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Zombie Roofs: Reasons Roof Failure Is Ignored

By Karen Warseck, Contributing Editor - January 2013 - Roofing


Across the nation, there are roofs that have turned into zombies. You know the kind — a roof that died long ago but lingers on waiting until the economy improves enough for you to accumulate the money to replace it. If you have a zombie roof, it will eat your brains because you live in fear that the next big rainstorm will bring a flurry of irate phone calls and emails. It's up to facility managers to understand the reasons for zombie roofs — the reasons roof failure is ignored.

What turns a roof into a zombie? It's easy to blame the economy for the lack of funds to replace the roof, but there may be more subtle, insidious forces at work.

One issue is denial. A zombie roof may still be a young one — failures at five years or less are not unknown. The financial decision-makers believe there is no way a five-year-old roof should need replacement. And so the zombie lies in wait, ready for the first storm to bring a shower of complaints from tenants.

Another problem is that a zombie roof may not yet be visibly decomposed and so can still pass for a living entity. As a result, the facility manager is unaware that the roof has exceeded its useful life.

Finally, there is the zombie in disguise. It's the one that has been patched, re-covered, coated and otherwise layered so much that the actual state of the roof is unknown, even though there is the zombie lurking underneath ready to surface.

Zombies give themselves away in various ways, like files full of work orders and tenant complaints. But the most accurate way to spot a zombie is to use economics.

Determine what the cost would be for a new roof on a facility and divide that by the number of years a roof is likely to last, generally 15 to 20. This number is the yearly cost of a roof. Add up all of the repair charges and the cost of repairing interior damage to the building and contents. If the first is less than the second, you have a zombie.

Incidentally, if you have to justify the cost of a roof replacement to another party, going through this exercise is a powerful argument in favor of a new roof. When the building owner or asset manager realizes it is costing more to keep the zombie in place than it would to replace it, it can help change their mind about trying to eke just one more year out of it.





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