of potential contractors. Some contractors will be more capable than others of addressing your roofing issues, and hiring the wrong one may lead to further issues rather than a solution. You may even incur more expensive repair costs in the future because the contractor did not adequately fix the problem, or the repair did not last as long as expected. Knowing which questions to ask a specialty contractor will help you to formulate your decision. Example questions include:

  • What buildings similar to mine have you worked on?
  • What problems similar to mine have you resolved in the past?
  • What do your customers say about you?
  • Can you solve all of my building’s problems, or will I have to hire multiple contractors for this job?

Don’t think all contractors offer the same level of dependability. Will your contractor honor their warranty? Will they be in business for the duration of the warranty? Will they come back to make repairs if necessary? People lose money all too often because they hire unreliable contractors. Also, be sure to choose a contractor that won’t run away from problems.

Most of all make sure that you and your organization receive the protection and security you deserve. Ask them for the names and numbers of their past clients, then talk to those persons about their experiences with the contractor.

Don’t accept reactive communication plans. How, when, and why will your contractor communicate with you? What information will they provide you with and when will they give it to you over the course of the project? Do they have a plan? Will you have to track them down when you need something? Is the project on schedule? How is tenant disruption going to be kept to a minimum? You need to have all the information about the project at your fingertips so you can effectively communicate with your colleagues and occupants. You shouldn’t have to call the contractor for answers; you should already be in the know.

Don’t treat all possible solutions the same. When you receive proposals from multiple contractors, these are not identical solutions. There are factors like price, tenant affects, safety, materials, and schedule to consider. Make sure you understand these and how they impact you and your organization. One proposal may be more expensive than another, but the quality of the work might help to avoid future repair costs.

Williams is the content marketing manager at Western Specialty Contractors, a St. Louis, MO-based specialty contractor in building envelope and parking garage restoration working across the United States.

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  1. It really helped when you suggested making walkway paths for personnel when getting a roof replacement. The reason I bought my most recent house was how big it was, especially the living room and outdoor patio areas. However, this came with the responsibility of taking care of a large and expansive roof, and I wanted to do everything I can to make repairing it as easy as possible. I’ll take your advice and set up a proper walkway for the workers before getting it repaired by a roofing service.

  2. I really appreciate that you shared this amazing post with us, thanks for sharing and keep up the amazing work.

  3. I wish I had known earlier that poorly-maintained roofs can lead to open seams, splits, blistering, wrinkling, and crackling. My parents have always thought that we have a strong roof that can withstand anything, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as most of the shingles had already cracked. My father also volunteered to fix it, but I still think its best to call an experienced roofing contractor who can handle complicated repairs like this.

  4. Thanks for the detailed post! It’s important for home/commercial owners to have an idea on what to ask, might as well a checklist especially when they’re an amateur for it will take them costs and should make sure things will be going on the right and reliable direction.

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