Services & Maintenance: Aerial View

By Steven James
Published in the November 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

There are many reasons why facility managers might fail to perform inspections and maintenance of the roofs they oversee. For one, the roof is not visible during everyday activities, so the “out of sight, out of mind” adage might apply. Another reason might be that more immediate problems—like security and server room upkeep—push roof maintenance to the bottom of the priority list. Or, maybe the facility manager is rather new to the building and is not aware of the maintenance schedule mandated by the roofing manufacturer in order to comply with the warranty.

Whatever the reason, ignoring these important elements of roof care can be costly in the long run, especially if the roof starts leaking and building contents are damaged. Regular inspections and maintenance can not only prevent roof leaks and other problems, but they can also extend the life of the roof.

Most roofing manufacturers recommend inspections at least once or twice a year, especially before and after a season with harsh conditions such as winter. These inspections not only help to identify potential problem areas—such as water ponding after heavy rains or areas damaged by sleet or snow—but they can also expose areas that might be in need of frequent attention, such as caulking details and flashings.

When conducting inspections and maintenance, facility managers should be sure to check the manufacturer’s warranty to see what work can be performed by staff and what must be performed by an authorized roofing contractor. The warranty might also give recommendations on what the inspection and maintenance should cover and how regularly these activities should be completed.

Streamline With Technology

The paperwork and recordkeeping involved in roof inspections and maintenance can be tedious. Technology tools can be used to help streamline the processes involved with these activities.

Collecting information. The use of technology can help facility managers collect information easily and accurately from the day a building is first commissioned. Typically, the commissioning of a building is marked by the transfer of a vast amount of paper documents such as warranties, building plans, and maintenance guidelines. The cumbersome nature of these materials means the information does not always get filed as well as it should be.

A roofing asset management software program can collect this information into its database via a scanner, organize the data in a consistent format, and give the facility manager different options for accessing and cross referencing this information.

Other technological innovations help ongoing inspection and maintenance efforts as well. For instance, facility managers can use digital cameras to document problem areas while they are conducting an inspection of the roof. These photos can then be used to show before and after images of any problems and repairs.

Tablet PCs are another useful tool. By inputting notes into this small wireless computer, users do not have to take extensive notes by hand while on the roof. Some software programs for tablet PCs feature inspection templates to ensure that no important steps are forgotten.

Since both the digital photos and notes from a tablet PC can be downloaded into many software systems, there is no need to re-enter the information upon returning to the office after roof inspection.

Storing and accessing information. Being able to store this roofing information in a computer database means facility managers no longer have to track down paper documents and file folders. Instead, this information can be shared with appropriate parties by accessing the database. These programs can also track and flag scheduled inspections and maintenance milestones to remind facility managers when these activities are approaching.

The software can also format information in different ways,depending on the facility manager’s need. For instance, some asset management programs have a color-coded system to index roofing conditions. Taking into account its age as well as other factors, the program assigns each roof a condition index number ranging from zero to 100. Those with high scores are coded green for good condition, roofs in the middle range are coded yellow, and those with a low number are coded red. Users can look at numerous roofs at one time and quickly decide which ones need immediate attention.

Information can also be manipulated for tasks such as generating comparison budgets on the costs of roof replacement versus repairs.

Ken Fifelski, building envelope specialist at Kalamazoo-based Western Michigan University, uses an asset management software program to help him track 491 roof sections spread over 105 major buildings. Access to up to date, accurate information enables the university to do a better job maintaining its roofs, states Fifelski.

“Now we can use this data to focus on roofs that are in poor condition, have warranty issues, or are in a crucial, sensitive area,” he explains. “By making more informed decisions, we are able to react faster to potential problems and extend the lives of the roofs.”

Reporting information. Many software programs also offer report generating features that go beyond a typical PowerPoint presentation. These programs can produce high quality documents, including marked-up CAD drawings, digital photographs, budget estimates, and completed inspection reports. This information can then be shared with associates via e-mail, hard copy, or a secured Web site.

Vernon Laumann, construction contract supervisor at the University of Maryland in College Park, knows firsthand the benefit of producing easy to read, detailed reports. Laumann is responsible for the condition of 260 roofs, all varying in age and make of materials. He uses a roofing asset management program to produce condition reports on these roofs.

“Being able to incorporate items such as digital pictures in the reports gives my clients a better understanding of what is going on with the roof—especially those clients who can’t go up on the roofs to see for themselves,” Laumann explains. Armed with this detailed information, his clients can make informed decisions about roofing repair or replacement issues.

Use The Tools

With the availability of technology tools such as asset management software programs, tablet PCs, and digital cameras, facility managers find it is much easier to conduct regular roof inspection and maintenance activities. By performing these activities on a regular basis, they can avoid unnecessary roof repairs and replacements and extend the lives of the roofs under their supervision.

James is president of Digital Facilities Corporation. Based in Acton, MA, the company offers integrated software solutions, consulting, and online services to building owners and facility managers, service providers (contractors, consultants, and distributors), and product manufacturers. For more information, call (905) 844-3300 or visit