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Roof maintenance and inspection.

Nothing lasts forever - and that goes for the roof over your head as well. No matter how sophisticated, how expensive a roofing system may be, sooner or later it will fail. Think of a roof as a living thing. Like any living creature, a roof has a lifespan that is partially determined by its structure, partially by its environment, and partially by the care that it is given throughout its life.

If the installation is faulty, even the most costly roof cannot be expected to enjoy a long life. If the roof was selected without environmental, mechanical, and other stresses in mind, it too will probably suffer an early demise. And, if the roof was virtually ignored following installation, expect that the manufacturer's suggested lifespan will be cut in half

The trick is to identify the danger signs before a roofing failure, so that costly goods, equipment damages, and service disruptions can be avoided. To accomplish this, there is still no substitute for a thorough inspection in late spring and early autumn, and immediately following any severe weather conditions or HVAC maintenance and repairs. These routine inspections can be conducted by anyone with a careful eye, provided he or she knows what to look for and has a general understanding of how the roofing system and the roof deck were constructed.

Know your roof

Some roofing problems, like surface water ponding, are easily spotted and require virtually no knowledge about the roofs construction to identify. To conduct a thorough inspection, however, the inspector must have a fair understanding of the roofing system's components.

Since it is highly unlikely that the contractor who built the structure will be on hand to explain the construction techniques used, the property manager should keep the following on hand:

* As-built drawings of the roof deck, flashings, and roofing system.

* A roof plan that indicates all vents and rooftop equipment - updated to include any new installations.

* A history of the roof, including its age, the dates and details of any resurfacing, and reports on past inspections and maintenance.

Keeping careful records of all inspections and maintenance procedures is essential. These reports form a history of the roof that can prove invaluable in judging when a problem is about to get out of hand. For example, a small crack that appears once may be a minor problem. If it reappears every season, however, it may point to serious structural difficulties that could spell disaster if not properly diagnosed.

Accurately recording the roofs repair history assures that such recurring problem areas receive the attention they deserve. In addition, it may be advisable to keep the costs of all past repairs accessible as a means of preparing more accurate budgets for future maintenance.

External inspection

Regardless of the actual type of roofing system, a number of danger signs are fairly easy to identify during a visual inspection.

* Ponding. One of the most common problems encountered is surface water ponding caused by poor drainage. When left to evaporate over a period of days, water can cause several serious problems. In the case of a built-up roof, or BUR, water softens the layers of bitumen, causing them to become spongy, weak, and more susceptible to later deterioration from excess heat.

On older roof systems, which feature organic felt materials, intruding water will destroy the insulation value at a much faster rate than on the newer systems with fiberglass felts. Ponding also displaces the granular aggregate, causes excessive wear on cap sheets and felts, and is an open invitation to a variety of fungi that slowly erode both BURs and single-ply roofing systems (SPRs). And, in a "worst-case scenario," the tremendous weight of accumulated water can actually cause a roof to collapse.

To combat this, it may be necessary to install additional drains and scuppers, re-route existing drainage systems, regrade to increase the roof's pitch or slope, or simply engage in a more conscientious program of drain cleaning. Such efforts will also help to forestall other roofing problems as well, and assure that the chief enemy of any roofing system - moisture - is kept from entering the roof's inner layers.

* Alligatoring. When any non-linear cracks are discovered to be spreading, your roof is "alligatoring" - a common occurrence on BURs. This is not necessarily a sign of deterioration. In fact, most BURs will begin to alligator slightly after a year or less, especially if the layers of asphalt are particularly thick. The chief danger of these cracks is that they may, depending on their depths, allow water to invade the inner layers.

* Splits. Long, relatively straight cracks are usually indicative of a more serious problem. These splits, which are often accompanied by a noticeable ridge, allow moisture to attack insulating inner layers in much the same fashion as alligatored surfaces. Worse, they may also point to actual structural damage in a supporting member. It is imperative to bring in a professional immediately.

* Pierced membranes. This is a major problem on SPRs. If a worker simply drops his or her hammer on a single-ply rubber roof, for instance, there is a chance that it will pierce the membrane. Something as seemingly inoffensive as walking across an SPR can cause dangerous stress - particularly if the walker is carrying a weighty object, such as a piece of HVAC equipment. For this reason, most SPR specifications call for special walkways to be used by maintenance personnel.

A pierced membrane should be patched immediately. Be certain, however, that the individual assigned to do the patchwork understands the importance of matching like-to-like. For example, you will only compound the problem by sealing a crack or hole in a rubber roof with asphalt, as it will slowly erode the rubber.

* Inadequate flashing. Any time the roofing system must be penetrated - whether to bolt down equipment or to allow for ventilation - it is necessary to take steps to see that the penetration does not allow water under the top layers. Flashings around each piece of rooftop equipment or vent must be in good condition, fully sealed, and correctly positioned to shunt water away from the breach. Bolt holes and the like can be protected with a pitch pocket or additional flashing.

Internal inspection

While the roof may appear to be in good shape, there may be problems lurking below the surface. A professional roofing contractor might perform either a destructive moisture test (literally cutting through the membranes to judge moisture content) or a non-destructive moisture test (use of sophisticated sensing devices to look inside the system without actually piercing it).

The amateur inspector, however, must be satisfied with a simple internal inspection conducted at the same time as the external inspection. This is particularly important in buildings where the underside of the roof deck is not within easy view.

Look carefully at any support columns, at equipment which pierces the roof deck, and at the roof deck itself. Evidence of moisture - or of reddish stains caused by deteriorating steel decks - usually indicates that there has been some loss of the roofing system's integrity. The exception to this may be seen in a building where high internal humidity causes walls and ceilings to "sweat," such as in a commercial laundry.

Another sign of trouble, though often unidentified, is a marked increase in energy costs. Insulation forms the bottom layer of nearly every roofing system. Whether in a wall or on a roof, insulation must be kept dry in order to function properly. As the insulation is moistened from exposure to the elements, its R-value decreases, resulting in a corresponding increase in heating and cooling bills. While a failed or failing roof may not always be the cause of higher energy costs, it is a possibility to keep in mind.

How and when to

seek professional help

Some minor repairs, such as sealing small penetrations or repairing flashing, may be effectively undertaken by a building's maintenance staff - provided they know the proper procedures. If you, as a manager, are unsure about your staffs ability to carry out a repair, call a professional. An amateur repair by a misinformed worker can cause more problems than it solves.

When bringing in a roofing contractor, try to choose one with whom you have worked before, or one who has been recommended by a trusted associate. Be certain that the roofing contractor has a history in the business and can offer verifiable references. As in any business, there are some careless practitioners out there.

You should receive warranties in writing from both the contractor and the roofing system's manufacturer. Be aware, however, that older manufacturer's warranties only covered materials, and did not guarantee a quality installation. New warranties cover installation as well because the major manufacturers approve a contractor's methods prior to offering a warranty.

Be cautious about accepting contractor's warranties which go beyond those extended by the manufacturer. If the contractor has closed up shop subsequent to the roof's installation, you may be out of luck ... and the cost of a new roof! This is not meant to imply that such extended warranties are useless - they are simply as good as the company that backs them up.

Performing a roof inspection is not particularly difficult, nor is it overly time-consuming when one considers the payoff: increased roof lifespan, protection of stored materials and equipment, and the avoidance of downtime that is often the result of major leaks. In the end, an hour's inspection could save you from days of aggravation.

Barry Wachsberger joined A. Wachsberger Roofing & Sheet Metal Works in 1961 and is its president and chief operating officer. For over 80 years, the firm has been one of the premier roofing contractors in the New York City area.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Association of Realtors
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wachsberger, Barry
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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