Aerial Infrared Predictive-Maintenance Program Helps Midwest College Maximize Roof Life

Sept. 19, 2006
Implementing a regular roof predictive-maintenance program can be challenging - especially with 48 acres and 52 buildings. Add to that nearly a dozen different types of roofs of varying ages, and that was the challenge facing Bruce Mather, executive director of facilities management at Elmhurst College.

Located on a picturesque campus outside of Chicago in Elmhurst, IL, Elmhurst College is a private, 4-year college that was founded in 1871. Its red-brick and English Colonial buildings have nearly 280,000 square feet of roof surface. To maintain the roofs on such a large campus, Mather conducts semi-annual walk-on visual inspections of each roof. In the past, if there had been a problem with a roof and the visual inspection didn’t locate the source, Mather would hire a thermographer to conduct a walk-over thermal infrared inspection.

Mather and his team worked hard to maintain the college’s diverse roofs, but with no formal predictive-maintenance program in place, it was difficult to know exactly when to replace a roof. They ruled out a walk-over scan for all the roofs because of the time and cost involved to inspect each roof separately. Mather was then introduced to Predictive Service, a Cleveland-based company providing worldwide managed predictive services.

An Easier Inspection Process
Predictive Service (PSC) suggested performing an aerial infrared inspection of the college’s larger roofs. With an aerial inspection, the 24 roofs could be inspected in less than a few hours. PSC also offered online access through proprietary software to all scans and data, which Mather liked. “An aerial inspection would mean more complete information on all of our roofs, and it would be done quickly. Plus, we really liked the idea of having images and data online,” he says.

Elmhurst College chose PSC to perform the aerial infrared inspection. PSC took visual images during the day and did the aerial infrared inspection at night in less than 2 hours. The inspection of the 280,000 square feet of roof surface detected 7,631 square feet of thermal anomalies. The smallest anomaly was 3 square feet and the largest detected was 994 square feet.

PSC began posting traditional and infrared photos of each roof, along with corresponding data, online within a week. Mather and others could then access the results online through ViewPoint®, PSC’s Web-enabled, interactive software (see “Online Results Make for Easier Reporting” sidebar below). “It’s a great way for everyone - our foreman, designers, contractors - to easily access needed information and locate the exact area where there might be a problem,” says Mather.

The Results
The 7,631 square feet of anomalies were all flagged online so that Mather and his team could locate the source of the problems. One interesting discovery was two large anomalies on a new building. The initial thought was the roofing contractor missed installing some insulation. A later visual inspection of the flagged area revealed punctures in the roof that happened during construction.

“We probably wouldn’t have seen the small punctures during our semi-annual inspection,” says Mather. “The roofing contractor came out, found the penetrations, and repaired them before they could become a problem.”

Several other anomalies PSC identified turned out to be relatively minor flashing and caulking problems, but items that probably wouldn’t have been detected by visual inspections and could have led to larger problems down the road.

There were two older roofs that Mather and his team knew were bad - they just didn’t know the extent of the wear. PSC’s aerial inspection revealed problems with nearly 80 percent of the roof area of an older apartment building. The inspection also revealed the need to replace the roof of the science building, which was nearly 20 years old. The inspection results provided the objective data Mather needed to get funding for full roof replacements.

Elmhurst College will continue performing semi-annual visual inspections and will bring PSC back for additional aerial infrared inspections. “PSC’s aerial inspection process enhanced our predictive maintenance program by making it easier to identify issues before they could lead to major problems,” says Mather. “We’re reducing leaks, extending the life of our roofs, and saving money.”

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