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What do roof inspections share in common with visits to the dentist? According to experts, they both should occur twice a year because they provide an early warning about problems that can become painful if left unaddressed.

Building owners and managers should have their roofs inspected by trained roofing professionals every spring and fall to identify needed repairs, says the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). Regular inspections and proper maintenance can help to extend the service life of a roof system, and the cost is minimal when compared with replacing a roof, according to NRCA.

Each time a roof is inspected, that documentation should be added to the building owner’s historical file,
which should include detailed information about the roof installation, specifications, warranties, repairs, changes made and even samples of the roofing materials used, when possible. Maintenance personnel should be familiar with the contents of this file and the conditions of the warranty so that when a problem arises, they can help to determine the best course of action.

Building owners and managers should retain a professional roofing contractor, preferably the one that installed the system, to perform inspection and maintenance. Repairs made by an unauthorized contractor or by building personnel likely will void the warranty.

Inspections also should occur after major weather events, such as hailstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes, and if damage is detected, repairs should begin as soon as possible. Inspecting flashings is especially important since most leaks originate in locations such as skylights, perimeters, walls, penetrations, equipment curbs and drains. Flashings usually endure more physical stress than the roof membrane because of factors such as degradation from ultraviolet light.

In addition, the field of a roof should be inspected for surface wear, lap integrity and overall degradation. Roofing professionals should be able to identify problems and take corrective action before they get out of hand. Building owners and operators should be sure a maintenance checklist tailored to the roof’s specific requirements is used when documenting roof conditions.

Not all aspects of roof maintenance require a professional, however. Simply minimizing foot traffic on a roof and keeping it free of debris can help to extend its life. Debris can block water from flowing to roof drains, causing localized ponding, which can prematurely damage a roof system. Debris also can block the drain lines. In extreme cases, ponding water can cause a roof to collapse.

When foot traffic is expected on a roof, building personnel should protect the membrane using walkway pads or roof pavers. As much as possible, however, building managers should limit access to the roof by window washers, tuckpointers, caulkers, glazers and professionals servicing electrical, mechanical and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.

For building owners and managers, the question of whether to repair or replace a damaged roof involves many factors, including:

Extent of the damage. If one section of the roof has been punctured, but the rest is in decent shape, then a patch and some minor repair work might be all that’s needed. But if there is significant bubbling, delaminating or seam separation with the rubber roofing membrane—in other words, if it looks a bit like alligator skin and is no longer pliable—then significant leaking is possible, and the roof likely must be replaced.

Degradation of the roofing membrane can allow water to seep into the roofing insulation and make it waterlogged. From there, the water can reach the wood, metal or concrete roof interior and cause leaks throughout the building, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of the leak.

Local building codes. If your building does need a new roof, one way to limit the cost is a reskin or go-over, in which a new rubber membrane is installed over the damaged one. But most building codes will not allow more than two roofs on any one structure, so this is a one-time option. After that, the roofing materials must be taken down to the decking and the building reroofed.

Long-term plans for the building. How committed is the owner to this building? If the owner plans to keep it for a while, then investing in a new roof might be the best option. But if plans are uncertain, it might be wiser to patch up the roof and try to get a few more years out of it, especially if the building might be sold.

Age of the roof. Most roofs will last 20 to 25 years, depending on the roofing materials, how well it was installed, whether roof maintenance has been performed regularly and the weather the roof is subjected to. A preventative maintenance program can extend the life of a roof, but if an older roof has been neglected or has required costly repairs in the past, a new roof might be in order.

Building owners and managers should contact a reputable roofing consultant to obtain a detailed report on their roof, complete with visual inspections and scans for moisture. A roofing consultant can determine the life expectancy of the roof and then work with a certified roofing management and construction company to develop strategies for maintenance, repair or replacement.

Pro tip: Fix any problems before they arise with BOMA International’s Guide to Exterior Maintenance Management. Covering the three main areas of maintenance—reactive, preventive and predictive—and with topics ranging from roofing systems to snow removal to pest management, this handy resource helps property professionals implement maintenance strategies to avoid the time, inconvenience and extra expense of repairing or replacing roofs and other systems prematurely.


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