Fountain of Youth

July 8, 2002
Saving Costs By Extending Roof Life
Many have searched for the secret of longevity since explorer Ponce de Leon’s famous Florida pursuit of the elusive fountain of youth. During these difficult economic times, building owners and facilities managers are especially interested in the quest for longevity when it applies to extending their facilities’ roof life.Maintenance of roofing system has also taken center stage, because of the recent trend of downsized staffs within facilities management departments and increased outsourcing. Facilities managers want the secret to making roofs last. The answer lies in roof management. A simple, well thought-out, continual plan for roof maintenance can prevent many of the problems that damage roofs and necessitate costly repairs.The first step in proper roof maintenance is choosing the right roof for the facility. “No. 1 is getting a proper design. To do that, we look at specific items – a criteria to make sure we get a good design,” explains Kent Mattison, president at Benchmark Inc. (, Cedar Rapids, IA. Established in 1983, Benchmark provides roofing consultation for commercial facilities.In addition to choosing roofing products that meet local code and insurance requirements, building owners should consider access, the complexity of the roof, the condition of the existing substrate, drainage issues, and insulation – all before installation. “Many times [building owners] know a product and they say, ‘Let’s make this product fit this particular building,’” says Mattison. “Rarely do you have one product that fits every need.” To have roofs last longer and perform at optimal levels, the three key initial steps are:1.   Proven products.2.   Application-appropriate design.3.   High-quality construction methods.Most building owners and facilities professionals expect roofing systems to perform for 20 years or more. However, this length of life is only possible with preventive maintenance. Once a facility is outfitted with a well-designed roof, maintaining it doesn’t have to be complicated. Mattison believes the first step of roof maintenance is simply inspecting a roof on a regular basis. Checking for simple things, such as punctures or poor drainage especially after major storms, can save building owners from expensive repairs in the future. “A lot of it is common sense,” says Mattison. He recommends inspecting roofs twice a year regularly and spot checking after storms.He urges facilities departments to take a proactive – rather than reactive – stance to roof maintenance. Facilities departments with proactive roof management programs have the best track record of extending the life of their roofing portfolio and enhancing the value of the initial roof investment.Another common mistake facilities departments make that can shorten roof life is selecting the wrong solution for a problem; for example, using a mastic to stop leaks that is incompatible with a particular roofing system. Mattison also asks facilities managers to review their roofing system warranties and to always contact the manufacturer of the roofing product or the contractor when there is roofing damage. Adds Mattison, “It is easy to void it if you do not do what they say in the warranty. Checking can save a lot of money and  headaches.”To extend roof life, facilities staff members should also attempt to uncover the real source of a leak. Occasionally, according to Mattison, contractors have made repairs to a wrong spot on a roof, allowing minor damage to continue and worsen. Education on roofing systems is a crucial aspect of extending roof life. Seminars on maintenance, new roof products and components, design parameters, and construction management can help a facilities management department cut costs. “One of the things we stress at our seminars is that it is easy for us consultants to go up on the roof and say you need to replace it. The more difficult thing is to find out exactly how we can make these roofs last longer,” says Mattison. Roofing associations, such as the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) [], Rosemount, IL, and the Roof Consultants Institute (RCI) [], Raleigh, NC, are also good resources for building owners.Typically, the cost of maintaining a roofing system is a very small percentage of the initial cost of the roof, often less than 1 percent. Making sure a roof has the longest life possible pays back huge dividends.The long search for the secret to longevity is over. “Our recommendation when we talk about maintenance is, ‘Just do it,’” says Mattison.Regina Raiford ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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