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The 5 Most Common Causes of Low-Slope Roof Damage

Property managers, owners and maintenance professionals all face the challenge of understanding what causes damage to their roof. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but without the knowledge of what can cause leaks in your roof it’s unlikely you can prevent it. Check out five of the most common causes of damage to a low-slope roof so you can prevent leaks before they happen.

1) Poor Installation

There is no substitute for installing a roof correctly the first time. Forgoing the initial investment (be it time, money or both) to make sure water drains off the roof can be costly for years to come, because allowing water to pond on a low-slope roof is asking for trouble.

While there are many details involved in proper roof installation, the single greatest requirement is creating, at minimum, a ¼ pitch that moves water towards a drain or a gutter. Water is the enemy and you always want it to be off the roof in less than 48 hours

2) Lack of Maintenance

Roofs, like most other building components, require proper maintenance in order to maximize their lifespan.

The National Roofing Contractors Associations says that Roof Maintenance is the single most important factor (after proper installation) for determining the lifespan and cost of your roof. Owners and managers can prevent damage to their roof systems simply by having them inspected and maintained regularly.

3) The Freeze-Thaw Cycle

Low-slope roofs expand and contract. A lot. When a roof heats up it will relax and when it cools at night it will contract. This constant movement puts strains on flashings and adhesion of the seams. Any stresses on a roof will expose its most vulnerable sections. These areas are typically at the seams, where glue is bonding membrane to the substrate or at the transition from the field of the roof up a wall. Damage to the roof will not occur over night and can be addressed before leaks begin.

The best way to prevent leaks due to Thermal Cycling is to have regular inspections and maintenance performed on your roof. A professional roofer will know the areas that are most likely to experience issues and see a problem starting before you have a leak.

4) People on the Roof

It is often necessary to have other contractors or maintenance professionals go up on the roof. Ground rules of how people are to conduct themselves on the roof can help prevent costly damage.

a. Nobody Smokes on the Roof – Cigarettes and roof systems are not compatible. Their ashes can quickly burn small holes that can allow in a lot of water. If this becomes an issue, you can direct workers who want to smoke to a designated smoking area off the roof to minimize the risk.

b. Require Contractors to Lay Blankets Around Work Areas –  Using blankets can prevent tools from dropping and puncturing the roof. A simple slip of a screwdriver when taking the panel off an HVAC unit can create a major leak.

c. Have Walk-Pads Installed Where the Roof is Most Frequently Trafficked – These pads are designed to take foot traffic and a boot scuff here or there won’t hurt them. Always have walk-pads near doors, roof hatches, around HVAC units & permanent ladders, as these are areas where the roof is weakest and can develop holes due to overuse.

5) Incompatible Materials

The most common incompatible material found destroying low-slope roof systems is grease leaking from a vent above a restaurant. The grease will clog the vents, spray onto the roof system and start to eat away the membrane. Chinese restaurants (due to the frequent use of Peanut Oil) are particularly susceptible to this.

To solve the problem, a high intensity grease gutter system can be installed and grease booms can be changed once every six months. Incompatible materials are often applied during repairs. For instance, wet/dry roofing cement can eat through EPDM and TPO roofs b/c the chemicals are not compatible. Metal roofs can be particularly sensitive to other metal objects. A lead screw from an HVAC unit can create rust, and eventually a hole, on a steel roof in a short amount of time.

Take the time to take care of your roof and you will avoid the costly repercussions that come with roof leaks. Share this article with your tenants and ask them to help keep you informed about people going on the roof, new leaks and harsh weather. They are just as invested in keeping the inside of their business dry as you are.

Cheers to dry ceiling tiles and buckets staying in the closet!

Adam Capps is Commercial Department Manager for UB Commercial.

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