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The Solutions Behind 7 Tricky Roofing Problems

June 30, 2017

Out-of-the-way locations, budget concerns, extreme weather and short schedules impose difficult restrictions on roofing projects. 

Out-of-the-way locations, extreme weather and short schedules impose difficult restrictions on roofing projects. FMs who are preparing for a re-cover or re-roofing installation may find their choices limited to certain materials or specifications that can stand up to their building’s unique challenges

Take a cue from these seven roofing projects, each of which required creative solutions to finish on time and within budget while still delivering the promised results. All seven faced high hurdles for completion and cleared them with ease thanks to innovative roofing strategies and the right product choices.

1) Be Flexible When Your Timeline Isn’t

Unforeseen obstacles can sometimes lead to new discoveries. At Smith Springs Elementary School in Antioch, TN, bad weather pushed back the roof’s installation by more than 50 days.

The original specifications called for 76,000 square feet of fully adhered EPDM, but with the beginning of the school year looming, Porter Roofing Contractors needed to catch up so that the school’s 800 students would have a roof on their new school. Instead of the fully adhered product, a self-adhered version was substituted.

The self-bonding membrane didn’t need a separate adhesive application followed by waiting for flash off, so five people could put down one 10- by 100-foot roll in about 12 minutes, a job that would have taken roughly 30 with a fully adhered product.

Related: Emergency Management Planning

“We could put down about 25,000 to 30,000 square feet a day with a six-man crew. We could have never done that production with standard bonding adhesives,” explains Rodney Cadorette, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Porter Roofing Contractors. “We would insulate until 2 or 3 p.m., lay the self-adhered sheets out, and be gone by 5:30 or 6.”

The Smith Springs project was finished on time after all, and the self-adhered EPDM ended up becoming a frequent go-to for all sorts of projects, Cadorette adds. He recommends self-adhered roofs for any FMs facing a time crunch or pursuing green building certifications, as the lack of glue can contribute to certification credits.

Roofing Resources

Have you recently taken on roof maintenance as part of your FM duties? Learn more about how to properly maintain your roof assets with these resources.


Created by the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), this website features a comprehensive glossary that will get you up to speed on materials, products and roof components. A series of factsheets offers tips on what to do about roof damage after natural disasters.


NRCA also maintains its own website. Though it’s targeted at contractors, building owners and FMs can benefit from the association’s webinars, courses and roofing manuals. Repair Manual for Low-Slope Membrane Roof Systems includes more than 150 repair techniques for low-slope roofs, plus advice on how to identify problems.


RCI is an association for envelope consultants who specialize in roofing, waterproofing and exterior walls. An e-learning section and a library of technical articles contain a wealth of information to help you understand the unique needs of every type of roof.

2) Know Your Weather Risks

Protecting a roof from the elements in Ketchikan, AK, isn’t easy. The southeastern Alaska city boasts a moderate rainforest climate that brings hundreds of inches of rain each year along with strong winds, so any roof installed there must be able to take a beating. This was a crucial factor in determining how to replace the 15-year-old, 108,000-square-foot roof at Ketchikan High School and the reason why the school board opted for an Elvaloy KEE roof with edge metal for extra protection.

The KEE roof wasn’t the cheapest option available – another contractor pitched a product that cost less but didn’t quite meet the school board’s specifications. The school board ultimately chose the 50-mil KEE membrane for its durability and performance despite the slightly larger investment.

“That material also has a high puncture resistance, and the school gets a lot of birds up there. The whole roof is glued down instead of screwed down because birds like to grab hold of the screws,” recalls Mike Slater, Superintendent and Stockholder of E/P Roofing and project manager on the Ketchikan High School project. “It also has a 20-year puncture guarantee so that if a bird does puncture it, they can get it fixed.”

More on birds: Bird-Friendly Building or Avian Abattoir?

Slater recommends investigating KEE membranes mainly for low-slope roofs. If weather is a problem and you need to access the roof – for example, to make quick emergency repairs during a storm until a more permanent solution can be found – consider putting up a tent over the affected area, which E/P Roofing used to protect each section of roof as crews installed the new membrane.

3) Specify Carefully for Sensitive Situations

The Bata Shoe Museum required a tough, durable solution for its re-roofing project. The downtown Toronto mainstay houses over 1,000 priceless, irreplaceable artifacts spanning 4,500 years of history, which necessitated a flame-free installation that was “leak-proof right from the word go,” explains Mark Baxter, Vice President of Business Development for Semple Gooder Roofing Canada, which installed the new roof.

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Complicating matters, the museum was set to stay open during the re-roofing project, narrowing the field of material options to odorless roofing systems. In addition, the museum is located on a busy Toronto street, which required careful thought about how to avoid exposing passersby to anything hazardous.

Ultimately, the museum owners chose a two-ply modified system with a granulated cap sheet that could stand up to the elements. The cold-applied sheets eliminated the risk of setting the building on fire during torching, and the field and flashing adhesives are both odorless to avoid disturbing museum visitors and people in the building’s vicinity.

“This roof should be able to last 30 years, though it will need to be maintained,” Baxter says. “Sealants at penetrations should be updated every few years before they crack and degrade. An annual inspection of your roof is important so you can clear debris and clean your drains. It’s also not a bad idea to go up and make sure everything is fine after any wind event or major storm – just make sure that everything looks the way it should. The key is trying to stop issues before they let water into the system.”

4) Consider Cool Roof Coatings

The Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL, was experiencing substantial cooling costs. The enormous structure absorbed the Florida sun with roughly 100,000 square feet of black asphalt roofing and another 105,000 square feet of black EPDM, which heated up to 175-180 degrees F. when the ambient temperature reached 100 degrees or higher.

A 2004 application of a cool roof coating was so successful that when the warranty expired in 2015, Naval Facility Engineering (NAVFAC), the Naval command that builds and maintains facilities, decided to renew the original warranty by having additional coats applied.

The roof was pressure-washed to remove the jet fuel and carbon contaminates from the active Naval airstrip 500 yards away, and a few areas received extra attention, though most of the original seams remained tight. Ponding water areas were reinforced with layers of waterproof membrane and polyester for extra durability.

“With the renewed cool roof system, the roof doesn’t heat up much over the ambient temperature, so when it cools down to 75 or 80 degrees F. at night, there’s only a 20% temperature flux instead of 40 to 50%,” explains Dean Boddiford, Southeast Regional Director for Astec Re-Ply Roof Systems and Insulating Coatings Corporation, which provided the museum’s cool roof coating. “The building’s roof is not moving like it was before when it was expanding and contracting at a greater rate. The reflective roof also keeps the membrane underneath protected and means that repairs are usually pretty minimal. Typically, flashings on black rubber and asphalt roofs break down from UV degradation like old rubber tires over the years; the sun just tears them up.”

5) Watch for Waterproofing Failures

The U.S. Social Security Office in New Rochelle, NY, was in a bind. Leaks in the roof were allowing water to migrate into the building, but limited capital reserves meant that a new roof wasn’t economically feasible. Further examination revealed that moisture was also entering the brick on the interior of the 4-foot parapet wall, where repeated freeze-thaw cycles were causing the brick to break.

“If they’re getting moisture, then they’re getting mildew and water itself coming in,” explains Scott Gayle, National Sales Manager for American WeatherStar. Gayle inspected the existing built-up roof to see if a warranted roof system was feasible and determined that a proprietary 15-year urethane-silicone coating would seal up the troublesome BUR system and protect the building from further damage. To shore up the bricks, roof boards were mechanically fastened to the structure and a fabric reinforcement was installed over the joints of the boards. This created a solid surface for the coating to adhere to and “made for a much better looking job than just trying to coat bricks,” Gayle notes.

Read also: Top 5 Envelope Failures and Water Leaking Solutions

“You need to take care of what you’ve got,” Gayle says. “If you already have two roofs on your building – or even if you only have one roof but you have limited access – coatings are an option to restore that roof.”

6) Understand Local Hazards

More than anything, the Triple Island Lighthouse in Prince Rupert, BC, needed a roof that was “bulletproof,” says Pierre Lizotte, President of Magnum Roofing Ltd. The lighthouse, a Canadian national historic site, was built in 1920 and features a 72-foot concrete tower and an accompanying concrete building that are serviced by Canadian Coast Guard personnel on a 28-day rotation. Both buildings are subject to hurricane-force winds and nonstop salt exposure from the Pacific Ocean.

“We’ve heard so many stories where logs were thrown on the roof by waves,” says Lizotte. “A log once went through the second-floor window and through the wall just above a bed where one of the people who works there sleeps, but he was on shift. It penetrated the wall 8 inches above the mattress – exactly where his body would have been. Imagine the storm that can bring a log through windows and a wall.”

Related: Prepare Your Building for a Hurricane Before it’s too Late

Public Works & Government, which owns the buildings and the nearby cistern, determined that the bulletproof roof the structures needed was a two-ply SBS with a cold-applied liquid on top that would form a self-terminating, self-flashing, seamless membrane.

“That combination is like having two roofs, which is important because the location is so difficult to access. We had to get there with a helicopter, so if there was a leak in the roof, imagine how hard it would be to get there and fix it,” Lizotte says. “They also didn’t want any chemicals from the roofing materials to wash off with the rainwater because the people stationed there reuse that water for the washing machine, flushing toilets and other things. With this membrane, the rainwater draining off into the tanks stays clean.”

7) Get Creative with Special Situations

Eight years of roof leaks at the Mercer County Airport in Bluefield, WV, were putting multimillion-dollar aircraft in the airport’s three hangars at risk of damage.  The 30- to 35-year-old metal roofs covering the hangars were still structurally sound, but they badly needed repairs – and those repairs had to be finished within 45 days of finding a contractor.

The late fall timing of the project eliminated water-based roofing products, as many can’t be used if temperatures drop below 45 degrees F. within 48 hours of application and the nighttime temperatures at the airport were dropping below 40. The cold-tolerant silicone coating system that the airport managers finally selected can be applied in temperatures as low as 40 degrees – a better fit for a fall project.

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In addition, the aircraft needed to be handled with the utmost care. Spilled coatings and dropped tools could damage the planes, and the blustery fall winds could encourage overspray, so after fixing damaged metal panels and loose screws, the crew applied the coating to the more than 36,500 square feet of roof surface by hand with rollers.

For extra safety, airport staff moved planes into different hangars away from the roofing crew whenever possible. “It’s one thing if you puncture a car tire. It’s another thing if you puncture an airplane,” says Henry Malkin, Operations Manager for Frye Roofing, which repaired and coated the hangar roofs.

The liquid coating created a seamless surface that cured quickly, allowing the Frye crew to finish the job in 26 working days – well within the tight timeline issued by the airport. Biannual inspections since then have confirmed that the airport “still looks as good as it did the day we completed the job,” Malkin says.

Those inspections are a good idea for any building owner and help prolong the life of the roof, adds Hank Bonney, Territory Manager for Mule-Hide Products, which manufactures the silicone coating used at Mercer Airport.

“This roof should only require basic maintenance and making sure there’s no obstructions on the roof,” Bonney says. “In the spring and fall, do a walkthrough to make sure there’s no debris on the roof that could impede the gutter system and the use of the roof. Check to make sure the gutters are flowing freely and nothing is clogged.”

Janelle Penny [email protected] is senior editor of BUILDINGS.

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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