Low Maintenance

by Nate Hunter

Take these 4 basic steps prior to roof system purchase and installation to significantly reduce life-cycle costs.

Most building owners think about their roof only when there’s a problem—usually a leak. By that time, water has already caused damage to valuable merchandise, slowed production and/or caused a slip-and-fall accident. Once the damage is done, all the building owner can do is call a roofing contractor and get the roof repaired.

To avoid these costly — and often emergency — situations, some building owners invest in preventive roof maintenance programs, intended to catch minor problems before they lead to serious roof damage. But these seem expensive, given that most building owners have already purchased a 10-, 15-, or 20-year warranty on the roof system. What many building owners don’t understand is that warranties often contain exclusions and require the owner to “properly maintain” the roof to validate the warranty.

maintenance Sarnafil_InstallationIs there such a thing as a maintenance-free roof? The answer is: almost. Every roof system needs to be maintained in some way. For example, leaves and debris need to be cleaned from drains so water doesn’t pool on a flat roof. However, by following four basic steps—getting involved in the roofing process, selecting a reliable roof system from a proven manufacturer, making sure the roof is properly designed, and choosing an applicator who is trained and approved as one of the manufacturer’s finest installers—you can virtually eliminate roof maintenance.

Step 1: Get involved and stay involved

Too often, building owners don’t do their homework before selecting a roofing solution. They may rely on others, such as a contractor, architect, consultant or purchasing department, to make the decisions. It is always better for the building owner to become educated so he or she can help make the purchasing decisions throughout the project. It’s the building owner who has to “live” with the end result.

Step 2: Select a quality roof system from a reliable manufacturer

With a multitude of roof membranes to choose from, it may seem difficult to select one that will provide you with years, or even decades, of maintenance-free performance. The key is to look for a roof manufacturer that has a proven track record, has been producing roof membranes using the same formula for years, and can provide you with a list of completed projects of a similar size, system, location and scope as your own.

Make sure the manufacturer is well known in the industry and respected by top roofing contractors. The best contractors gravitate toward the best products, because they know that they’ll perform for decades. The manufacturer should also have local, direct field technicians available to assist with the job start and to conduct final inspections.

A quality roof system is also one that:

• Is easy to inspect and repair if needed. Exposed or non-ballasted roof systems, such as those that are adhered or mechanically attached are best.

• Doesn’t require recoating or resurfacing. To perform well over the long run, some roof systems need to be periodically “rejuvenated” — a significant maintenance item.

• Has hot-air-welded seams. Seams sealed with adhesives or tapes are known to become maintenance issues later on. Hot-air-welded seams, on the other hand, are stronger than the membrane itself and can withstand wind, weather and time.

To win a job, general contractors or roofing contractors may practice what’s called “value engineering,” a process in which they present a less expensive and often inferior product to the one specified. Although the upfront cost savings may seem appealing, in the long-run the less expensive alternative may also have a shorter life-cycle or rely on inferior details, resulting in more maintenance.

Step 3: Make sure your roof is properly designed

maintenanceA roof can be designed to meet building codes, but still cause problems in the future. To help eliminate the need for maintenance on your roof and maximize life expectancy, there are a few things you should consider:

• Slope. Build at least a minimum slope of one-quarter of an inch per horizontal foot into your roof. Water that ponds on a roof can lead to problems and premature deterioration of some roofing materials. A small hole in the roof membrane on a dead-flat roof could result in severe leakage and damage to the roof system.

• Drainage. Drains should be located at roof low points to allow water to effectively run off. Secure the roof membrane and collar flashing with a clamping ring and cover with a basket to prevent debris from clogging the drain.

• Penetrations. The fewer penetrations you have on the roof, the better. Locate HVAC units on the ground, if possible. Doing so will keep mechanics off the roof and reduce the risk of careless damage. Eliminate any odd-shaped penetrations such as I-beams. Allow enough space between clusters of penetrations so each penetration can be flashed individually.

• Flashing and terminations. To ensure a durable, watertight roof system, vertical flashings should be extended at least 18 in. from the roof; up and over curbs for fans, skylights, and roof hatches; and up and over parapet walls. Care should be taken to properly terminate and seal perimeter edges. Develop roof details to minimize the reliance on sealant, which is a common source of maintenance.

• Walkways. Roofing manufacturers offer durable compatible walkway systems to protect the roof system from damage by other trades who traffic the roof to service HVAC units, plumbing and communications equipment. Specify walkways and insist that they be used.

• Membrane thickness. Heavily trafficked roofs or roofs in areas that are prone to damage require thicker roof membranes to provide additional protection.

Step 4: Choose a trained, certified applicator

Today’s roofing systems are becoming increasingly complex. To help ensure a quality installation, i.e., one that provides years of maintenance-free performance, building owners should hire a roofing contractor who is trained and certified by the manufacturer. The best contractors compete for the top spots in the manufacturer’s applicator hierarchy because it helps to set them apart from their competition.

For a building owner, working with a manufacturer’s best roofing contractor can help eliminate the cost and hassle of emergency roof repairs because these contractors are trained in the best ways to install that particular roofing system. They often work with the manufacturer’s technical representatives to review and finalize the details before the product is installed. Some manufacturers also send their technical staff out to a job to monitor and inspect the installation itself. This can cut down on problems caused by improperly installed roofing systems.

Before selecting a contractor, consider holding a pre-bid meeting with the contractor candidates and the roof membrane manufacturer. This helps to ensure that everyone, including the building owner, is aware of the project logistics, and construction schedule, and that the bidders are using acceptable installation procedures and details.

Roofs can be virtually maintenance-free. A team approach is critical to deliver long-lasting, headache-free roof systems. The owner needs to be involved throughout the process and partner with proven manufacturers and established roofing contractors. Although up-front costs are important, it is just as important to analyze life-cycle costs to make sure you are getting the best return on your investment.








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