Breaking the Reactive Roof Cycle

by Nate Hunter

A look at roof asset management, repairs and restorations.


The traditional approach to managing a roof portfolio has always been somewhat reactive: Wait until a roof leak occurs, fix just that leak and then wait for the next leak to happen. Building owners and managers using this reactive approach often find that over time the costs of roofing needs end up exceeding their planned budget, and the roof’s service life is shortened. In today’s marketplace, roofing budgets are often based upon historical spend on roof replacements and input from facility managers for replacement of problem roofs. The real problem is that not all leaking roofs need to be replaced. In addition, this approach doesn’t provide the reliable information necessary to develop a long term capital improvement plan and to budget for the future with any certainty.

Maintaining a roof by merely reacting to problems costs an average of 25 cents per square foot annually; however, those who have a proactive roof program in place only spend an average of 14 cents per square foot annually. Plus, proactively maintained roofs last an average of 21 years compared to an average lifespan of 13 years for those under reactive maintenance.1 The longer a roof’s life can be extended before replacement, the more the overall savings increase and life cycle costs decrease.

Roof Asset Management

The goal of a proactive roof asset management program is to maximize the life of an entire roofing portfolio and to accurately predict the expense or capital dollars needed to maintain the portfolio over time. Determining roof life expectancy is the basis for all recommendations of an asset management program, so it’s imperative that the calculations are both correct and reliable.

The first step in developing a roof asset management program is performing a comprehensive roofing inventory and inspection. The roofing provider should include not only visual inspections and infrared scans, but also membrane testing and core sampling to ensure truly accurate and objective results. The roofing provider should then provide a condition assessment analysis, including recommended solutions and costs, to accurately target roofing investments with the focus being on the problem areas and immediate needs.

Online software can also make management of roof assets much easier. Through a variety of tracking and reporting options, including inventory management, in-depth reporting, invoice tracking and data tracking, it’s possible to more accurately determine a roof’s lifespan and avoid unexpected costs associated with emergency repairs.

A roof asset management program can empower you to regain control of your roof expenditures and identify opportunities to defer replacements through restoration, place your roofs under warranty and save money over the long term. With the right tools, a roof asset management program can provide objective assessments of roof life expectancy and offer action steps and long term plans to extend the life of your existing roofing portfolio.

Repair, Restore or Replace?

Approximately 85% of roofs are replaced unnecessarily due to bad information.2 A roof undergoes serious wear and tear throughout its lifetime, with factors such as weathering and degeneration taking their toll. Through scientific testing and analysis, however, a roofing provider can outline the current condition of a roof and determine if roof repair or restoration is an option or whether roof replacement is necessary. Choosing a roofing provider that offers repair and restoration options — not just replacements — improves the likelihood of an accurate analysis and a cost-effective plan. A good rule of thumb to remember is this: Repairing a roof should be considered if it will survive its original service life expectancy without exceeding the cost of a new roof.

You can determine estimated useful life of your roof portfolio and establish the depletion rate using the following equation:

Depletion Rate = Replacement Value

                           Roof Life Expectancy

Depletion Rate Example

Roof Portfolio Size                                    50 million square feet

Replacement Cost                                    $8 per square foot

Roof Portfolio Replacement Value            $400 million

Roof Life Expectancy                                    15 years


Roof Depletion Rate                                    $26.6 million/year


Weighing Dollar Versus Value

While it may seem counter-intuitive, the price of a single job should not be the primary consideration when choosing between roofing providers. The existing perception is that the amount between the highest bid and the lowest bid represents “savings” but that’s not necessarily the case. Building owners and managers need to be focused instead on the best solution — whether it’s repair, restoration or replacement — that offers the lowest roof life cycle cost. Fixating on the lowest one-time bid ignores the long-term roofing costs and typically results in a higher overall expense.


Roofing contractors should work within your existing procurement process to identify any alternatives to replacement and be able to provide a demonstrated Return on Investment (ROI).

Energy Savings

A full roof inspection can identify causes of energy loss that, if treated, can result in a dramatic reduction in energy consumption, utility cost savings and compliance with federal energy efficiency mandates or corporate initiatives. Two of the most common causes of energy loss are wet insulation and heat absorption by dark roofs on buildings in warm climates.

InfraredInfrared scanning is a non-evasive testing method that can detect moisture in insulation and cost you just pennies per square foot. Once insulation gets wet, it goes from being an insulator (saving you money) to a conductor (costing you money). Wet insulation from even minor leaks can increase energy losses up to 70% because the insulation loses thermal resistance, which means higher heating and cooling costs. A 100,000-square-foot facility could be wasting as much as $238,000 to $648,000 in annual energy costs — that’s an average of 40% to 108% of the cost to replace the roof! In addition, while insulation does eventually dry, it can still become a breeding ground for mold growth and lead to costly litigation.

Facility managers and owners in warmer climates should be concerned with heat absorption if the facility has a dark roof. A simple application of a reflective coating can achieve a ‘cool roof’ or ‘white roof’ standard. A cool roof simply reflects the sun’s heat so the roof stays cooler and reduces the amount of heat transferred to the building, reducing the need for HVAC fluctuations. This reflective coating can not only save you energy costs but there are several government incentives and rebates that go along with a cool roof. For more information on cool roofs, visit the Cool Roof Rating Council at


Switching from a reactive cycle of leak, repair, leak, repair to a proactive roof asset management program can help you regain control of your roofing expenditures and provide you with the tools you need to make the right roof maintenance decisions and plan a cost-effective roofing program.






1 Roofing Contractor, November 9, 2009

2 RICS, Georgia Tech and the Contributors, 2007




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