Regular Roof Inspections Help ‘Keep the Door Open’

A roof inspector makes field observations. Photo: Kemper System America Inc.

Regular roof inspections give consultants and contractors a chance to maintain relationships with building owners and managers and create value beyond any immediate repairs.

Commercial roofs should be inspected at least twice a year, typically in the spring and fall. Roof inspections are also advised after major weather events, though contractors may already be deluged with repair requests. Of course, building managers will be more receptive to discussing regular inspections during such times, even though time is short. A service flyer and readily available letter-of-agreement can help quickly close the deal, and be used after any major job throughout the year to create recurring business. Customers should clearly understand the service offer and any special provisions for emergency repairs or exceptions such as during wider emergencies.

Common Sources of Roof Leaks

  • Cracks in or around flashings and penetrations
  • Breaks in and around gutterways and drains
  • Poor drainage or debris-clogged drainage systems
  • Storm damage, tree branches, ice dams, etc.
  • Incidental damage by other trades during construction or maintenance
  • Excessive foot traffic at rooftop access points and around HVAC units and other rooftop infrastructure
  • Old or deteriorating roofing materials

While roof leaks can be caused in several ways, many common sources of leaks can be prevented with liquid-applied coating and membrane systems that fully adhere to substrates and are both self-terminating and self-flashing. Membrane systems are fully reinforced and create a seamless surface. High-quality systems are designed to withstand ponding water, ice, snow, UV light, as well as most chemicals. Unreinforced roof coatings can be used for repairs or complete restoration of the roof surface.

If only a small area is damaged, a limited repair is best, and usually possible with compatible materials over an existing system in good condition.Check if a warranty is in place, and if possible contact the manufacturer before the repair. Perform any repairs within the guidelines of the warranty.

For wider areas, a roof recovery is often possible right over the existing roofing. If interior leaks from a field area are evident, core samples can verify the condition of the existing roof assembly down to the deck. Built-up roofs (BUR), in particular, are susceptible to sun and temperature cycling. Tiny spider cracks and micropores can develop in the surface, and the layers below can absorb moisture and deteriorate. Water always travels to its lowest point and, if left unchecked, will damage the underlying structure.

On low-slope roofs, areas of ponding water are a prime target for inspections. If the roof is covered by aggregate or overburden, it must be cleared from around the lowest point of any low-lying areas, and other areas of suspected damage. A visual inspection can locate the source of an active leak, but there may be more than one source or a larger issue that may not always be visible. Broader sampling is needed to evaluate the general condition of the roof and the scope of any deterioration.

Quality workmanship and materials help avoid callbacks and ensure long-term relationships. After completing any necessary repairs, a PMMA, polyurethane or elastomeric membrane or coatings system can be installed to extend the service life of an existing roof. Elastomeric-based coatings are generally the best value for straightforward repairs and can be ideal for recovering metal roofs. Roof restoration, in general, can enhance building performance with “Cool Roof” products, especially those with a high solar reflectance index (SRI).

At the end of the day, an ounce of prevention and a prompt response to issues can help building owners avoid expensive headaches. People remember expert advice and quality service, especially in times of need. They also may tell others — which is another way regular inspections can help keep the door open to recurring business.

The Beer That Saved My Life

Did I ever tell you about the beer that saved my life?

One day, the freezer motor in my refrigerator started to make a horrendous shrieking sound. I opened the freezer door, grabbed a pound of frozen ground round, and threw it at the back wall of the freezer. The noise stopped. Problem solved.

Unfortunately, the shrieking episodes continued and became more and more frequent. When I began dating Patti, the lovely woman who later became my wife, she was not impressed. “What are you going to do about that?” she said, hooking a thumb at my musical freezer. “What do you mean?” I replied. “I’m just never going to thaw that ground round.”

I knew that wasn’t a good long-term answer, but a new refrigerator was just not in my budget. However, Patti did some research and found out that a new freezer motor was relatively inexpensive and easy to install.

After purchasing the motor, I pulled out the refrigerator to install it. The galley kitchen was tight, so I had to reach around the refrigerator blindly to unplug it. I removed the back panel of the freezer and took out the old motor without too much difficulty. It was thirsty work, and remembered I had some beer in the refrigerator that would still be cold. I opened the door to pull one out, and realized with alarm that the refrigerator light was on. The unit was still plugged in!

Suddenly I wasn’t very thirsty any more. I realized that I had unplugged the microwave instead of the refrigerator. I was lucky not to have been shocked. It probably wouldn’t have been fatal, but I guess it possibly might have been, and it makes a better story to tell it that way. In any event, after unplugging the unit, I was able to complete the repair. We thawed the ground round and cooked up some hamburgers that night to celebrate.

What does this have to do with roofing? Unfortunately, too much. Many building owners think of their roofs much like I thought of my refrigerator. It is the job of roofing professionals to educate them so they can avoid these common mistakes:

  • Out of sight, out of mind: Roofs are often overlooked by building owners unless a problem crops up. But that’s often too late. Routine maintenance can be the key to spotting minor problems before they become major ones. It can also be a necessary component of the warranty.
  • Using stopgap measures: If a problem does crop up, owners might try to repair it themselves and cause more harm than good. As the roof becomes a platform for not only HVAC equipment but solar arrays, cell towers and satellite dishes, damage to the roof becomes more and more likely.
  • Not consulting a professional: Roofs face potential damage from extreme weather, debris, foot traffic, and a host of other problems. To get the most out of their investment, building owners need expert advice. Planning ahead can make budgeting a future repair or roof replacement much easier.
  • If you are a roofing professional with clients who might not be getting the most out of their roofing assets, stop by and talk to them about the benefits of a roof inspection or a maintenance program. Invite them out for a beer to talk it over. Of course, drinking alcoholic beverages on the job is never advisable under any circumstances, but a beer after work never hurt anyone. Who knows, it just might save someone’s life.