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By: Marek Patrosz

June 24, 2020

Our clients typically contact us about roof inspections to perform leak investigations. These investigations lead to recommendations for potential repairs to prolong the lifespan of the roof system or consider full replacement. A conventional roof membrane system is expected to last between 10 and 25 years, depending on the product system.

Periodic roof inspections should be a critical aspect of regular building maintenance. It is common that roof system maintenance is not performed during the first 5 years after installation. Typically, the approach to proactive maintenance from most of our clients does not occur until a system is beyond the 5 year mark; however, the first 5 years are very important to prevent unnecessary premature failure.

As a building owner, neglecting to have semi-annual roof inspections performed within years 1 to 4 may seem trivial; on the contrary, as building envelope consultants, we have found that roof systems within 5 years of installation have had voided warranties due to neglect, but were preventable through regular maintenance. Premature failures often begin with small scale maintenance issues, but, may become roof-wide failures as these are out-of-sight and out-of-mind until interior leaks may prove the roof system is compromised. Premature failure is avoidable; after a significant investment in a new roof system, either in new construction or roof replacement on an existing building, a warranty in itself will not protect the owner from the responsibility of proper maintenance.

One of the biggest misconceptions of a new roof system is that the manufacturer warranty and the contractor guarantee will protect the owner for the out-of-pocket costs of any failure. However, in most warranties and guarantees there are clauses that require semi-annual inspections of all components of the roof system and visual inspections of specific components after severe wind or storms, as well as prompt reporting of any suspected water infiltration. Most of these inspections can be performed by the on-site facility engineer or facilities manager, but the full component inspections should be reviewed by a third-party engineer/architect with thorough knowledge of the roof assembly that has been installed. A third-party engineer/architect will ensure that all common issues are identified, as well as potential roof irregularities that may require repair.

Below are a few of the most common deficiencies that we have observed in roof systems within the past 12 months:

  • 2 – 3 year old single-ply roofs with punctures in the roof membrane that were identified in the mfg. punch list but never corrected by the installer
  • 2 – 3 year old single-ply roofs with details that were not installed according to the mfg.’s specifications and guidelines
  • 2 – 3 year old SBS modified bitumen roofs with blisters in the membrane due to improper installation of the membrane adhesive
  • 3 – 4 year old SBS modified bitumen roof systems on new buildings where the mechanical contractor installed flashings that are incompatible with the existing roofing system or were improperly installed
  • 3 – 4 year old single-ply roof systems and SBS roofs with foot traffic patterns that do not match the walking pad layout which leads to unusual wear, premature deterioration, and sometimes premature failure
  • 3 – 4 year old single-ply roof systems where new equipment was installed with improper roof curb heights

All these previously referenced deficiencies can be easily addressed when caught early in the life of the roof system; if these issues are not promptly and properly addressed, the building owner can expect potentially significant repair costs and expenses that may be incurred from damage at building interiors. The cost of semi-annual inspections should not be viewed as a financial burden, but rather a necessary small investment to ensure that the roof system meets or exceeds the intended lifespan.

Building owners who are proactive with roof inspections for the first five years of a roof’s life can expect it to pay dividends in return. Typical roofs can be extended by 10-plus years with proper maintenance, and who wouldn’t want that?

Once a decision is made to have a roof inspection performed, we recommend that owners make sure that their building envelope professional verify the roof assembly details as well as report any abnormal conditions to the roof manufacturer per the warranty guidelines. We recommend that a building owner or manager make sure that the following conditions are reported:

  • Unusual wear at the roof membrane surface (typical due to excessive foot traffic)
  • Signs of distress in the roof membrane (wrinkles and blisters)
  • Post-construction mechanical penetrations through the roof membrane (punctures and cuts)
  • Damage to the roof membrane due to abrasion (ex: chemical spill on the roof membrane)
  • Lack of proper membrane adhesion (loose field membrane, including open seams)

The best way to protect what is inside your building is to ensure the integrity of the building enclosure is intact. Periodic inspections are critical in protecting these property assets especially, with a financial investment to a 25-year roof system.

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