Asphalt-based Low-slope Roof Systems Provide Long-term Service Life

Asphalt-based roof systems have a long-standing track record of success in the roofing industry. In fact, asphalt-based roof systems have more than a century of use in the U.S. Building owners, roofing specifiers and contractors should not lose sight of this fact. It is important to understand why asphalt roofing has been successful for so long. Asphalt roofs demonstrate characteristics, such as durability and longevity of materials and components, redundancy of waterproofing, ease and understanding of installation, excellent tensile strength and impact resistance. Each of these characteristics helps ensure long-term performance.

Using a composite built-up/ modified bitumen roof system provides redundancy helping ensure durability and longevity. Surface reflectivity and a multilayer insulation layer provide excellent thermal resistance. Quality details and regular maintenance will provide long-term performance. PHOTO: Advanced Roofing

Using a composite built-up/
modified bitumen roof system provides redundancy helping ensure durability and longevity. Surface reflectivity and a multilayer insulation layer provide excellent thermal resistance. Quality details
and regular maintenance will provide long-term performance. PHOTO: Advanced Roofing

There are two types of asphalt-based low-slope roof systems: modified bitumen (MB) roof systems and builtup roof (BUR) systems. MB sheets are composed primarily of polymer-modified bitumen reinforced with one or more plies of fabric, such as polyester, glass fiber or a combination of both. Assembled in factories using optimal quality-control standards, modified bitumen sheets are manufactured to have uniform thickness and consistent physical properties throughout the sheet. Modified bitumen roof systems are further divided into atactic polypropylene (APP) and styrene butadiene styrene (SBS) modified systems. APP and SBS modifiers create a uniform matrix that enhances the physical properties of the asphalt. APP is a thermoplastic polymer that forms a uniform matrix within the bitumen. This matrix increases the bitumen’s resistance to ultraviolet light, its flexibility at high and low temperatures, and its ability to resist water penetration. SBS membranes resist water penetration while exhibiting excellent elongation and recovery properties over a wide range of temperature extremes. This high-performance benefit makes SBS membranes durable and particularly appropriate where there may be movement or deflection of the underlying deck.

BUR systems consist of multiple layers of bitumen alternated with ply sheets (felts) applied over the roof deck, vapor retarder, and most often insulation or coverboard. BUR systems are particularly advantageous for lowslope applications. The strength of the system comes from the membrane, which includes the layers of hot-applied bitumen and the reinforcing plies of roofing felt.

FACTORS FOR LONG-TERM PERFORMANCE AND SERVICE LIFE

It is important for building owners and roof system designers to recognize the principles of long-lasting, high-performance roof systems. Roof longevity and performance are determined by factors that include building and roof system design, job specifications, materials quality and suitability, application procedures and maintenance. The level of quality in the workmanship during the application process is critical.

Longevity and performance start with proper design of the asphalt-based roof system. Proper roof system design includes several components: the roof deck, a base layer supporting a vapor retarder or air barrier when necessary, multi-layer insulation and a coverboard, the asphaltic membrane, appropriate surfacing material or coating, and the attachment methods for all layers. Roof consultants, architects and roof manufacturers understand proper design. Roof design needs to follow applicable code requirements for wind, fire and impact resistance, as well as site-specific issues, such as enhanced wind resistance design, positive drainage and rooftop traffic protection. Roof designers can provide or assist with the development of written specifications and construction details that are specific to a roofing project for new construction or reroofing.

Low-slope asphalt-based roof systems are redundant; they are multi-layered systems. BUR systems include a base sheet, three or four reinforcing ply sheets and a surfacing, either aggregate (rock) or a cap sheet. MB sheets include one and sometimes two reinforcing layers and are commonly installed over a substantial asphaltic base sheet. Modified bitumen roofs can be granule surfaced, finished with reflective options or coated after installation. Aggregate, granules, films and coatings add UV protection, assist with fire resistance, provide durability to the roof system and can improve roof aesthetics.

An asphaltic cap sheet with a factory-applied reflective roof coating is installed over three glass-fiber ply sheets and a venting base sheet. The reflective coating reduces heat gain, and insulating concrete provides a stable substrate and high R-value. PHOTO: Aerial Photography Inc.

An asphaltic cap sheet with a factory-applied reflective roof coating is installed over three glass-fiber ply sheets and a venting base sheet. The reflective coating reduces heat gain, and insulating concrete provides a stable substrate and high R-value. PHOTO: Aerial Photography Inc.

Coverboards provide a durable layer immediately below the membrane, are resistant to foot traffic and separate the membrane from the thermal insulation layer. Protecting the thermal insulation helps maintain the insulation R-value as specified and installed.

Asphalt is a durable and long-lasting material for roof membranes and flashings. Asphalt is stable under significant temperature swings and can be highly impact resistant. Various reinforcements can be used to increase an asphaltic membrane’s durability. All asphaltic membranes are reinforced, during installation (BUR) or the manufacturing process (MB membranes). Polyester reinforcement has excellent elongation, tensile strength and recovery. It provides good puncture resistance and stands up well to foot traffic. Glass fiber reinforcement resists flame penetration and provides excellent tensile strength and dimensional stability.

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An ERA Study Proves EPDM Easily Lasts More than 30 Years

More and more building owners are seeing the light: Roof systems based on historical in situ performance for more than 30 years are the best roof system choice to benefit the environment. EPDM roof membrane has been utilized as a roof cover for more than 40 years, and there are numerous examples of ballasted roofs greater than 30-years old still performing. New seaming technologies, thicker membrane and enhanced design are creating roof systems with projected 50-year service lives. EPDM roof covers’ physical characteristics have changed little in 30 years, and because potential for 50-year-plus service life is possible, they are a solid choice of design professionals, building owners and school district representatives who truly desire a roof system that benefits the environment.

PHOTO 1: This ballasted 45-mil EPDM roof system has been in service for 32 years.

PHOTO 1: This ballasted 45-mil EPDM roof system has been in service for 32
years.

In 2010, the Washington, D.C.-based EPDM Roofing Association (ERA) was determined to answer the question: “How long can an EPDM roof perform?” Consequently, roof membrane samples from five roof systems with a minimum age of 30 years were obtained for testing of their physical properties. The physical and mechanical properties evaluated (using relevant ASTM standards) were overall thickness, tear resistance, tensile set, tensile strength and elongation, and water absorption. The results were positive, showing that even after 30 years of infield exposure nearly all the physical characteristics of EPDM membrane meet or exceed ASTM minimums. But the question of how long EPDM roofs could last remained. Thus, a second phase of testing was undertaken.

These properties were studied for “as received” and “after heat-conditioning” for up to 1,500 hours at 240 F. Results showing how these membranes performed before and after heat-conditioning are presented with the intent of defining characteristics for long-term service life of roof membranes.

TESTING PHASE ONE

Ethylene-propylene-diene terpolymer (EPDM) has been used in waterproofing and roof applications for more than 45 years in North America. Introduced into the roofing market in the 1960s, EPDM grew, especially after the 1970s oil embargo, to be a roofing membrane choice for new construction and roofing replacement projects. EPDM has achieved long-term in situ performance in part because of its chemical structure, mostly carbon black, which resists ozone and material decomposition, as well as degradation caused by UV light, which is the No. 1 degradation element to roofing materials exposed to the sun (see photo 1). The carbon black also provides reinforcement, yielding improved physical and mechanical properties.

Long-term performance of roof-cover material is dependent upon its resistance to the combined effects of ponding water, UV radiation, ozone, heat and thermal cycling. Geographical location can exacerbate or reduce the impact of climatic factors. In ballasted systems, the ballast acts to provide protection from the UV rays and minimizes the effect of climatic influences.

ERA’s study had three specific goals:

    1. Verify the long-term performance characteristics of EPDM membranes over 30 years. (At the time of the study, the only in situ membranes that were around for 30 years were 45-mil EPDM membranes. Currently 60- and 90-mil are the standard choices. It is assumed that results for the 45-mil material can be prorated for the thicker membrane.)

    2. Scientifically validate the empirical sustainability experiences.

    PHOTO 2: This recently installed, ballasted, 90-mil EPDM roof was designed for a 50-year service life.

    PHOTO 2: This recently installed, ballasted, 90-mil EPDM roof was designed for a 50-year service life.

    3. Create a foundation for specifier-to-owner discussions in regard to long-term service life. Five roofs, four ballasted and one fully adhered, with in situ service lives approaching or over 30 years were identified and samples were taken. All roofs were fully performing without moisture intrusion.

The samples were sent for testing per ASTM D4637 for:

  • Elongation
  • Tensile strength
  • Thickness
  • Factory seam strength (psi)

PHOTOS: HUTCHINSON DESIGN GROUP LTD.

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Galvalume-coated Metal Roofs Will Last at Least 60 Years with Minimal Component Repair

The term “infrastructure sustainability” continues to gain importance because of rapidly increasing building infrastructure components around the country needing major repairs and/ or replacements. Consequently, roof maintenance or replacement materials and methods must last at least 60 years; consider LEED v4 from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council. For more than 30 years, millions of square feet of Galvalume-coated roofs have resisted the atmospheric conditions to which they are exposed with little or no maintenance and are well prepared to continue protecting building interiors for more than 30 additional years. Material science and professional project engineering and installation prove Galvalume-coated metal standing-seam roofs will perform for that period of time.

This is a nine-year-old painted Galvalume roof in Alabama.

This is a nine-year-old painted Galvalume roof in Alabama.

MATERIAL SCIENCE

The first standing-seam metal roof was introduced by Armco Steel Corp., Middletown, Ohio, at the 1932 World’s Fair in Chicago. Armco Steel ceased doing business many years ago, but its standing-seam metal roof design has been adopted by all manufacturers in today’s commercial metal roofing market. The second longest-lasting introduction into this market was in the early 1970s when Bethlehem, Pa.-based Bethlehem Steel introduced a Zinc/Aluminum coating—now known as Galvalume—for carbon-steel metal roofs. This coating, applied to both sides of the steel coil, has been successfully used for the majority of metal standing-seam roofs ever since.

Since Galvalume was introduced, there have been several evaluations, reports and predictions as to how this product would “weather” the test of time. In 2012, the Chicago-based Metal Construction Association (MCA) and Olympia, Wash.-based Zinc Aluminum Coaters Association (ZAC) commissioned a study to perform forensic tests at 14 existing Galvalume standing-seam metal roof sites throughout the country in varying climates and precipitation pH. The average age of these roofs was more than 30 years at the time of testing.

Initially, the sites were selected based on temperature and humidity zones throughout the U.S. As the field results were processed, however, it became apparent the expected lives of these roofs were directly dependent on the precipitation pH levels with very little correlation to temperature and humidity. The building sites chosen were located in the following states:

  • Massachusetts (2 sites)
    This Galvalume roof in Missouri is nine years old.

    This Galvalume roof in Missouri is nine-years old.


    Ohio (3 sites)
    South Carolina (2 sites)
    Georgia (1 site)
    Colorado (1 site)
    New Mexico (1 site)
    Arizona (1 site)
    Oregon (1 site)
    Wyoming (2 sites)

The study was directed by MCA and three independent consultants and their firms, which managed and performed the field work: Rob Haddock of Metal Roof Advisory Group, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Ron Dutton of Ron Dutton Consulting Services LLC, Annapolis, Md.; and me and my firm Metal Roof Consultants Inc., Cary, N.C. This group, plus Scott Kriner, MCA’s technical director, authored the actual report, which was issued by MCA and ZAC in November 2014 and is available online.

The team harvested and analyzed actual field samples of Galvalume-coated metal standing-seam roof panel materials and sealants and examined all the individual roofs’ ancillary components. Finally, it created an experienced assessment of the roofs’ conditions and associated costs to replace.

PHOTOS: METAL ROOF CONSULTANTS INC.

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Long-term Performance of Roof Systems

The April e-newsletter distributed by Roofing contained an online exclusive about sustainability. The author, Brooks Gentleman, an owner of window refurbisher Re-View, Kansas City, Mo., questioned whether we’re talking about the right things when referring to a building as sustainable. He says, “During the past 10 years, there has been a great deal of talk about green buildings and sustainability, but how many of these ‘green’ commercial or residential buildings are designed or constructed to last for centuries? When will the life cycle of the structure and the construction materials themselves become factors in the sustainability criteria? It seems to me that more effort is placed on whether a material is recyclable than whether it can perform over the long haul. It is time that the design community, manufacturers and construction processes begin to consider the life of the building if we are truly going to incorporate sustainability in our industry.” (Read the entire article.)

Gentleman’s commentary is the perfect precursor to this issue, which has a focus on the long-term performance of a roof system. Three “Tech Point” articles explain the life spans of metal, EPDM and asphalt, respectively. The authors—Chuck Howard P.E., a Roofing editorial advisor; Thomas W. Hutchinson, AIA, CSI, FRCI, RRC, RRP, a Roofing editorial advisor; and James R. Kirby, AIA—share roof-cover characteristics that achieve and industry studies that prove long-term performance.

Insulation is a component that will help extend the life of a roof system. In “Cool Roofing”, Kyle Menard, president of Bloom Roofing, Brighton, Mich., shares insight about polyisocyanurate, specifically how it contributes to long-term roof performance and why the roofing industry should educate clients about its importance as part of a roof system.

As architects, building owners and occupants increase their expectations for the environmental performance of the buildings they design, operate and dwell in, building component manufacturers have begun rolling out environmental product declarations, or EPDs. EPDs are related to life-cycle assessments and product category rules, all of which are part of an ongoing effort to provide as much transparency as possible about what goes into the products that go in and on a building. In “Environmental Trends”, Allen Barry writes about the significance of EPDs for the roofing industry.

As a longtime proponent of sustainability, it’s wonderful to see the conversation turning toward the critical issue of durability and long-term performance. Yes, specifying materials with recycled content or from sustainably managed forests is a nice consideration, but if those materials will only last a few years and must be replaced, we’re expending more energy—and money—using them. There’s nothing sustainable about that.

Redefining Sustainability

My company is currently in the process of restoring more than 1,600 window sashes for a large historic project in Buffalo, N.Y. As I recently walked through our plant and saw the thousands of windows in various stages of repair, I reflected upon how we were repairing windows that are more than 135-years old. This made me think about the current state of the construction industry and what our expectations are for the life of a building structure and the components that make up that structure. During the past 10 years, there has been a great deal of talk about green buildings and sustainability, but how many of these “green” commercial or residential buildings are designed or constructed to last for centuries? When will the life cycle of the structure and the construction materials themselves become factors in the sustainability criteria? It seems to me that more effort is placed on whether a material is recyclable than whether it can perform over the long haul. It is time that the design community, manufacturers and construction processes begin to consider the life of the building if we are truly going to incorporate sustainability in our industry.

Back in 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED green building rating system as a way to guide building owners to be environmentally accountable and to use resources responsibly. The LEED system has had a profound effect upon the design community by motivating advancements in energy efficiency, use of recyclable materials, incorporation of natural daylight and reuse of water. The LEED program made the word “sustainability” a household term over the past ten years, but has it truly redefined sustainable design? I would submit that LEED has been most successful in motivating changes in how structures consume natural resources and how the structure can be recycled at the end of its useful life. Very little emphasis has been put on designing a structure and using component materials that will last for many generations.

I like the definition of sustainability from author and professor Geir B. Asheim. “Sustainability is defined as a requirement of our generation to manage the resource base such that the average quality of life that we ensure ourselves can potentially be shared by all future generations.” I would submit that true sustainability in the construction industry implies that we construct edifices that can be used for many generations. It does not mean that we build a structure that has to have its major components replaced every 20 years.

Take windows for example. The major window manufacturers have developed designs that require the replacement of the entire window once the insulated glass seal has failed. Although the window is made of materials that can be recycled, it isn’t designed for multi-generational, long-term use. Changes in the glazing details that would facilitate glass replacement could dramatically extend the lifespan of these products. Other manufacturers use inexpensive materials such as vinyl for major structural members that have spurious life expectancy. Ask any window manufacturer for the life expectancy of their products and they will refer to their 10 year product and 20 year glass warranties. Is it unreasonable to expect a window to last for more than 20 years? I don’t think so.

Other products such as appliances, finishes, roofing, HVAC, lighting, siding, etc. also have very limited life expectancies. Some promote lifetime warranties that are so burdened with legalese they are rendered useless. By limiting the warranty to the original purchaser, prorating the warranty every year, and limiting exposure, the warranty actually protects the manufacturer more than the purchaser. American manufacturers have become more concerned with cutting costs than building better products. If manufacturers made changes in designs and the base materials used in fabrication, they could dramatically improve the expected years of service. Although many of the changes in materials will increase prices, there is a market for more durable products.

It’s time that the construction industry begins to take the life cycle of our new structures more seriously. We need to make advances in the quality of our construction designs and materials for the industry to truly become driven by sustainability. We should view our work as a testament for future generations rather than a disposable structure that will eventually be long forgotten.

This blog post first appeared on Re-View’s Window Review Blog.