5 Ways to a Leaky Roof

With the exception of a major natural disaster or a pandemic, few other scenarios cause as much alarm in facility managers as sudden water intrusion into a building. Every FM has received one of those calls.

No one wants to hear that water is leaking onto the CEO’s desk, that it’s raining in the server room, or that swollen ceiling tiles are about to collapse over a major traffic way. Moisture presents a great threat to occupant health and safety, interior ceilings and walls, electrical supply, electronic equipment and interior furniture and equipment, to name a few. And mold is one word you don’t want to utter to your health and safety executives.

While plumbing issues occasionally lead to these scenarios, all too often the cause lies in one of the four letter words in an FM’s vocabulary – the ROOF.

So just how do these problems develop from a new roof that seemed to have been installed only a few years ago to the ugly waterfall emergency that has a tenant or senior management member looking for someone’s head on a plate?

5 Ways to Induce a Roof Leak

1. Doing Nothing

Because of their “out of sight, out of mind” status, roofs often don’t get enough (or sometimes any) attention. Your car won’t last long without regular oil changes and other preventive maintenance. Likewise, roofs need to be inspected regularly by a knowledgeable professional and any required maintenance performed promptly. The ROI on regular roof inspections and maintenance is significant as replacement costs will be deferred substantially. Doing nothing is always your most expensive option.

2. Uncontrolled Access to Rooftops

Control who has access to the roof, and log the visitors. Use signage or implement a company safety policy to ensure rooftop visitors report any possible roof damage (like dropping a tool). This way you and your staff can have the problem inspected and rectified immediately – before it becomes a large and expensive issue. Stuff happens. (True story:  An HVAC technician removed a rooftop unit’s access panel and leaned it against the unit on a windy day.  The wind grabbed the panel and cartwheeled it across the smooth surfaced rubber membrane, leaving a trail of about 15 cuts in the membrane.)

3. Going with the Lowest Price

The roofing industry is an unregulated industry in Ontario with little to no formal qualification for contractors and crews.  There are literally hundreds to thousands of options, many of which are unproven, and often promoted by “Ace fly by night” type companies.  Solutions must be planned and implemented carefully. They must be compatible with the physical characteristics of the building, its internal use and the company insurance provider’s requirements (wind uplift, fire resistance, etc.).

4. No Quality Control During Installation and Maintenance

There’s an expression that roofing is one of the only industries where the contractor gets to cover up their work at the end of every day.  Roofs may seem simple at first glance, but their long-term performance (or lack thereof) is all in the details. There is a direct relationship between roof life cycle length and quality control on maintenance and replacement projects.

5. Lack of Regular Visual Inspections by Maintenance Staff

Maintenance staff should do weekly, or at least monthly roof walkovers to look for anything obvious. This doesn’t require major roofing know-how. Simply looking for obvious problems like accumulated debris on the roof, clogged drains, wall scupper drains or gutters, wind damage or missing metal flashing. This is particularly important after major storms or wind events.

Your roof is exposed to the harshest conditions and temperature swings of any building component. It begins to degrade from the minute it’s installed. Careful and regular monitoring, as well as partnering with knowledgeable, trustworthy professionals for maintenance and project oversight, will minimize leaks and situations like the one described at the beginning of this article. It will also extend life cycles, and keep you in control of this critical building asset.

The maintenance and monitoring described here are green and sustainable practices: they keep roof related waste out of landfills longer and can often double the roof system’s life cycle.

This article originally appeared in the April, 2012 Newsletter for IFMA Toronto.


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