Editor's Letter

02/02/2015 | By Chris Olson

The Roof -- Boring, Commonplace and Complex

Chris Olson | Chief Content Director

Roofs are supposed to perform their function quietly, out of sight and mind, without a whimper. But as this issue’s articles on roofing systems show, their impacts are complex and far-ranging.

From our terrestrial point of view, it is easy to neglect the roof. We don’t interact with it on a daily basis like we do with the windows and doors of the visible exterior walls. But as noted in the article on green roof performance, most buildings in the U.S. are under two stories and their roofs represent the largest area of their envelopes. Not to mention the fact that more heat energy is lost through roofs than through doors and windows. If all U.S. nonresidential buildings met the 2012 level of code-mandated roof insulation, an estimated 700 trillion BTUs of energy would be saved, estimates the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing.

Another element of environmental impact involves renewable energy production. If 25% of U.S. rooftops incorporated power from solar cells, the energy produced would be 25 times greater than the 21 billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power produced annually by the Grand Coulee Dam.

The roof is also a dangerous place, one frequented by personnel who may have little regard for your roof’s integrity or their own safety. A landmine of hazards – ladders, drains, skylights, equipment penetrations, tree branches and other debris – regularly causes injury and death. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64 roofing contractors died in 2013 from falls, slips and trips. Many more were injured or died who were not roofing contractors. As detailed in our article on best practices for roof safety, a thicket of regulations describes the building owner’s responsibility in such situations. Fortunately, there are resources and practices to train personnel and enhance safety.

And the roof is a costly component representing a large chunk of the building owner’s investment – but all too often its value is not continuously maximized. As pointed out in our article on extending service life, much of the construction industry uses ASTM’s minimum standards as the benchmark. But that is a low bar – the average 17-year service life of commercial roofs is easily extended by 20% to 40% by applying good practices.

For those whose roof does not seem to be posing any problems at the moment, remember that the time to maintain and repair the roof is when the sun is shining.

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