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Water: Public Enemy No. 1 for Commercial Roofs
July 1, 2016 - Roofing
By Anthony Vross
Breaking it down to its core, the roof is essentially a waterproofing mechanism for an institutional and commercial building. The basic expectation is that a roof will keep building occupants dry and the building’s contents protected.
Virtually any type of roofing system does its job on a dry day, but enter some rain into the picture and that’s when problems can be exposed.
How nervous do you as a facility manager or maintenance and engineering get on a rainy day? How confident are you that your roof will hold up in a heavy rainstorm, that drainage is clear and functioning, inventory and equipment inside the building are protected, and that your business operations will not be interrupted because of a leak?
Water is the silent enemy of a roof system, and whether its impact is swift and debilitating or slower to form and recognize, both can be equally as damaging.
To the roof system itself, water can damage roof decks, adversely affect seam performance, corrode fasteners and destroy insulation. But that’s literally just scratching the surface. Water’s potential impact goes much deeper than that, so it’s critical to maintain a watertight roof.
Let’s go into the more common ways water can wreak havoc on your building, and how to guard against it.
Water that ponds on a roof and doesn’t drain off in less than 48 hours can be a sign of a drainage problem that needs to be addressed. Roof systems are not designed to hold water. Even flat roofs contain a slight slope to maintain positive drainage. Water that ponds on a roof can accelerate deterioration of a roof’s membrane and shorten its remaining useful life. Excessive ponding can attract insects, mold or vegetation; cause structural damage to the building up to and including a roof collapse; and, in many cases, void a warranty.
Check for obvious signs of clogged drains like tree branches or debris that can be easily removed. After that, call a qualified roofing technician to diagnose and repair the problem before it turns catastrophic.
Once insulation gets wet, it goes from being an insulator saving you money to a conductor costing you money. Energy losses caused by thermal resistance even from minor leaks can be as much as 70 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This means savings from heating and cooling bills that can be better spent protecting and extending the life of your roof.
When insulation gets saturated it’s nearly impossible to dry the trapped water and prevent the moisture from accumulating. Topside vents in these cases can cause more harm than good. Wet insulation can be a breeding ground for mold and insect infestation.
Wet insulation is typically not noticed until the damage has already been done, so the best defense against it — and the compounding problems it can create – is to be proactive with inspections and maintenance, catching sources of leaks early on and not letting them exacerbate. The relatively minor costs of repairs can save countless dollars from resulting consequential damage if left unrepaired.
Moisture and mold
Leakage from roofs is a common source of the water that’s been known to attract mold, bacteria, cockroaches and other insects that thrive on moisture to infest a building. The result is foul smells, sickness-inducing air quality, complaints from building occupants, code violations, loss of heating and cooling efficiency, and high costs to remediate the issue. When addressing mold- and insect-related issues it’s critical to identify, locate and repair the source of the leak to prevent it from reappearing.
Snow and ice damage to commercial roofs is all-too common in many U.S. climates. This occurs during freeze-and-thaw cycles or when ice dams form and cause drainage issues. When drainage pathways are impeded, the water sits or diverts to other areas of the roof that aren’t designed to handle it, which could result in leakage or accelerated deterioration of roofing materials.
Safely accessing a roof for snow and ice removal to clear drainage pathways is a skill that requires a trained service technician and specialized equipment.
In the broader category of consequential damage, water from roof leaks can cause structural damage to interior walls, ceilings, equipment and inventory and can even create hazardous working conditions that lead to slip-and-fall incidents involving employees or customers.
Slip-and-fall incidents can lead to injury, workers’ compensation claims and expensive liability lawsuits. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers in 2014 show more than 220,000 cases involving slips, trips and falls, and workers’ compensation analyses show that 15-20 percent of claims are from slip and fall incidents. Furthermore, settlements and payouts in lawsuits for water-related cases can easily exceed $1 million.
While the damage can vary greatly, one thing remains consistent — it’s important to not let even minor roof leaks go unrepaired. Address them immediately. In almost all cases, small leaks can lead to significant damage. The trick is to catch them – and fix them – early and immediately.
When you hire a commercial roofing company to fix an obvious leak, they should also be looking for and addressing other problem areas that are clearly apparent. It’s a lot less expensive to pay for the additional time to make those repairs while they’re already there, as opposed to the time and expense of a follow-up service call. Or worse yet, the much Whigher costs that the resulting water damage can cause if left unaddressed.
Anthony Vross is a co-owner of Simon Roofing, a national roofing contractor and manufacturer that was recently named among the largest roofing contractors in the United States.