Protecting Roofs From Severe Weather

Severe weather can be the toughest test for any commercial roof system.  The roof system is the buildings first line of defense from natural hazards. Depending on location, the building may face extreme weather conditions such as snowstorms, hurricanes, hailstorms, torrential rains and extreme temperatures. A properly maintained roof will aid in protecting a commercial building and the business conducted within it. Routine maintenance along with implementing the proper precautions decreases the risk of damage and the cost of repairs.

For facility management teams, maintaining the roof is essential. A roof is more than a component of a building; it’s an investment and a commitment. Nothing can compromise the integrity of a building faster than the improper installation of a roof system. Therefore, the first item on the list for the facility manager is vetting potential commercial roofing contractors. It is imperative that the commercial roofing contractor follows best business practices including being legally licensed, bonded and insured, and receives positive client testimonials and provides a long business history with a proven track record.

Facility managers should conduct their own research about the optimal roof systems for their commercial building. However, the roofing contractor will be able to follow up with extensive knowledge on the type of roof system that is best for the building’s location and its intended use. Additionally, the facility manager should hire a commercial roofing contractor that has extensive experience with all types of roof systems from TPO to BUR-modified. If a roof system is installed that the roofing contractor isn’t familiar with they run the risk of improper installation, lack of maintenance knowledge or may subcontract to a third-party roofer that may cost more.

Routine Inspections & Preventative Maintenance

The goal of preventative or proactive maintenance is to sustain and ensure the true service life of the commercial roof through inspections and necessary repairs. Ultimately, inspections should be performed at least twice a year, following severe weather, and as required by the manufacturer’s warranty. Both inspections and maintenance items need to be timed per budget forecasts and should include debris removal. A quality roof preventative maintenance program must be designed to meet the needs of property owners, facility managers and its occupants.

All roofs have a limited life span and will eventually require replacement, retrofit, repair or restoration, but developing a preventative maintenance plan can further extend the life of the roof and save money. For an existing roof, a roofing contractor must thoroughly inspect the roof and provide a written report of findings with a photo survey of roof conditions for future reference. Based on those findings, the contractor will develop a roof-management program that includes plans for upcoming maintenance, replacement or repair. During the bi-annual inspections, the professional contractor should ensure caulking is not open, perimeter attachments such as flashings are tight, holes or tears have been patched, and laps in membrane systems are secure.

Each season brings different weather conditions, which means that each season has its own checklist for inspections. Seasonal inspections are not only a preventative measure, but a proactive program to have in place. Facility managers should have some familiarity with the roof system and take notes of conditions for each seasonal inspection. This allows the facility manager to easily notice damage and alert the roofing contractor before the problem becomes worse. Below are the types of items to check for each season and possible maintenance as a season ends.

Winter: Excessive snow loads can accumulate on the roofs during the winter placing the roof and the operations of the building at risk. Deep snow accumulation can lead to a roof collapse and cause serious damage to the building and its contents or occupants. Different types of roofs have different levels of weight that can be handled. For example, a wood deck typically can’t handle as much weight as a concrete deck.

Spring: Spring inspections are used to identify any issues caused by ice and snow accumulation. Be sure to inspect the membrane, rooftop equipment, drainage areas and penetrations for any damage sustained during the winter.

Summer: During the summer months, take the time to assess the current state of the roof and complete any maintenance and improvement projects. Be sure to address any roof leaks that may occur from summer thunderstorms. Small leaks may seem fine during a light rain, but the approaching autumn and winter weather conditions can cause major damage to the roof.

Fall: Fall inspections are designed to identify any problems that may have formed during the summer when the roof was exposed to high thermal stress and UV light. Before the winter arrives, be sure to clear the drainage areas of falling leaves.

Severe Weather Check: Before & After

While it’s not possible to fully predict and react in a timely fashion to strong winds and storms, a documented and practiced contingency plan can help facility managers prepare for the unexpected. Whether facing high-winds, winter or whatever the elements may bring, it is important to have a plan in place and make sure the building’s roof is prepared for extreme weather.

Preparation revolves around personnel and procedures. The first step is to assess the condition of the building and the roof. This should be performed by the facility manager or by a commercial roofing contractor. Be sure to do walkthroughs and look for obvious signs of defect and make sure things are taken care of accordingly.

A common preparation checklist includes:

Check exterior walls for leaks, stains and cracks in brick and missing mortar.

  • Check the ceiling and interior walls for signs of leaks and staining.
  • Check the roof deck for any signs of deterioration, thin sections of the roof membrane and deteriorated caulking.
  • Check for penetrations on the roof and check flashings and joints for deterioration.
  • Check and clear all gutters and drains.
  • Check for tears and holes in the roof membrane and repair immediately.
  • Remove clutter and debris from the roof surface.

It is important to pay great attention to penetrations, flashings and joints. Additionally, the drains and screens need be clear of debris and functional as they are susceptible to the threat of moisture infiltration. The building personnel must have a comprehensive understanding of the building envelope. Communication between the facility manager and the roofing contractor is key to successful preparation for severe weather.

Also, make sure to identify exactly what the manufacturer warranty covers. Damage from extreme weather usually isn’t included. Therefore, facility managers should make sure the building is covered by the insurance provider. High-wind warranties can be included in the specifications for an additional cost. This is suggested if the building in located in a high-risk area. 

There’s no question that severe weather is bound to have an impact on commercial buildings no matter the location. The Midwest is accustomed to tornadoes and heavy snow fall whereas the East Coast is routinely hit with strong winds and heavy rain fall from hurricanes. Not matter the type of weather, many facets of the roof system can be affected including its thermal performance, fire resistance, load and equipment carrying capacity, the ability to drain and store water, and aesthetics.

Post-weather maintenance is vital to limit the impact of the damage. The quicker the response time of inspections and repair, the better. Overall, an expert should assess the damage and determine if the roof is repairable or if it requires replacement. The evaluation should begin with looking for signs of water infiltration and if the insulation or roof membrane needs to be replaced. In the meantime, the roofing contractor can temporary repair the leak until a full repair is possible. Temporarily stopping the leak or holes will keep moisture out of the building, minimizing the damage to the interior from water stains, condensation and mold.

Severe weather can be the greatest test of any commercial roof system. The roof is the most vulnerable part of every commercial building. The facility manager should instill best practices for roof maintenance and inspections to resist damage to roofs from severe weather events. Proactive roof maintenance and annual roof inspections are the key to ensure maximum roof service life.

Selecting a qualified, licensed commercial roofing contractor is crucial. Proper installation directly impacts a roof’s long-term performance so it is important to choose the right contractor. The first step facility managers should take when selecting a commercial roofing contractor is to check the contractor’s references and insurance coverage for professional liability insurance. Then, ask to see the company’s certificates, discuss available warranties from the manufacturer as well as installation warranties from the contractor. Lastly, verify that the contractor is up-to-date on current roofing developments.

This was originally published in Facility Executive Magazine.
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