By Steve Fountaine
Winter weather can wreak havoc for facility management teams. Snow, freezing rain, hail, and wind all pose significant threats to a building’s roof — even one that looks like it is in good repair. Roof damage can cost a facility manager thousands of dollars, and it can become a safety concern, too. When inspecting facilities as the winter comes to a close, make sure to check out these five potential issues.
1. Flashing Leaks: The sheet metal that covers the joints in a roof is called flashing. It helps prevent water damage — especially during heavy rain or snow. Different roofs will have flashing in different areas, but flashing is usually found around corners, like on skylights or dormers. If a leak is suspected, or if it’s been a hard winter, it may be worth checking the flashing to make sure there are no leaks. These leaks can be easily fixed if the holes are small or there is minimal corrosion. Roofing cement can be utilized to patch small holes. However, anything larger than 1/2″ in diameter should be checked by a professional and replaced as soon as possible. Since this is a problem that can be repaired when caught early, it is vital to check for problems often.
2. Ice Dams: These formations are very typical of residential structures, but may occur on commercial buildings as well. When heat escapes through the attic in winter, it can heat the roof decking. Then, a layer of ice will form on the roof itself, preventing ice and snow from draining from the roof properly. Water can become trapped beneath the ice layer and damage the shingles on the roof, too. Checking the roof for loose shingles and unexplained ice patches is the key to finding ice dams early. To prevent this from happening, the attic must be properly ventilated and insulated. Weatherproof shingles can be a smart investment to protect the roof surface as well.
3. Condensation: Indoor condensation is a serious problem in the attic or on the top floor of multi-story buildings. When the cold roof meets the warm air inside, condensation can occur. Water droplets on windows or inside the attic signal a condensation problem. Condensation is cause for concern, not just for the roof, but for the entire structure of the building. Condensation can cause mold and mildew that leads to remediation treatments or could potentially cause the need to rebuild. Checking the structure inside and out on a monthly basis — in summer and winter — can help in making certain there are no condensation issues, and adding quality insulation is an investment that helps prevent future problems from occurring.
4. Leaks In and Around Chimneys: Like any other part of a building, chimneys are prone to problems. Make sure they are inspected on a regular basis. This may mean investigating them from the outside with in-house staff, but hiring a professional to clean and inspect them from the inside. Not only will this help to prevent damage from winter weather, but it can also prevent the backflow of dangerous gasses if the building burns wood or uses other types of natural heating processes. A leaky chimney may not be evident at first since the leak could flow into the flue or elsewhere, but the damage is often as severe as any other type of leak. It is vital that these are monitored for damage and repaired on a regular basis.
5. Plumbing Vent Boots: The plumbing vent boot can be made of many different materials. There are plastic boots, metal boots, and units made of both materials. If a plastic unit is cracked or a metal unit is rotted or has a broken seam, there is a chance that water can enter the building along the pipe. Any problem like this means that the pipe must be replaced. There are also other, smaller issues, such as missing or loose screws that can simply be fixed. When inspecting a roof for leaks or missing shingles, staff should spend a few moments checking out the plumbing boots.
By knowing what to look for in terms of roof damage this winter, facility management staff can help to ensure their roofs remains in good shape. When the snow melts and the temperatures rise, begin yearly maintenance and put in a bit of extra protection so that there may be even less to worry about next year.
Fountaine is the owner of Premiere Works, a service firm offering commercial roof repair, construction, contracting, build outs, and building renovations. The company services clients in Washington D.C., southern Maryland, and northern Virginia.