Your FAQs About Commercial Roofing, Answered

Kathleen Maxwell

Building owners and facilities managers often avoid thinking about their roofs unless they have a reason. Typically, that reason ends up being a major leak or failure in the system. When these types of issues arise with a commercial roof, it raises a lot of questions that range from costs to the benefits of regular roofing maintenance. Here are you most common commercial roofing questions, answered.

How long does a commercial roof last?

No roof lasts forever. However, the life of any given roof can be impacted by myriad factors. The ideal lifespan for any roof is 20 years, but not all commercial roofs “live” to see their 20th birthday. During an inspection, experienced roofing professionals can give a fairly accurate assessment, but they cannot provide guarantees and they cannot predict unforeseen events like major storms, freak accidents, neglect from building operators, or an unplanned uptick in activity on the roof. An experienced commercial roofer can provide a relatively accurate estimate of how much life your roof has left, broken down into the following ranges:

  • 1-3 years
  • 3-5 years
  • 5 or more

The best way to keep a handle on the health of a roof is to have an experienced roof inspector conduct regular inspections.

How much will a new roof cost?

Commercial roofing systems are not inexpensive, but cost estimates can range significantly and are based on a number of factors, including:

  • The size of the roof
  • The materials to be used
  • The location of the building
  • The factors contributing to the replacement
  • The amount of time the replacement will take
  • Many other variables

A new roof can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on its size, but the only way to get an accurate estimate is to have a roofing contractor assess the situation first-hand.

A new roof isn’t in the budget. Can a leak be patched?

Yes, you can patch leaks in a roof. However, patches don’t always solve the root cause of a leak, and they won’t correct the damage caused by the leak. If, for example, water has gotten into the insulation layers of the roof, no patch job in the world will save it.

Any time a roof leaks, a professional should be called to locate the leak, diagnose the root cause, assess the damage and recommend a solution. Repairs can often be made, but the only way to determine the effectiveness of a repair is to work with an expert and to invest in regular roofing maintenance.

If you suspect your building needs a new roof, get an inspector there before annual budgets are set, so that money, time and other resources can be allotted for the project.

How can I tell when my roof is in need of repair or replacement?

Leaks are the most obvious sign that a roof is in need of repair or possibly a replacement. However, there are other clues and cues that can indicate that repairs are in order. If the roof changes in appearance in some way from one inspection to the next, a call to a roofer is in order to diagnose the cause.

Regular roofing inspections are the key to staying out in front of repairs. In the same way that people visit the doctor for regular checkups in order to spot potential problems early, commercial roofing inspections and regularly scheduled roofing maintenance will help the roof maintain its integrity for as long as possible.

What documentation should I keep on hand?

Just as you might file away maintenance records for your car or your home, building staff should always file regular roofing maintenance records, starting with the design plans. When there is an issue with the roofing system, documentation will help the contractor find the issue, properly diagnose it and develop an effective solution.

When the facilities team does regular, in-house inspections of the roof, photographs can help keep a record of the way things look. Any potential defects or damage should be photographed and given to the roofing contractor, along with detailed directions on where to find that damage/defect. When taking photographs, always make accompanying notes. For example, “this is a wrinkle in the membrane two feet to the left of the access hatch.” That way, the next time an inspection is done, the wrinkle can be monitored for any changes.

I think I’ve spotted damage on my roof. What should I do?

Any time someone steps on the roof and they think they have spotted damage, defects, weaknesses or potential problems, they should document the location of the issue and the facilities manager should be notified so that he or she can call on a roofing contractor. Time is of the essence when it comes to roofing. Any amount of water that leaks through will accelerate the deterioration process.

Do I really need to call a professional any time my roof leaks?

Yes! Any time water is spotted inside the building, a call to a roofing professional is in order. There are any number of reasons roofs leak, and the only way to stop it from happening again and to understand the extent of the damage is to get an expert on the roof to examine the situation.

When it comes to leaks, damage is almost always the culprit, but workmanship can also be an issue. And when there is one workmanship defect, there are often more. Say, for example, one skylight out of 30 begins to leak and the inspection reveals it is a workmanship defect. That means that the 29 other skylights most likely need the same repair to prevent them from leaking and causing further, major damage to the roof system. When you see a leak or signs of a leak, it’s better to call immediately than to wait for another issue to arise.

No two roofing projects are ever the same. Each roof has unique strengths and weaknesses. The best way to ensure the longest life possible is to partner with an experienced roofing contractor that has a successful track record of working with buildings similar in design and structure, and have them develop a plan for regular roofing maintenance.


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