Annual inspections and preventive care can keep your facility’s roof in tiptop shape.
By Regina Ludes
When it comes to protecting the health of your facility’s roof, it can sometimes be a case of “out of sight is out of mind.” Even though it protects you and your customers from the elements, the roof can receive less attention than other facility elements. To stay ahead of any potential problems, arm yourself with knowledge of basic roof care. Then develop a preventive maintenance plan, including annual inspections, so small problems don’t grow into supersized ones.
Understand the Basics
Most commercial roofs can last around 20 years depending on several factors, such as roof composition, installation, and maintenance. “If the roof isn’t installed properly, it will show deficiencies early on, such as failing seams, as well as flashing around walls, rooftop equipment, and other roof penetrations,” said Tom Coble, Executive Vice President, Ecosystem with Pegnato Roof Intelligence Network (PRIN).
Roofs for most retail locations utilize 60 mil TPO which can last for 20 years if properly installed and maintained, he added. An EPDM roof, which is made of synthetic rubber, usually costs less but has a shorter life span. The choice of material often depends on the type of facility, geography and budget.
“While TPO membranes are commonly used for retail stores, PVC membranes are typically utilized by restaurants as it stands up better to grease,” explained Coble.
The most common problems are drains and gutters clogged with debris and vegetation, which prevents water from draining properly. When water overflows, the weight can weaken the actual deck roof and cause it to collapse.
“Backed-up water can build up over time, so even though the roof may not be actively leaking, it can eventually lead up to it,” said Alex Pegnato, President/COO of PRIN.
Tools and equipment left behind by other suppliers can also cause problems. For example, a misplaced tool can put a hole in the membrane, causing leaks.
Regular Inspections are Key
Coble recommended having a strong preventive maintenance plan with regular inspections performed by a certified professional roofer, typically once or twice a year. A thorough inspection should include visuals and photos of deficiencies and potential problem areas that should be addressed. Facility managers shouldn’t perform roof repairs themselves, unless they are certified roofers, Coble added. However, they can help maintain the roof by clearing debris, if their company allows them to access their roofs.
Robbie Drake, Sr. Manager, Operations Maintenance with Murphy USA, said his facility managers take a reactive approach to roof maintenance. Managers aren’t allowed to be on the roofs at all and must call a professional roofer to inspect the roof only if there is evidence of a leak. “If your budget allows, professional roof inspections at regular intervals are always the best option,” Drake said.
Drake’s team is experimenting with the use of drones to get an aerial view of the roof. “We’ve used it on a couple of test locations so far,” Drake said. “It’s an emerging technology that people can use before sending someone up on the roof.”
Check the Warranty
It’s difficult enough to manage one roof, but managing multiple locations can be even more complicated. It’s helpful to track the performance of multiple facilities to determine which roofs in your portfolio need attention sooner rather than later. With limited budgets, some managers may have to prioritize where to spend their capital dollars.
With more than 1,700 locations in 28 states, Drake relies on various data sources, such as a site’s maintenance history, to find out how many work orders have been generated for roof repairs or how often a manager has called to report a roof leak. He also considers the age of the roof and checks the warranty to see which repairs would be covered. Finally, he compares the costs of repairs versus replacement. In some instances, it makes more sense to replace the roof than repair it, Drake said.
Most roofs come with a manufacturer’s warranty, which covers labor and materials for up to 20 years. “Make sure it’s a full NDL warranty or no dollar limit, which will cover all roofing problems, such as pipe flashing or a loose lap or seam,” Pegnato said.
In addition to saving money on maintenance, working through the manufacturer’s warranty service team ensures that the right materials will be used for subsequent repairs. “Any other roofer or manufacturer you hire could use the wrong material,” Pegnato said.
Know When It’s Time to Replace
“When replacing the roof and the roof is soft when walking on it, it might mean the insulation is saturated and you’ll need to have an infrared scan done. If it’s saturated beyond 20%, it needs to be a full tear-off,” Pegnato said.
Before starting a replacement project, Pegnato advised having a consultation with the manufacturer you usually work with to get their input. Make sure the manufacturer offers an NDL warranty on the new roof and can be responsive in case of emergency. Obtain three competitive bids from roofers, and make sure they bid on the same specs and manufacturer you plan to use so you can compare bids on an apples-to-apples basis. Finally, hold a pre-bid meeting to make sure everyone involved in the project understands the site specifics, to minimize any change orders or unexpected costs later on.
Usually, there is no downtime for operations during a replacement or repair project. “A simple overlay causes little disruption to business if planned properly with the site and leaves minimal mess,” Pegnato said. Overlays typically cost $6 to $7 per square foot for buildings of 50,000 square feet and roughly $8.50 per square foot for spaces of 25,000 to 50,000 square feet.
When hiring a roofing supplier or manufacturer, ask for references from other managers or use third-party experts. Coble suggested looking for a company with a strong, verifiable service history, including the clients they’ve worked with, what certifications their contractors hold, and what manufacturers they work with. “If they have high level certifications from manufacturers, such as GAF’s Master Elite or Carlisle’s ESP Award, then the manager can feel confident that they’ve done quality work in the past,” Coble said.
Building a core group of trusted professionals can help you manage your roofing maintenance and repair needs for many years to come.