For too many FMs, roofs are a prime example of “out of sight, out of mind.” But maintenance is vitally important if you want to keep the rest of your building in good shape.
Don’t make emergency spending for roof repairs a habit. Use your budget wisely and perform inspections and preventive repairs to avoid big expenditures. Get a handle on roof maintenance with this guide to keeping your roof in good health.
Why Maintenance Matters
Regular roof inspection and maintenance helps you save money, time and headaches in four ways:
1) More time between replacements. The biggest reason to maintain your roof is that it extends the roof’s life, which offers multiple advantages. Roof technologies have improved considerably over the last few decades, so it’s not unreasonable to expect a lifetime of at least 20 years from a properly installed and maintained roof. Without maintenance, the expected lifetime is more like 10-15 years – and if you’re planning to occupy your building longer than that, the cost of re-covering or replacing your roof 5-10 years early will add up quickly.
2) Avoid structural damage. Roof leaks lead to rusted steel or rotting wood that can compromise your facility’s structural integrity, requiring a costly fix.
3) Preserve your building’s interior. The contents of your building are probably worth more than the cost of a roof repair. What happens if water drips on a computer or server rack in your facility and it shorts out? How much data could you lose? Material damage and the cost of lost opportunities can both be avoided by keeping your roof leak-free with maintenance.
4) Reduced hassle and liability. When water comes in, the typical solution is to put out trash cans to catch the drips. But containers clog hallways, and in a retail setting, they present an extra obstacle for shoppers. Overflow or drips that have missed the trash can create a slippery surface that increases the risk of personal injury, which could result in a costly lawsuit if someone slips in the puddle and gets hurt.
A lack of leaks also means fewer leak calls, making your life easier and allowing you to budget for planned roof maintenance instead of wasting money responding to emergencies.
Design a Real Maintenance Program
Too many FMs rely on a “fix things when they break” mentality, which isn’t a maintenance program at all. Preventive maintenance programs are a step up as their aim is to discover problems before they cause failures and fix them early. But for the best possible results, institute a roof asset management (RAM) program, which combines preventive maintenance and inspections with corrective action to keep the same problem from recurring.
For example, you might realize your roof has seen quite a few leaks around your HVAC equipment from foot traffic and mechanics dropping tools. You would catch the damage during a regular inspection and fix it before it caused a major failure, but you also might put down some walk pads in the affected area to prevent future damage.
RAM programs also incorporate planning for future re-roofing and replacement – you might plan to get 25 years out of your new roof, so you would start budgeting for a replacement 25 years in the future. If the roof is still sound after 25 years, you obviously don’t have to replace it right away, but in the meantime you’ve already started to develop funding. This is vital – roofs can cost $10 to $20 per square foot, and when you measure the size of your roof, the total cost can be shocking. Replacing a 10,000-square-foot roof could run $100,000 or more.
Planning ahead to replace the roof helps spread out the expenses and ensures that you can afford the replacement when you need it. Sometimes during snowy seasons, contractors will offer good rates on roofing work just to keep their crews busy and maintain a cash flow into their business, so if you’re able to plan for this well ahead of time, you can take advantage of better prices.
To start incorporating a RAM strategy, you first need to make sure your roof is maintainable – see “8 Elements of a Maintainable Roof” at right to determine whether your roof fits into this category. Next, make sure your crew is up to date on training and development. Anyone who works on the roof needs to have a basic understanding of roof materials and technologies.
After everyone is up to speed, conduct an initial roof assessment. This involves a detailed measurement of the roof – not just the perimeter, but also the locations of all penetrations, drains, rooftop equipment and anything else installed on the roof. Take at least two or three people with you – the first assessment takes two to five times as long as a normal inspection (though some of this time will be spent in your office putting together a roofing diagram and organizing the collected information) and it’s difficult to get accurate measurements with only one person. The assessment results will be valuable later.
The other advantage of this assessment is that it can help you flesh out information that might be missing from your roofing records. Take notes on the types of flashing, membranes and other components you find while conducting your assessment. Also mark any repairs you discover – they are potential sources of leaks.
Based on the information from the initial inspection, you can then start planning a repair project to fix any obvious defects you found on the roof. As the repairs are completed, keep track of what was fixed and when in your records. Refer back to this documentation whenever you do your regular inspections, which should be taken care of at least twice a year – as a rule of thumb, inspect your roof when the ducks fly south and again when they fly north. Newly installed roofs might need additional inspections – check your warranty to see how often the manufacturer requires you to inspect the roof.