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Facility Maintenance Decisions

Maintenance that Extends Roof Life





By Jeff Evans   Roofing

FEW ORGANIZATIONS have the luxury of roofing funds flow like water. Most maintenance and engineering managers face the quandary of too many problem roofs for the money available. The problem might well be a lack of money, but it could also be the lack of a coherent roof management plan.

Most managers in commercial and institutional facilities agree that regular inspections are an essential part of a roof asset management program. They also recognize and agree with the basic roof management tenet that regular inspections and routine maintenance reduce ownership costs, reduce leak frequency and severity, extend roof life, and reduce management inefficiencies.

But, in practice, by the time many organizations think about starting a roof-management plan, they need a roof-replacement program. The obligation to fund and implement roof replacements has supplanted the opportunities to maintain and repair. If organizations can extend the life of each built-up roof under management one year, they break even on the roof-management plan costs. If they can extend each roof by two or three years, the plan can reduce roof expenditures by a multiple of its costs.

So why don’t all organizations have a viable inspection and maintenance plan for their built-up roofs? Is it inertia or a fear of the unknown? The reasons are hard to fathom, but what is certain is that some plans never get started. Also certain is that even a minimal plan is better than no plan. The best advice for managers is to start now.

Focus on Built-up

Many common elements exist between various generic roof types. Each type has distinct aging characteristics and develops different defects over time. The defects an inspector finds in built-up roofing are different from those found in an EPDM rubber roof. Managers must develop a plan that targets the specific needs of the organization’s built-up roofs. The sidebar below lists several common conditions that can affect a built-up roof’s long-term performance.

Getting Started

The temptation in beginning a roofing program is to jump right in and start filling pitch pans. This step would be a definite improvement over no roof management effort at all. But the best first step is for managers to take an inventory of built-up roofs under their care. This inventory begins with developing a historical file for each roof that includes these pieces of information about each roof:

  • date of installation
  • installing contractor
  • roof system manufacturer
  • existence and duration of warranties
  • type of roof membrane, insulation and roof deck
  • leak history, including any warranty claims and their resolution
  • repair history, dates, type and cost of repairs.

Roof Assessment

With all of the roof information in place, the next step is to get up on the roofs and perform a condition assessment. No built-up roof can be managed appropriately without first knowing its history and then understanding its current condition. Managers can obtain current roof condition by scheduling roof inspections or surveys. The person performing visual roof surveys should be familiar with the design, installation, repair and types of failure specific to the roofing system being surveyed. Whether surveys are done by in-house staff or contracted to a consultant depends on the technical competence and availability of resources. In-house personnel who have had training in inspection, diagnosis and repair can perform limited overview surveys.

A roof survey should include: an examination of roof membrane, flashings, sheet metal flashings, drains, and gutters; an evaluation of observed conditions that might impact the roof system’s long-term performance; documentation of deficiencies requiring corrective action; and development of long-range preventive maintenance (PM) needs.

Survey documentation should consist of a written report or checklist, photographs, and notes on a roof plan indicating conditions observed. The roof plan should supply enough data to facilitate performance of the required repairs. Several checklists are available for documenting conditions observed during a survey, but these checklists sometimes fall short of conveying all conditions assessed over the long term.

Survey Frequency

How often an organization needs to perform various tasks associated with a built-up roof PM program depends on the roof’s age and condition, environmental influences, rooftop traffic, occupancy sensitivity, size and roof accessibility. The following guidelines can help determine the frequency of the tasks.

Perform comprehensive visual roof surveys semi-annually. But for large built-up roof areas in good condition and limited rooftop traffic, managers can schedule a survey each spring. A limited overview survey in the fall ensures integrity before winter.

Conduct warranty surveys before a contractor’s or manufacturer’s warranty expires. This step allows the repair of any covered deficiency before the expiration of the contractor or manufacturer’s possible monetary obligations.

Perform monthly housekeeping surveys on most roof areas. Surveys help identify potential problems. In some cases, managers might need to increase the frequency of surveys. For example, during the fall, roofs adjacent to trees might require that crews remove vegetation weekly.

Schedule corrective repairs soon after the survey. Delaying corrective repairs allows small problems to become more expensive and difficult to repair.

Conduct roof moisture surveys every three years unless conditions exist that warrant more frequent surveys or moisture is present in the roof system. Perform the baseline survey before a contractor’s warranty expires so repairs can be covered. In any case, the first roof-moisture survey should be performed within the first two to three years after installation.

Perhaps the most important goal of all is to avoid having a built-up roof replaced before its design life is reached or having to perform emergency repairs at the least opportune time. To avoid letting a good roof sit neglected and doomed to early failure, managers can begin the effort with a well-devised roof inspection and maintenance plan for built-up roofs.

Targeting Trouble Spots

Built-up roofs present specific challenges for roofing inspectors, including these:

  • loss of felt or asphalt surfacing, gravel, and aluminum coating
  • felt erosion or loss of plies
  • alligatoring and brittleness
  • membrane damage, such as punctures and cuts
  • membrane defects, including blisters, splits and ridges
  • flashings aging, splits, open laps, racheting and slippage
  • poorly sealed flashing terminations.

Inspectors also need to review all low-sloped roofs for:

  • underfilled pitch pans
  • clogged or restricted drainage
  • debris or sharp objects
  • chemical exhaust
  • collapsed, wet or damaged insulation
  • insufficient fastening of sheet metal copings, gravel stops and counterflashings
  • poorly sealed flashing terminations.

— Jeff Evans


Jeff Evans is vice president of Benchmark Inc. a provider of professional roof consulting services headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is a registered roof consultant (RRC) and has 23 years of experience in the roofing industry.




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  posted on 3/1/2005   Article Use Policy

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