About Rob Haddock

Rob Haddock is president of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Metal Roof Advisory Group Ltd. He is a consultant, technical writer, training curriculum author, inventor and educator.

Rooftop Equipment Mounting and Penetrations for Low-slope Standing-seam Metal Roofs

Standing-seam metal roofing offers a durable, sustainable alternative to other roof types and can provide maintenance-free service for five to 10 decades. Sadly, this exceptional lifespan often is sabotaged with the mounting of essential rooftop equipment and ancillary mechanicals.

Metal roofing can make use of special seam-clamping hardware that grips the standing seam without puncturing the membrane. Seam clamps have made metal roofing a preferred roof type for mounting photovoltaic solar arrays. PHOTO: Metal Roof Advisory Group Ltd.

Metal roofing can make use of special seam-clamping hardware that grips the standing seam without puncturing the membrane. Seam clamps have made metal roofing a preferred roof type for mounting photovoltaic solar arrays.

Regardless of the roof type involved, consultants generally agree that the best way to prevent roof-related problems is to clear the rooftop of everything possible and just let it function as a roof—not a mechanical equipment platform. However, such a perfect roof continues to elude us, as it becomes necessary or convenient to mount HVAC equipment, screens to hide it, piping to fuel it, scuttles to access it and walkways to service it. The list of rooftop mountings also may include plumbing vents, satellite dishes, lightning protection, snow retention systems, solar collectors, advertising signage and fall-protection systems to maintain all the foregoing. To help achieve relatively trouble-free roofs, this segment provides some basic understanding of the dos and don’ts in situations where rooftop equipment mounting is requisite.

Penetration-free Attachment

A good “first rule” about any rooftop mounting is to avoid penetrating the membrane whenever possible. While this may seem obvious, the tenet is often violated with standing-seam metal. The norm for attaching things seems to involve anchoring the item to the structure through the roof. When this happens, it not only threatens weather integrity, but can also violate the membrane’s thermal-cycling behavior by inadvertently pinning the panel to the structure. Such a point of attachment will fatigue and fail from forces of thermal expansion within a short time. Fortunately, scores of items and equipment can be securely mounted to metal rooftops without any penetration whatsoever, actually making metal roofing more user-friendly than other roof types.

In terms of mounting ancillaries, metal roofing can use special seam-clamping hardware that grips the standing seam without puncturing the membrane. Unlike many other types of roofing, metal is a rigid, high-tensile material. The seam area creates a beam-like structure that can provide convenient anchorage for walkways, solar arrays, condensing units and gas piping without harming the roof’s weathering characteristics. Mechanicals can be safely and cost-effectively secured to these seam clamps, leaving the roof membrane penetration free. Seam clamps can provide holding strength of up to several thousand pounds on some profiles and gauges, last the life of the roof and preserve thermal-cycling characteristics. Using seam clamps when possible for ancillary mounting will eliminate unwanted holes and other potential problems.

Seam clamps allow even cumbersome ancillary items to be attached to metal roofs without penetrating the rooftop. PHOTO: Metal Roof Advisory Group Ltd.

Seam clamps allow even cumbersome ancillary items to be attached to metal roofs without penetrating the rooftop.

Clamps should be made only of noncorrosive metals—typically, aluminum with stainless-steel mounting hardware. These metals are compatible with virtually anything found on a metal roof, except copper (with which there are dissimilar metallurgy issues). Dissimilar metals in electrolytic contact will induce galvanic corrosion of the less noble metal. In cases involving copper roofing, brass clamps should be used with stainless-steel hardware.

Seam clamps generally integrate with the profile and seam folding, and in some way “pinch” the seam material to anchor them in place. Preferred methods of doing this involve setscrews tightened against the seam causing a detent in the seam material that in turn creates a mechanical interlock of the setscrew, seam and clamp, providing the greatest holding strength and durability. Setscrews should have round, polished points to prevent galling metallic coatings, which can lead to corrosion. In like fashion, and regardless of the method of engagement, any clamp device should avoid any sharp points or nodes that could potentially pierce or gall metallic coatings of steel or cause fatigue and fracture points of other metals.

It also is important to remember that any loads introduced into the clamp will be transferred to the panels and their anchorage to the structure. Consequently, anchorage must be capable of withstanding the added load. The best practice is to utilize clamps that have been appropriately tested for material and seam-specific holding strength; be sure in-service load does not exceed that of the published holding strength, including factors of safety. The roof manufacturer should also be consulted with respect to approval of devices used.

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