In-House Roof Management

Oct. 8, 2012
Five steps to extend roof life.

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
-- Charles Dudley Warner, Hartford Courant, 1897

Unfortunately, the same could be said about roof inspection and maintenance. Everybody talks about doing it, but all too often, very little (if anything) is actually done.  The good news: although this is a futile battle when it comes to the weather, we can do something about the lack of timely inspection and maintenance.

It is well documented a conscientious maintenance program results in an increase in roof service life. Below, learn five modest first steps that you can implement in the short term to make a big difference at a relatively low cost:

1. Take back control
2. Avoid roof leakage
3. Maintain roof warranties
4. Increase roof life
5. Improve safety

1) Take Back Control
Roof systems are work platforms for other trades, including HVAC, electrical, antennae, and even solar panels. If these trades are not closely watched, damage may lurk undiscovered until leakage has occurred. Take charge of your roof with three simple steps:

  • Implement a daily sign-in sheet and ID badge tracking roof visits, purpose, and activities. Take photos of the roofing and flashings in the intended work area before, during, and after the visit.
  • Have visitors sign a document that says “I understand that if I report any damages to Buildings Operations on the day that they occur, I will not be back-charged. However, I will be responsible for any and all expenses caused by damages not promptly reported.”
  • If you do not have a current roof file, start one today. Include sub-folders for each distinct roof area. A comprehensive folder would include roof plans, roof system identification, and copies of any warranties.

2) Avoid Roof Leakage
Roofs are intended to shed water. That water must have somewhere to go. Periodically, have maintenance personnel walk the roof with a trash bag and remove debris from drain strainers and scuppers. After a heavy rain, see what areas do not drain within 48 hours. Blockage in downspouts will require unplugging. Each roof area should have two means of drainage, one of which may be for overflow to avoid deflection and roof collapse.

3) Maintain Roof Warranties
While roof bonds, warranties, and guarantees cover normal wear and tear, most do not cover physical damage from neglect or abuse. Warranties will have notification requirements, so that problems must be reported promptly to the warrantor. That means we building owners and managers need to know who holds the warranty and to whom and where the problem must be reported. (Back to that roofing file!) A durable metal sign at roof access points should indicate the provider of the warranty, the roofing contractor that did the installation, and an emergency phone number.

PageBreak4) Increase Roof Life
This goal is more complex than it sounds, as there are so many variables involved. Each major roof type will have some unique features that affect durability:

Bituminous roofing systems: Multiple layers and field assembly mean that blisters between layers can occur. Avoid traffic over blisters and promptly repair broken blisters. Neither asphalt nor coal tar pitch weathers well if its opaque surfacing has eroded away. Simple repairs can be done with asphalt mastic and fabric such as woven glass fiber mesh or non-woven polyester.

Polymer-modified bituminous systems: SBS is generally installed as a base sheet and mineral-surfaced cap sheet combo. These sheets can be installed and patched with hot asphalt. APP has a higher melt point, so torch application is used instead of mopping because it permits localized patching. Both APP and SBS systems require trained applicators and tools.

Elastomeric roofing systems: Large prefabricated panels of EPDM have extraordinary weather resistance but rely upon relatively narrow seams for water-tightness. Surface cleaning, priming, and application of target pieces of new membrane or flashing are needed. Many repair materials have a short shelf life, so the roofing contractor that installed and/or one that is approved by the roof warrantor may be needed.

Thermoplastic roofing systems: These sheets are generally light-colored and internally reinforced with scrim or fabric. Subcategories include PVC, TPO, KEE, and CSPE. Repairs depend upon weldability, which, in turn, may require surface preparation and hot-air fusion. Expect erosion down to the scrim. Special techniques for resurfacing depend upon the chemical make-up of the original membrane.

All roofing systems: All roofing systems should be visually inspected for deficiencies and failures, but some components are hidden from view. Depending upon the design of the system (when a vapor retarder is in place, for example), design may actually hide damage from water intrusion. Click here for a sample visual inspection sheet.

Periodically, or when water intrusion is expected, consider bringing in an expert to look for water in roof insulation using infrared scanning, capacitance, or neutron backscattering techniques and recommend how to deal with moisture before utility expenses soar and structural and interior damage result. Quest Construction Products details how to recognize damage patterns and perform field tests in a presentation from the International Roof Coatings Conference here.

A note on spray foam insulation: Sprayed polyurethane foam consists of expanded two-component polyurethane foam followed by an opaque coating of liquid urethane, acrylic, or silicone elastomer. It generally requires recoating before the surfacing erodes away because the underlying foam is not UV-resistant. Typical recoating will be required within 7-10 years. Field repairs are generally needed for punctures using a compatible caulk to fill in voids.

5) Improve Safety
Designate a single employee as the in-house roof overseer with reliance upon qualified outside experts as required. Roofing conventions and webinars are available, as well as training programs conducted by material manufacturers. These training programs should focus expressly on the roof systems in place on your building complex. Extend the training to any other personnel who need to access a roof surface and make sure the MSDS is available and understood.

Richard (Dick) L. Fricklas was technical director emeritus of the Roofing Industry Educational Institute prior to his retirement. He is co-author of The Manual of Low Slope Roofing Systems and continues to participate in seminars for the University of Wisconsin and RCI Inc., the Institute of Roofing, Waterproofing, and Building Envelope Professionals. His honors include the William C. Cullen Award and Walter C. Voss Award from ASTM, the J. A. Piper Award from NRCA, the William C. Correll award from RCI, and the James Q. McCawley Award from the MRCA. Dick holds honorary memberships in both ASTM and RCI Inc.

Using Check Sheets for Rooftop Inspection
Create an inspection program with roofing check sheets.

Roofing: The Benefits of Record-Keeping
When something goes wrong with your roof, accurate roofing files can lead you to the answer.

Safety with Roof Systems
Tips on spotting roof hazards.

About the Author

Richard L. Fricklas

Richard (Dick) L. Fricklas received a Lifetime Achievement Award and fellowship from RCI in 2014 in recognition of his contributions to educating three generations of roofing professionals. A researcher, author, journalist, and educator, Fricklas retired as technical director emeritus of the Roofing Industry Educational Institute in 1996. He is co-author of The Manual of Low Slope Roofing Systems (now in its fourth edition) and taught roofing seminars at the University of Wisconsin, in addition to helping develop RCI curricula. His honors include the Outstanding Educator Award from RCI, William C. Cullen Award and Walter C. Voss Award from ASTM, the J. A. Piper Award from NRCA, and the James Q. McCawley Award from the MRCA. Dick holds honorary memberships in both ASTM and RCI Inc.

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