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Risks (and Expense) of Failing to Maintain Rooftop Steel Structures

09/17/2019 | By Mike McSwain

When steel is protected and maintained, it provides long-term structural durability for architectural elements and operational systems alike. It’s no wonder you’ll find steel housings and braces on most commercial and industrial rooftops. Steel supports everything from mechanical systems to piping to cooling towers.

Unfortunately, steel is also expensive. Protecting your investments in rooftop steel structures is the surest way to avoid crippling replacement costs.

Steel roofing structures exposed to weather can be battered by the elements. Steel that isn’t adequately protected with a high-performance coating system is vulnerable to corrosion. Over time, corrosion can wear down the integrity of your steel roof structures, leading to malfunction and potentially even roof damage or a roof collapse.

Many exposed steel elements on rooftops are process-related—manufacturing equipment, material transfer equipment, HVAC systems and other critical support infrastructure.

If these elements show signs of corrosion or loss of structural integrity, inspectors may shut down your operation until repairs are made—particularly in food and beverage manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, and other regulated industries.

[Read also: How to Bird Proof Your Building - For Good]

How to Prevent Damage to Rooftop Steel Structures

Fortunately, preventing corrosion damage to rooftop steel structures and avoiding costly repairs is not difficult. Performing regular inspections and maintenance will help reduce your risk of damage.

Conduct a visual inspection of steel rooftop structures at least once a year. There are three things to look for when performing a visual inspection:

1. Fading and chalking paint. The earliest sign of potential damage to exposed steel is fading paint. If you see discoloration or chipped/flaked paint, call an industrial coatings specialist and ask for an on-site inspection.

2. Corrosion and rust. If rooftop structures exhibit corrosion or rust, they may already be on their way to failure. However, don’t panic: the structures may still be salvageable if you take prompt restoration and protective measures.

3. Standing water. If you notice standing water around the legs of steel supports, the structure is at high risk of corrosion. In addition to protective coating for steel structures, you should consider drainage improvements to reduce or prevent water from pooling.

If you notice any of these signs of rooftop steel damage, contact a reputable painting or coatings expert that specializes in industrial coatings, steel substrates and corrosion control. A qualified industrial paint contractor can recommend short-term and long-term solutions.

In addition to inspections, routine maintenance of rooftop steel structures will reduce your risk of corrosion damage. Critical tasks include:

  • Maintain all steel structures and parts, paying special attention to repairing damage and replacing worn out hardware.
  • Clean or pressure wash structures to remove debris that could accelerate oxidation and corrosion. 
  • Schedule a touch-up with your painting contractor between full coating applications.
  • Reapply a full coating of paint every 10-15 years.

How often should you repaint steel structures? It depends on the type of facility, weather, chemical exposure, paint quality and what type of systems the steel is supporting. Most rooftop steel should be fully repainted every 10-15 years, not counting touch-ups. Consult a trusted industrial coatings specialist for a recommended schedule for your facility.

The quality of the paint used to coat your steel structures is a major factor in how long your protection will last. Make sure you talk with your painting contractor about what paints will be used and specify the materials in the contract.

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How to Fix Rooftop Steel Corrosion and Prevent Recurring Problems

The first step in dealing with rooftop steel corrosion is to get a site evaluation or a survey. A site evaluation will assess the extent of corrosion, as well as the risk to your structure. The evaluation will also help determine the most economical short-term and long-term remediation plan, weighing the initial cost vs. future maintenance costs.

[Related: Rooftop Management: Eliminate Injury Risk]

For minor damage or early signs of corrosion, take short-term steps to treat rooftop steel corrosion. This includes eliminating corrosion and applying touch-up to critical areas. These quick fixes will mitigate damage to your rooftop steel.

However, to avoid long-term damage, prevent minor damage from worsening, and to prevent steel corrosion from recurring, you need to apply a full industrial coating. Protective coatings are a cost-effective solution to preserve the life and integrity of a steel structure.

Avoid Costly Replacement—Protect Your Rooftop Steel Today

Paint coatings for steel structures have made tremendous advances in recent years to satisfy structure owners’ desire for improved durability.

Protective paint systems play a critical role in preserving the integrity of rooftop steel, and when combined with regular inspection and routine maintenance, can help property managers and equipment owners avoid expensive replacement of rooftop steel components. For more tips on how to protect your exposed steel, speak with a knowledgeable industrial painting and coatings specialist.

Mike McSwain is a NACE Certified Inspector with A&K Painting Company. Mike has 18 years of experience in industrial coatings, specifically facility maintenance and renovations.

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