Put a Lid on It

There’s no sound as calming as the pitter-patter of a gentle rain… unless that rain is falling inside your building. A well-maintained roof is joy forever, or at least 20 to 30 years. But weather events, poor installation or physical traffic shorten the life of your roof and sometimes result in failure. What are your options when it’s time to re-roof?

Full-on roof replacement, where the existing roof system is torn off to the deck and rebuilt, is rare and, frankly, undesirable.“The building is open to the elements during the work and, because you can only expose small areas at a time, the job takes a lot longer,” says David Wildes, project architect at the Venice campus of Manatee Community College in Venice, Fla. He should know. Wildes has been battling two 15-year-old roofs that have failed prematurely. When leaks continued to breach patch after patch, Wildes opted to recover the two buildings.

Recovering is the addition of new membrane or system over an existing roof. It can be as relatively simple and inexpensive as applying a new coating.“Recoating is a seamless system,” explains Guy Vance, president, Roof-Tek in Brookfield, Wis. “It can fix leaks, add insulation and help save energy.” A standard warrantee for a recoating is 10 years. “If well maintained, it can last 20 to 30 years,” says Vance. “Some customers have us come in and recoat every 10 years for about one-third of the original price.”

Recovering can also be more complex. Wildes chose to recover his two building with a new metal roof system. Installed over the existing metal roof, this system matched the campus’ existing architecture well. “The job took between two to three months,” says Wildes. “The good part was we didn’t have to close the buildings down during the work.”

Leaks remain the most obvious reason to recover a building. “Many people don’t pay any attention to a roof until it leaks, and that’s a bad thing,” says Mark Munley, division manager of Corporate Marketing, Firestone Building Products Company in Indianapolis. “Good roof maintenance demands inspection at least twice a year. Smart owners also check up on roofs after major weather events.”

Although the elements wreak significant havoc, the biggest problem remains third-party tradespeople working on your roof. “New skylights or air-conditioning units that aren’t flashed correctly represent key problem areas,” reports Ray Heisey, senior sales manager for Roofs and Self-Storage, Butler Manufacturing Company in Kansas City, Mo.

What to Look For

Things to look out for when checking a roof are: pooling water, clogged drainage, premature wearing, puncturing or membranes pulling away. Munley advises paying special attention to elevation changes, any penetrated areas and the perimeter of the building. “Anywhere water can puddle is a problem,” he says. “In our educational programs, we always emphasize that a little slope is a wonderful thing.”

Water breaching the roof represents an obvious reason to recover. There are, however, other reasons. Lucky is the college that can re-roof for strictly aesthetic reasons. A more pressing factor may be meeting local codes, specifically ones that emphasize a Cool Roof Initiative. For instance, California’s Title 24, Part 6 demands nonresidential, low-sloped roofs meet minimum initial solar reflectance. Chicago is another area of the country considering legislating Cool Roof codes.

The Cool Roofs Initiative

What is so innovative about a Cool Roof? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 90 percent of U.S. roofs are dark-colored and, therefore, low-reflectance. These roofs can reach temperatures of 150° to 190°F and contribute to many environmental ills, such as high energy bills, higher demands on the power grid, increased air pollution and accelerated deterioration of roofing materials which eventually end up in landfills.

Cool Roofs, according to the EPA, help solve these problems with their combinations of high solar reflectance, where solar energy is reflected by the surface, and high thermal emittance, where energy is radiated after it absorbed. Monitoring 10 buildings in California and Florida showed a 20 to 70 percent savings in annual cooling energy use.

How can you know if a roof is Cool? The Energy Star program, which promotes energy-efficient goods like dishwashers and windows, expanded to roofing products in 1999. Roof products that meet solar reflectance criteria and still hold up to quality and performance guidelines proudly wear an Energy Star logo.

Cool Roofs, however, also include emissivity as part of the criteria. To accurately and credibly monitor both reflectance and emissivity, the Cool Roof Rating Council was created in 1998. This nonprofit, educational organization puts its Product Rating Program at its core. In addition to rating a product’s initial reflectance and emissivity, they are also evaluating three-year-aged results. This is significant because “as quickly as a year later roofs get dirty and can lose up to 50 percent of their reflective and emissive effectiveness,” says Heisey.

And that’s not Cool.