It is the experience of many building owners and property managers that roofs of commercial facilities, particularly those roofs having a low slope, are a chronic problem. Nationwide statistics and historical review of building systems' performance offer plentiful testimony to this condition. It is important to point out that chronic problems with roofing systems generally stem from two conditions:

1. Of the major generic building systems - structural, mechanical and protective - the protective systems are subject to the most intense distress.

2. Effectively dealing with roofs, the most critical of the protective systems, is difficult because of their massive size; their system complexity; the intensity of their exposure to weathering effects; the complexity of problem diagnosis and the uncertainty of the effectiveness of treatments; and the typical administrative process employed.

A properly implemented roof management and maintenance program could effectively extend the service life of a roof system and eliminate some of the complexities associated with this critical building component. Detailing the procedures and benefits of a well-executed roof management program can help contractors convince building owners of the merits of instituting such a program, to the advantage of both parties.

Developing a Program

A properly initiated roof management program is a systematic and routine process of preventive inspections and accurate repairs of existing roof systems to ensure that the system reaches its full service life. Preventive maintenance activities are generated through the proper completion of the established repair work. Preventive maintenance may also be initiated by minor or repetitive roof failures, such as leaks. Repeated leaks typically signal the need for a building owner's capital outlay for roof repairs or roof replacement.

Once the need for preventive maintenance is identified, a proper management program is required to manage the cost accounting, budgeting and scheduling of the inspections and required repairs. The roof management program generates the necessary information to track and record results as the preventive maintenance work is accomplished.

A roof management program should include:

  • Record keeping. Drawings and specifications of new roof construction, as well as any repair and maintenance work done at various periods, should be available.
  • Inspection. An effective preventive maintenance program should include regular inspections of the roof system.
  • Design, materials and methods of application. The staff responsible for preventive maintenance should understand and be skilled in the design of maintenance work and the selection of maintenance materials and their application.
  • Budgeting. Proper preventive maintenance work cannot be performed if the budget is inadequate. The money spent on maintenance of a roof system is a wise investment. Through proper roof management, premature roof failures can be eliminated.

Establishing Program Objectives

The roof management program must define the process of work that is required on the roof system. This process can be organized in terms of specific objectives to be achieved. One of the fundamental goals of the roof management program is to have all of the required information fully documented. The information is necessary to establish a historical background of the roof system. Other objectives of the roof management program include defining the scope of the program, costs, management procedures, and the roof maintenance work.

The initial step in developing a roof management program is to determine what and how much must be managed. The manpower required to establish this inventory is considerable at first; however, much of the effort is for one-time tasks. Once the initial tasks are completed, the information only requires updating during the remaining years of the program. The initial analysis defines the scope of repair work required to update roof systems to maintainable condition.

Once the initial analysis has been completed, the first task is defining the process and scope of work to be performed on the roof systems. An effective program will outline the areas to be maintained in order of importance. This is an essential stage for multi-facility owners. Typically, the most critical areas are completed in the initial phases of the program. The roof areas should be categorized and listed in priority order relating to the urgency of the repair work to be accomplished. To develop this list, divide the roof areas into three categories, as determined by the initial investigation:

1. Problem roofs - roofs that are leaking and causing difficulties.

2. Suspect roofs - roofs that are believed to have, will soon develop, or have had problems.

3. Acceptable roofs - roofs that are not having problems and problems are not foreseen.

Setting Priorities

Problem roofs should be attended to first, followed by suspect roofs and acceptable roofs. Problem roofs are addressed initially because these are areas prone to sustaining extensive and costly damage, and they could result is shutting down operations due to roof failures. Because of the increased consequential damages, these areas warrant a higher level of scrutiny and investment. Consequential damages are never covered in roof manufacturers warranties; the owner assumes these risks. Consider the importance of the roof system's ability to shelter key production equipment, the computer facility, or the president's office. Consider the costs and/or problems associated with shutting down these areas due to roof problems and remedial roof construction.

Investment Costs

Most roofing systems last many years before they need to be repaired or replaced. However, they will require repair and replacement within the typical life cycle of a building. Building owners commonly depreciate building costs over a 40-year span. Roof systems are one of the many building components that do not achieve these types of life spans. Therefore, it is imperative that building owners work with their accountants and financial planners to maximize their strategies regarding the roof system.

In this scenario, all the roof system's costs should be determined. The cost of the roof system should not only include the initial roof construction costs but also any costs associated with interest on borrowed money, taxes, and lost revenue from a roof system failure. Money spent for repair and replacement of any roof system components, rather than invested in other areas for a reasonable return, can also be considered lost revenue and should be included in the overall cost analysis.

The goal of the roof management program is to extend the service life of the existing roof systems to maximize the owner's expenditures. In a properly conducted roof management program, the owner should determine the preventive maintenance break-even point. Characteristically, the more intensive the maintenance of a roof system is, the less costly the corrective actions will be over time. A roof system reaches its break-even point when the costs of the roof management program exceed the costs of repair and replacement caused by roof failures.

Probably the most fundamental objective of the program is to identify the costs associated with the maintenance of the roof systems. This may take a number of years, and it requires efficient record keeping of all roof maintenance work completed on all roof areas.

Preventive maintenance of roof systems is an investment that consists of salaries (or contract costs), equipment, material, and the cost of the repair work. While it may represent a substantial initial capital investment, it has the capacity to result in a desirable return. Over time, savings will be realized from the decreased frequency of roof repairs, reduced time spent on repairing roof areas, and, in some cases, reduced energy consumption and an increase in the service life of the roof system. This procedure can postpone the substantial expense associated with remedial roof construction and allow the owner to gain interest on money set aside for this type of construction.

The most effective roof management programs are included in the long-range planning of the facility's operations. Short-term programs are ineffective and not economically wise. Long-range programs allow participants to become accustomed to the tasks involved. The time spent accomplishing these tasks will decrease with repetition throughout the years.