Roof Replacement: Consider Safety Hazards, Impact on Occupants
Managers must consider two additional, but less measurable, factors in the replace-or-maintain decision — safety hazards and the negative impact that roof condition has on building occupants, who too often are left out of any financial analysis.
No one will argue the importance of safety. Old, worn-out, defective roofs are a hazard to those working on them and to building occupants underneath. But unless an accident has occurred, facility professionals tend to not give this factor enough consideration when debating the need for roof replacement.
Though a roof contributes an average of only 5 percent to a building's construction cost, it is by far the most litigated component of a commercial or institutional building.
Consider a study by the Educational Writers Association, which found that one-fourth of the nation's school buildings were inadequate, obsolete or downright dangerous, and that school budgets generally do not provide enough money to make a dent in the problem. Researchers report a correlation between the poor physical condition of schools and low test scores.
It is not too far-fetched to blame a part of this situation on structural problems, such as roof leaks, because so many districts face problems with large amounts of deferred maintenance. When districts cut capital-improvement budgets, by far the primary target is the roof. Whether a leaky roof is a nuisance or a major safety hazard, its condition says something about the organization.
Should a manager wait until leaks become intolerable — until the roof has failed — before starting to make the case for roof replacement? The most cost-effective option for roof replacement is the trouble-avoidance option. Avoiding future problems reduces risks and long-term roofing costs.
Roof replacement should take place long before leaks become a regular occurrence. By planning a roof replacement before the system fails, managers can realize significant cost savings in two other ways.
First, early planning for replacement might allow for overlaying the first roof, which avoids tear-off costs related to the existing roof. This option might not always be available because of potential restrictions, such as code or structural requirements or flashing height limits.
But when overlaying is an option, it can generate significant cost savings. A tear-off of an existing roof can add $2-4 per square foot to the replacement project. This figure easily could double when the project requires interior protection to keep debris from falling into the building.
Second, early planning for replacement can prevent damage to the roof's structural deck. Delays in roof replacement can allow water to damage the deck, and managers too often neglect to consider costs associated with a deteriorating structural deck until replacement is under way. Deck replacement costs can be significant — typically about $46 per square foot. Again, the type of interior protection required can drive up the cost significantly.