Facilities (Campus Spaces)

A Prescription for Healthy Roofs



Maintaining the roof on a building or facility can be an arduous task for any building owner or property manager. The roof, often the first line of defense against the elements, is an important structure that must be carefully monitored and maintained to protect the overall integrity of the building. Leaks in roofs are often difficult to track down and can lead to damage to interior finishes, unhappy occupants, and costly repairs.

Roofing materials such as TPO, EPDM, PVC, and BUR modified bitumen are all vulnerable to damage in any geographical location from such environmental stressors as organic debris, vegetation growth, ponding water, freeze and thaw, winds, rain, ice, and sun. Other contributors to premature roof failure can include poor craftsmanship, improper flashing, clogged or leaking downspouts, damage by other contractors, manufacturer defects, and a range of other circumstances.

When roofs are not maintained properly, open seams, splits, blistering, wrinkling, and cracking can result, which can lead to expensive damage to a building’s interior and exterior, if not identified and repaired promptly.

Inspections Are Recommended

A thorough roof inspection by an experienced roofing professional at least twice a year is recommended, preferably in the spring and fall, and throughout the year by in-house maintenance staff. It is also important to inspect the roof after severe weather, such as hail, heavy rains, or high winds, to check for any roof damage. Snow cover may limit the inspection window in northern climates, while roof inspections in southern states should be avoided during the hot summers in order to protect workers.

A great way to begin a roof preventative maintenance program is to create a file of all records related to that roof, which may include warranties, repairs, and maintenance; past inspections; and original drawings and specifications for the building.

Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the preventative maintenance program is to get the maximum service life out of the roof, for the least possible cost. Keeping accurate records of each roof’s history is vital to its overall health and longevity. In addition to proper maintenance, the longevity of a roof also depends on the type of system used and its warranty.

Be sure to receive the manufacturer’s warranty and operations and maintenance manual from the roofing contractor, along with the roofing contractor’s workmanship warranty at the end of the project. Let the roofing contractor educate maintenance techs on proper roofing maintenance after a new roof is installed in order to maintain its warranty after the contractor workmanship warranty has expired. It is also important to know if there are any details excluded by the warranty, and what actions (or lack of action) could cause the warranty to be voided.

Basic Measures for a Healthy Roof

There are several basic preventative measures that facility managers/owners can perform throughout the year to extend the life of a roof and deter water infiltration, including:

  • Removing debris such as leaves, branches, dirt, and trash from gutters, scuppers, downspouts, and drains to ensure proper water drainage.
  • Keeping metal roof components such as flashings, expansion joints, and pitch pockets in good working condition by replacing deteriorated sealants, painting rust, and making necessary repairs.
  • Maintaining rooftop equipment (satellite dishes, solar panels, air conditioners, skylights) and checking the roof after equipment service calls and repairs to make sure the roof wasn’t accidentally damaged in the process.
  • Repairing roof coatings and membranes damaged by spilled oils, grease, coolants, and other liquids.
  • Minimizing roof traffic by authorized personnel and installing walkway pads in high-traffic areas.
  • Performing moisture scans to find persistent roof leaks and prior to roof overlays.
  • Having a roof replacement schedule that extends 3 to 5 years.
  • Specifying higher-end roofs that will last longer and survive significant hail and wind events.
  • Trying to stick with one manufacturer and/or contractor to make for single-source contact points.

Making the Decision to Re-Roof

Roof leaks are often a nuisance for a building owner or property manager. Often difficult to track down, leaks can cause major damage to interior finishes. Those leaks can become a nightmare when a financial decision is made to replace the entire roof of the building... and the new one leaks.

Frequently, an exterior building restoration company will get a call to come out and try to resolve the leaks. The conversation usually starts with an explanation that this is a brand-new roof, that it has had issues from day one, and that the roofer has been out numerous times to satisfy the warranty… to no avail. The roofer now says that the problem is not the roof, but something else. That news may be hard for a building owner to accept—after all, it was probably a significant financial investment—but it’s very possible that the leak is coming from something besides the actual roof.

Most structures today are constructed out of many different materials that move at different rates. Marrying all of these components together is complex and, at the same time, can make the roof more vulnerable to errors and failure when re-roofing.

In roofing, details around penetrations at the parapet walls and around building systems are very critical to successful projects. Those are points where the majority of leaks occur. However, in a re-roofing project, even if all the details are done correctly, it may not be enough.

Often the materials located above those details has aged and weathered as well, leading to deterioration and allowing moisture through. That moisture then finds its way behind the newly installed roof.

It is important to review the condition of the building’s components that rise above the roof level, such as a penthouse, elevator shafts, stair towers, parapet walls, and coping, and to evaluate the parapet walls from both the interior and exterior. The most visible signs of potential avenues for water infiltration are broken/missing masonry, deteriorated mortar and sealant joints, deteriorated concrete, etc. Sometimes moisture can even penetrate what looks to be a solid wall, but it may actually be porous. If those signs exist, there is most likely a leak. Hiring a contractor with expertise in the full building envelope, in addition to roofing, will help solve these types of issues as quickly and painlessly as possible.

When such repairs need to be performed, it is extremely important that the new roof is well protected, and the original installer is notified. If the re-roofing project is just in the budgeting phase, it is important to evaluate those building components and make the repairs prior to installation of a new roof. It is not only the right way to do a re-roof, but the most cost-effective technique as well.

Tips for Choosing a New Roof and Contractor

There are several factors to consider when choosing a new roof, including the environment, weather conditions, slope, budget, building type, maintenance, and aesthetics. An experienced specialty roofing contractor will be able to make recommendations based on those factors and others that the owner may not have considered.

When a roof does need to be replaced, be sure to use a reputable bonded and insured contractor to install a roofing system that they are certified to install. Don’t assume all contractors have the same level of expertise and qualifications. Research a potential contractor’s expertise and qualifications by asking them questions and checking their company’s website. Some contractors are more capable of fixing specific problems than others and hiring the wrong one may lead to further issues rather than a solution.

More expensive repair costs may be incurred in the future if the contractor did not adequately fix the problem or the repair did not last as long as expected. Knowing which questions to ask a specialty contractor will help to formulate your decision. Ask them for the names and numbers of their past clients, then talk to those persons about their experiences with the contractor. There are many ways to determine a contractor’s expertise and qualifications, and doing so can save you a lot of money, time, and headaches.

It is important to be aware that roof value comes from many areas, not just price. Work with your specialty contractor to understand the differences in your options so you can make the best decision for you and your facilities’ roofs.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management April/May 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.