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Maintenance and engineering managers face a tough choice when deciding whether to repair, recover or replace an existing roofing system. To make the smartest choice, managers need to gather a great deal of information and address key issues related to these complex and big-ticket systems.
They need to gather critical information on the existing system, they need to understand budget, staffing, and organizational issues, and they need to figure out which option best meets the needs of the facility, the department and the organization.
The first step for managers in deciding whether to repair, recover or replace a roof is to visually check four deterioration sources: flashing, membrane, systems, and external. Roof system distresses are complex.
For example, the roof’s age. The optimum age for repair instead of recovering or replacement depends on factors that include heat, cold, storms, wind, membrane type and condition, maintenance history, ponds, rust, fungus, mildew, patching, debris, deteriorated equipment supports, and leaky flashing and penetrations. External deterioration includes debris backups and damage to gutters, downspouts and walls.
All of these conditions can expose the roof to ultraviolet rays that shorten membrane life and expose occupants to unhealthy mold. A roof with many solar panels cooling and air handling units, and intake and exhaust fans often experience more foot traffic from repair personnel. This stress can shorten the roof’s life span unless managers install walkways or plan more frequent roof maintenance to repair seam separation, separated or insufficient penetration sleeves, and punctures.
If a manager decides to assess the condition of a roof’s insulation, technicians use destructive or non-destructive testing. Destructive core sampling involves the removal of a sample of the roofing and weighing it wet and dry to measure the amount of retained moisture, then replacing and sealing the core. While core sampling is used in areas subject to leaks, non-destructive portable infrared sampling can cover the entire roof.
A grid system marks the location of problems so the repair team can locate them. Once a preliminary assessment of squares in the grid reveals distress, the technician does more thorough testing of the distressed squares to determine the distress’s extent and severity.
Technicians record the distress type, location, severity and quantity. The type, age, high distress quantity and high severity yields a roof condition index.
The best way to ensure crucial roof condition information is recorded is to have a work order history system in place. Managers can search the history database for all roof work and gather the hours worked, hourly rate, and add the material to get total cost. Contractor invoices from the finance department are the source of their total repair cost. By using trend analysis and forecasting, managers can predict, based on history, what future costs are likely to be within +/- 5 percent with 95 percent confidence.
Another critical component in the repair-recover-replace decision for a roof system is the ability of in-house maintenance and engineering departments to handle some or all of the work.
Budgeting for such a project depends on preparation. Warranty coverage or an expense account line item funded for roof emergencies covers budgeting for emergencies.
In the case of insurance, managers should get a work scope and cost proposal in writing from the contractor agreed to by the insurance provider when considering the project. This avoids misunderstanding or the owner paying the difference between the contractor’s price and the insurance paid. Managers can estimate routine annual repairs based on history.
Two options to staff the work are in-house and contractor. In the case of a natural disaster, many owners in an area compete for the available contractors. Even with out-of-town help, this competition can cause delays. If managers opt to use in-house employees, they will need to defer some regular work while the technicians focus on the roof. Even if in-house personnel have the skills needed for the project, the department still might need some contractor help.
Managers should develop an emergency plan, including recovery, and update it annually. They should contact a contractor before disaster strikes to determine contractor availability as part of the emergency plan and move quickly during recovery to get contractor commitments. Some warranties might restrict who can do the repair work to only the installer, so using others voids the warranty.
As a check to evaluate bids, managers can obtain estimates of organization and staffing required from square-foot cost data handbooks, which list both hours required and cost and are updated annually.
Thomas A. Westerkamp is a maintenance and engineering management consultant and president of the work management division of Westerkamp Group LLC.
Repair, Recover or Replace? Making the Smartest Roofing Decision