Roofing: High-Level Decisions
Few areas of facilities have suffered more from the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality toward maintenance than roofing systems. But despite their remoteness, few areas of facilities pose as many complex problems should they fail.
A leaky roof can damage other components of the building envelope, not to mention a facility’s HVAC, lighting and electrical systems. More alarmingly, roof leaks can disrupt or even halt facility operations — an especially important consideration when the facility in question is a hospital.
“One big red flag is who occupies the area underneath the roof,” says Gary Minor, who oversees building envelope repairs for Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, which has 24 buildings and 540,000 square feet of roofs. “If it’s a patient care area, it’s a very high priority.”
Waiting for a roof to leak, however, is begging for trouble, Increasingly, managers are taking a far more strategic and proactive approach to roofing system management. Many have implemented and fine-tuned roofing management programs. Routinely, they gather and analyze data on roof conditions and repair costs, and they work with peers and manufacturers to stay abreast of advances in roofing systems.
So when the time comes to decide whether to repair, recover or replace a roof, they have data in hand to make their case.
Roofing Management Evolves
Roofing systems traditionally have been among the most neglected areas of facilities, as few organizations put much time or effort into inspecting or maintaining them. Generally, post-installation roof maintenance involved responding to reports of leaks, making the repair and minimizing the internal damage. Minor says that 1974, his first year in maintenance, was a much different time.
“There was no management of any type of roofing system,” he says.
But as managers in many of the nation's public school districts will readily attest, this “out of sight, out of mind” mentality has had dire consequences, primarily in the form of dilapidated structures, disrupted internal operations, and huge backlogs of deferred maintenance.
Driven by the need to protect an organization’s in-place assets and to ensure smooth internal operations, managers today are much more attuned to the crucial role of roofing system management in organizational success.
“Maintaining the integrity of the building envelope is the most important part of what I do,” says Rich Hertlein, manager of engineering and maintenance at Cincinnati’s Bethesda North Hospital.
To keep roofs and other elements of building envelopes performing as intended, managers have revisited, rethought and refined their roof management programs, changing and adding elements as needed.
Technology, for example, has brought many advances to the effort to maximize roofing-system performance. Infrared thermography enables workers to get a more complete picture of roof conditions and, in particular, potentially damaging moisture that is present but hidden inside and behind roofing-system components.
Also, maintenance management software enables workers to enter specific information on roof repairs and costs into a database, where managers can analyze it and prepare reports on their findings when recommending whether to repair, recover or replace a roof.
To complement these high-tech advances, many managers continue to rely on physical inspections, or walk-downs, of roofing areas to get a better feel for roof conditions. David McCormick, structural services manager at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says that at least once each year, he walks the roofs of 150 campus buildings, with a total of 10 million square feet. Visual inspections often give give managers the opportunity to survey problems themselves and judge the true condition of a roof.
Staying on Top
Strategies for inspecting and repairing roofing systems tend to vary, partly by the size of the organization and the corresponding size of the roof area. MIT, for example, employees two full-time roofers who conduct inspections and carry out repairs.
“Having those two has been a big help,” McCormick says, because they give the department the ability to uncover small problems before they become larger and to respond quickly when needed. "That saves a lot of money down the line.
“We also tend to use contractors with experience working in and around MIT,” he says. “We rely on their experience a lot.”
Bethesda North Hospital in Cincinnati is a smaller organization, with about 20 buildings. Hertlein says he tends to rely more on outside help to monitor the overall condition of his facilities’ roofing systems.
“We don't use a roofing consultant,” he says. “That would be good, but we don’t have the money, so we rely on the contractor or the vendor.”
Whoever performs the repairs, time is if the essence when leaks threaten facility operations, especially those leaks occur in areas that are central to an organization’s operations and revenue.
“We react differently depending on the location of the leak,” Hertlein says. “We'll patch an office building roof, but if the leak is over a surgical suite, we'll invest whatever we need to invest to take care of it.”
Making the Case
At some point, every manager faces a tough decision: Can a roof can continue being repaired, or — based on its age and condition and the cost to continue repairs — is it time to consider recovering or replacing it?
In such instances, facility executives require that managers make a solid case and prove investing in a recovery or replacement will have a short payback period.
Because organizations have over the years realized the value of a sound roofing systems, many have been persuaded to undertake regular roof replacement programs.
For example, MIT generally recovers or replaces five to seven roofs annually, and Bethesda North Hospital has had an “aggressive” roof replacement program in place for the last 11 years, Hertlein says.
In most organizations, it is the maintenance and engineering manager who must make the case to have a particular roof included in the capital projects schedule. In most cases, the argument is fairly straightforward.
“We tell them that there will be fewer day-to-day repairs, and that’s a good selling point,” McCormick says. “Nobody wants to be leaked on.” In many cases, it is not necessarily the tough sell it once was.
“It’s less difficult to get capital dollars to replace a roof than it is for some other items,” Hertlein says, because bottom-line-intensive executives today have a better understanding of the importance of roofs that perform as intended. And a recent development also has helped managers in making this case.
“These days, it’s a little easier with the specter of mold,” Hertlein says. “We all know what happens when you have mold.”
In several high-profile cases, schools have been closed down and costly investigations and renovations undertaken to rid buildings of potentially harmful mold. In many cases, the problem has been traced to roofing systems and building envelopes that allowed moisture to enter the facility.
And in a growing number of cases, managers have been able to extend their case even further by prompting facilities executives and others to consider roofing systems when making decisions elsewhere in the organization.
“When people put in new roofing systems, they have to look down the line for equipment that might be up there in the future,” McCormick says. Asking those types of questions early in the planning stages is likely to head off some roofing problems before they can even begin.
Even when such discussions take place, however, savvy managers are likely to avoid looking too far into the future when it comes to roofing system management.
Says McCormick, “Roofs aren’t going to last forever. You have to have a systematic approach.”
Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA)
National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA)
Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA)
Roof Coatings Manufacturers Association (RCMA)
Roof Consultants Institute (RCI)
Single-Ply Roofing Institute (SPRI)