Property managers and building owners have a responsibility to keep the occupants and visitors in their building safe at all times. That responsibility can be complicated when roofing teams are onsite to conduct repairs or to replace the roof system. Roof repair and re-roofing projects can be dangerous work, with many potential hazards for anyone in and around the property. Before any work begins, it is necessary to have some serious discussions about safety.
When a roof fails, most building owners and property managers find themselves scrambling to scrape together tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars that were not allocated in the capital budget. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to proactively plan for this? The good news: You can. Building owners can build a better capital budget that eliminates roof failure anxiety.
The Key To A Better Capital Budget For Roofing
Regular roof inspections are critical when trying to predict future expenditures. However, many people prefer not to think about their roof until a problem arises. The fact is, even a brand new roof is subject to damages or defects. The best and most effective way to keep a handle on the lifespan of a roof and to manage minor problems before they become major (and expensive) issues is to conduct regular inspections of your roof.
These regular inspections alleviate the budgeting process by keeping an eye on the horizon. If the roof is given a life expectancy of three years, for example, the planning team can begin to move money around early so that the budget is in order and the funds are available by the time a replacement is needed.
Building A Roofing Safety Net
Most roofs fail prematurely due to damage. That damage may be caused by weather events, but in actuality, it is most often caused by people. This is especially true of buildings that allow tenants to use the roof as recreation space and buildings with a great deal of heavy equipment on the roof. The more activity that happens on the roof surface, the higher risk there is for damage.
When building out a capital budget, teams should include line items for repairs and incidentals on the roof, especially if the roof experiences high traffic. A good rule of thumb is to budget around $750 for a simple repair. Some repairs will cost a little less, others will cost far more. $750 is a round number that the budget committee can work with, as long as the estimated number of repairs can be justified. This may require digging into data and past records and estimating the amount of traffic expected on the roof in a given year.
The Bad Budgeting Ripple Effect
Failing to budget for roofing expenses can have even bigger consequences on the bottom line for building owners than just the cost of a new roof. Building owners and property managers are not the only ones affected by leaks. Tenants in residential, office and mixed-used buildings often pay a premium for top-floor space, and when the roof leaks, they expect it to be fixed, and fixed properly. Patches and repairs can alleviate water leaks in one section of the roof but does not prevent them from popping up elsewhere. If the space is no longer deemed adequate, tenants may decide to relocate elsewhere.
Mold and mildew accumulation from leaks can also leave employers and building owners open to lawsuits from tenants who can show that exposure has caused or exacerbated medical issues. The health and safety of those who use the building are of extreme importance, and neglecting roof maintenance and repair can have a significant impact on a building owner’s finances and public image.
Planning For The Future
A few commercial roofs are designed to be run-to-fail, but not most. Knowledge is power when it comes to building a better capital budget—and a trusted partner can help. Their experience working with a variety of roofing materials and on buildings of comparable size and structure allows them to provide accurate information and keen insight into the longevity of your roof.
The information uncovered in regular inspections helps mitigate any small issues in the present and proactively plan for events in the future, ultimately allowing building owners to predict when they will require a full roof replacement.
The roof is one of the most important components of the building, but “out of sight is out of mind”. SO, many facilities managers and property owners tend to forget their roofs until a problem arises. This approach leads to repetitive leaks, ongoing patch jobs, expensive repairs and ultimately that, “Oh no” moment of panic and dread when the roof needs to be replaced. Now, facilities managers can learn about and understand what’s happening above them. Here are five things that every facility manager needs to know about their roof.
#1: What Is The Leak History of the Roof?
The leak history of a roof tells the story of what’s going on in a roofing system. The pattern and presence of leaks over time can inform diagnosis of the problem. Repeated leaks around skylights, for example, may indicate a construction defect rather than roof damage. (That’s right, roof leaks are often more a result of a design or construction flaw than a roof defect, per se.)
Leak history can also help the contractor more accurately assess the roof’s potential remaining life. A complete record of where water has gotten in and how it was repaired can help the contractor and Owner know whether or not water has infiltrated the roof system and saturated the insulation – which is the death knell for a roof.
#2: Who Is Getting On The Roof?
While Mother Nature can be hard on a roof, humans are usually a roofing system’s biggest enemy. If a roof is accessible to tenants or to other trade contractors for heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and other repairs, the roof is at risk of puncture, cuts, tears, and other damage.
Controlling access to the roof is essential for protecting the integrity of the roofing system. However, facilities managers don’t need to be fearful of granting access. People who use the roof should be able to come to the manager and let them know if they inadvertently caused damage. That means being friendly and available to tenants, repair workers and contractors who want access to the roof. Good access control and good communication allows managers to track issues they may never have known about otherwise.
#3: What Are the Safety Hazards Of The Roof?
Every roof is rife with safety hazards beyond the sheer height of the building. Some hazards are obvious, such as the edge of the roof being a fall hazard. Others are not quite as evident.
Skylights can be an extreme hazard. These features are not built for sitting or holding a lot of weight, and people on the roof may be tempted to rest on top of one, or place toolboxes on the skylight, putting themselves and the people inside in danger. Hidden corners, drop-offs and L-corners are also a hazard for anyone walking on a roof, especially they have never been on that particular building before. It’s easy to approach edges and corners in non-square layouts without realizing it.
#4: How Is The Roof Made
A thorough facilities manager should know as much as possible about the way the roof is built including:
- When the roof was built
- Where the design plans are
- The roofing materials
- The manufacturers of those materials
- The company that installed the roof
- The terms of the warranty
Knowing these details can help form a baseline understanding of the roof itself, and allows the facilities manager to communicate more effectively with a roofing contractor.
#5: When Was The Last Inspection?
Regular roofing inspections are the key to maintaining a roof that performs well and lasts as long as possible. One of the most important things a facility manager needs to know about their roof is the inspection history. If it has been more than a year, or if no one on the facilities team has any idea when the last inspection was, it’s been too long.
These roofing inspections help get ahead of major issues, keep the facilities team in the loop on areas to watch and conditions to observe, and ensure that budgets can properly be set for future repairs and re-roofing projects.
The more familiar the facilities manager becomes with the roof, the better. When it comes to prolonging roof life, choose a good contractor and make strong repair decisions, always keep in mind that you can never be armed with too much information. It is worth the time for a facility manager to learn and file away as much information as possible about their roof, in order to get the most value from the system.
A new roof is one of the biggest single-item capital expenditures for any commercial building owner. A new roof can cost anywhere from few dollars per square foot to a few hundred dollars per square foot. It is imperative that any roofer who steps onto the roof is experienced, trusted and will provide the best value for the investment. Hiring a roofing contractor should never be a leap of blind faith. To properly vet a potential contractor, these are the questions that should be answered before a final decision is made:
How Much Experience Do You Have?
Experience matters when it comes to commercial roofing. The number of years that a contractor has been in the business is a good indicator of their quality of work. New companies may come to the table with a breadth of previous experience, but it can take years to become financially solvent and to develop processes that ensure true customer satisfaction. If a company installs a roof and goes out of business the next year, warranties and maintenance contracts are put in jeopardy. Always choose a roofer that has at least a decade of proven work experience under their belt, and be sure they have operated under the same business name during that time.
It is also important to choose a roofer with experience working on buildings similar to your own. A company that mainly works with single-story, suburban retail buildings, for example, would not be the best choice to work on a high-rise with tenant access. Study the roofer’s portfolio to compare their past projects with your own.
What Is The Timeline?
A roofing company that is booked for the next 12 months is of little use if your roof is failing today. Before selecting a bid, be sure to address the contractor’s capacity to handle the work. Ask questions like:
- When can the project start?
- Will you have access to all of the extra equipment needed for the work?
- How long will the job take?
- Do you currently have enough people on staff to get the job done in the allotted time?
A bottom-line bid is not always an indication of capacity to do the work. Be sure to ask these questions to ensure your project can start and end in a timely manner.
What Is Your Safety Rating?
Safety should be just as much of a priority when choosing a roofer as budget. There cannot be enough said about keeping the workers on the roof safe from hazards and keeping the tenants and general public safe, as well.
Ask direct questions about a roofer’s safety record. They should have this data on file, and should be willing and able to present it as part of their bid presentation. The way in which a roofing contractor manages safety can be a strong indicator of how the entire project will be managed.
How Can You Ensure Quality?
Quality can and should be the deciding factor when you have several bids that come in at the same price, and the experience and safety record of the contractors all seem equal.
Quality can be determined by studying a potential contractor’s portfolio and asking for references. Most reputable firms should be able to provide references for similar projects. If given the opportunity to connect directly with those references, ask about their satisfaction levels with:
- The communication process with the contractor before, during and after construction.
- The quality of materials.
- The workmanship of the finished product.
- The work ethic of the team.
- Safety precautions during construction.
- Maintenance contracts, warranties, etc.
- Current roof performance.
A roofing project that is rife with issues can draw out the length of construction, can lead to unforeseen added expenses and a host of other issues down the line. While the price of the roof is important, the quality of the roof and the value proposition of the contractor should be given significant weight.
Commercial roofing projects can easily fall into the $100,000-plus range. When spending that kind of money, building owners and property managers must perform their due diligence. Take the time to ask questions to a roofer before hiring them. A proper vetting process is the best way to ensure satisfaction with the end result.
Effective facilities managers are vigilant. They keep a watchful eye on every aspect of the building in their care. However, roofing systems are a proverbial horse of a different color. Even the most thorough and proactive manager can sometimes miss things that can lead to costly repairs and roof replacements. Here are some of the most common mistakes that facilities managers make when inspecting their own roof, and tips on how to avoid them.
The Biggest Roofing Inspection Mistake
Proactive inspections of a building’s roof are critical for keeping tabs on the conditions of the roof. Identifying potential issues early will save big money and big headaches down the line. Although do-it-yourself inspections by facility managers are key, the number one way they can prevent costly future repairs is to ensure professional roof inspections are being done on a regular basis by a trusted roofing partner.
While major defects like wide tears or holes in the membrane may be obvious during a DIY inspection, other defects are far more nuanced and subtle (yet no less damaging to the integrity of the roofing system). When caught early, those defects can help stave off major failures and can prolong the life of the roof.
Potential defects outside of obvious holes are wide-ranging and many are unique to the type of roofing system used on a building. For example, thermoplastic membranes are vulnerable to “cold welds,” wherein a section or sections of the membranes were not properly fused together during the welding process. Defective welds can be a result of moisture, dirt, or incorrect welding temperatures. Only an experienced roofer with expertise in thermoplastic membranes could spot such a defect on an inspection before that defect led to a major issue with the roof.
The Time And Place For DIY Inspections
A trusted roofing partner can and should conduct regular, professional inspections, but it is still a wise practice to get up on the roof in between those formal inspections. You never know when something could go wrong, and as they say, two heads are better than one. After each formal inspection, sit down with the roofer and go over their results and insight. Have the inspector walk you through the places and spaces that may require a little TLC in the future, and learn which areas of the roof you should keep a close eye on for changes.
Having eyes on the roof in between inspections is helpful for the roofer, as well. Spotting damage or changes in the roof’s appearance early can prevent major water leakage and damage in the future. Facilities manager should create a checklist for these regular, self-inspections that include:
- Checking for obvious holes in the roof
- Studying the draining system (i.e. clearing debris from drains and gutters)
- Monitoring access areas
- Examining the areas around HVAC units and other heavy equipment on the roof
- Identifying potential damage after an extreme weather event
- Identifying damage after trade contractors have been on the roof
Regular examinations in between formal visits from your roofer ensures that damage will be spotted and repaired quickly. It can mean the difference between a tiny puncture in a membrane and a saturated roofing system.
Overcoming Common Roofing Inspection Mistakes
As discussed in the thermoplastic membrane example, experienced roofers know that defects look a certain way under specific circumstances. While the facility manager may be intimately familiar with the inner workings of the building, they don’t necessarily know how the roof has been assembled, how all of the components should work together, and how to spot problems in their particular roofing system.
The vigilance of the facility manager who conducts regular DIY inspections of the roof coupled with the expertise of a roofing contractor who conducts regular inspections and maintenance can ensure that potential weaknesses are spotted and dealt with early, thus ensuring the roof performing its desired function.
With the exception of an act of nature, roofs rarely open up and allow water to pour in without warning. Most leaks begin small, getting worse with time as more and more water seeps into the roofing system. A commercial roof will “communicate” with the people inside, offering signs of stress. These are the 5 indoor roofing red flags to keep an eye on.
1. Water, Water Anywhere
The number one leaky roof red flag is the presence of water anywhere it should not be. The location of the water can be misleading, and may not be an accurate indication of where the water is coming from. Don’t assume that water stains near a window are caused by the window itself. Water travels on the path of least resistance, and that means that moisture from the roof can run down walls and show up nearly anywhere in the building.
2. Moisture On The Ceiling
Condensation can accumulate on the ceiling tiles for many reasons and may not always indicate a roof leak. Sometimes it can be the result of a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, or plumbing issue. However, if it occurs on the top floor, odds are it’s caused by a roof leak. Any time condensation appears on the ceiling, the cause should be immediately investigated.
3. Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew require water to grow. If mold or mildew are spotted on or behind walls, this is a major roofing red flag. Again, this could be the result of a plumbing or ductwork issue, but in many cases of mold, water is likely getting in between the walls through the roof.
4. Rot In an Unused Area of the Building
Some buildings have restricted or unused areas that are not regularly visited by employees or tenants. When a section of a building is not populated, it can be a while before signs of leaks are found, which can cause rot. If rot is present in a little-used section of the building, the source may be the roof.
5. Irregular Roofing Inspections
When was the last time your roof was inspected by a professional roofing contractor? If no one on the facilities team can recall, or if it’s been more than a year, the building is at high risk for roof leaks, especially if that roof is more than a few years old.
Proactive Indoor Searches For Signs of Outdoor Damage
Leaks are often not spotted in their early stages, especially if you’re not conducting regular inspections and roofing maintenance check-ups. Typically, the first time a roofing red flag is noticed occurs when water is already dripping or pouring down into a building.
When facilities teams conduct inspections of the property, they should create a checklist for their examinations that includes:
- Looking for signs of moisture on the ceiling.
- Examining areas around windows and door openings for wetness, warp or rot.
- Scanning for visible signs of mold or mildew.
- Studying the roof deck, if visible, for signs of moisture.
Water leaks damage more than just the roof. If a leak is not detected early, or if it is not repaired in a way that corrects the damage done by the water, it can lead to widespread mold and mildew, drywall may need to be replaced, carpeting removed, window frames rebuilt, etc. These residual repairs can significantly add to the total cost of the repair.
The best way to keep water from getting inside is to ensure the roof is an impregnable barrier against the elements. Working with a trusted partner and expert can help keep water outside, where it belongs.