In the past decade, roof management programs have become commonplace in the industry. The tight economic times have forced all sectors of the market to expand operations in repairs and maintenance as building owners’ budgets decreased and remedial roof replacement projects were limited. These programs have now advanced to the point where there are several specialized computer programs available that generate impressive reports and store roof information for owners on websites. These programs can be valuable tools if — and only if — the information provided is accurate. The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” applies here. Therefore, a technician well trained in roof analysis is still required to perform the inspection.

The two most critical steps in the roof management program are the annual maintenance inspection and verification of the completed repairs. It is important to correctly identify the problems at the initial stages and to make certain that the necessary work is properly completed to extend the service life of the roof system. If damage and defects are not correctly identified and properly repaired, the program fails.

The Roof Inspection

In a properly conducted roof maintenance inspection, all roof components should be evaluated. This can be accomplished by establishing an order of identification. The visible roof components should be viewed in a pattern starting at the perimeter of the roof area. Inspect the entire roof area by circulating in rows perpendicularly throughout the entire area. Spacing of the rows should be approximately four feet apart. This commonly applied pattern ensures that all of the visible roof components are inspected. It also provides the inspector the opportunity to view the entire membrane surface.

Industry surveys indicate that approximately 80 percent of all roof leaks occur at flashings and roof penetrations. Due to this fact it is imperative that these areas are carefully inspected for defects. The majority of maintenance repairs will be completed at these components. However, roof membrane defects account for the majority of premature roof system failures. Defects to the roof membrane require immediate attention. Therefore, it is imperative that the inspector pays close attention to this component as well.

The maintenance inspection must be performed in a systematic manner to reduce the frequency and extent of oversights. This can be completed by inspecting the roof components in the order established by an inspection checklist. It is advisable that two individuals conduct the maintenance inspections. This is preferable for several reasons:

  • It provides added safety.
  • It provides assistance for measuring and recording information.
  • It provides an additional set of eyes to spot defects.

Maintenance inspectors must be cognizant of safety issues. They must also be alert and aware of where they are on the roof at all times. They must never walk backwards. They should be extremely cautious on windy days, rainy days, and in the ice and snow. A good criterion would be to err on the side of caution for safety’s sake.

A roof plan should accompany the maintenance inspection checklist. A separate roof plan and checklist should be complete for each roof area on the facility. Separate roof areas can be designated where there are natural breaks, such as adjoining walls, parapet walls, area dividers and expansion joints. Separate roof areas should also be designated at points of different roof constructions or at points where the roof age is not consistent. At these points, record the new area designations on the roof plan and make certain that the roof plan in the historical file is revised.

Following are recommended steps in the roof inspection process:

  1. Set up a historical file that contains all pertinent information relating to all roof systems at the facility. The file should include roof plans, as-built drawings, and all documentation relating to the types of roof systems and materials applied. Warranties and guaranties should also be kept in these files.
  2. The initial step in the maintenance inspection is to verify that the roof plan is properly prepared and that all equipment and penetrations are illustrated. Check that the size and shape of the areas are accurate.
  3. Determine the membrane type of the roof area and make certain that the historical file documentation is accurate and up to date. Record any changes and revise the historical file.
  4. Verify that the measurements of the base flashing and membrane area are accurate.
  5. Examine the base flashings for problems and defects. Check the roof edge and all penetrations for defects.
  6. Examine the roof membrane thoroughly to look for defects. Use the row-by-row method of inspection.
  7. As defects in the membrane, flashing and metal flashing are discovered, mark the problem areas with spray paint and indicate the location, type of defects, and severity of the defect on the roof plan.
  8. Measure the defect and record the square footage or lineal footage on the roof maintenance inspection checklist.
  9. Photograph the defect.
  10. Minor defects, such as flashing or minor holes in the membrane can be repaired during the course of the inspection. Record repairs on the maintenance inspection checklist and roof plan. Identify materials used to complete the repairs and method of application.
  11. Repairs must be completed in accordance with proper roofing procedures using material approved by the roof membrane manufacturer.
  12. Verify that all repairs have been properly completed.
  13. Photograph repairs for owner verification.

Defects identified during the inspection can be divided into three areas:

  • Maintenance items. These include clearing of the roof drains of debris, spot repairs, repair of open seams and other minor openings, etc.
  • General repairs. This category covers deteriorated membrane, loose and open flashings, removal of wet areas, etc.
  • Extending the service life. These items include applying reflective coatings at surface and flashings, reinforcing seams, etc.

The Roof as a System

Regardless of the type of membrane covering, the vast majority of roof systems are comprised of similar components. The materials for the components may vary, but the basic roof system components are:

  • Structural deck (substrate)
  • Insulation
  • Membrane
  • Surfacing
  • Flashings
  • Metal terminations

 All of these components synchronize to form one functional system. Each component has its own failure modes, and although failure of one component may not lead to failure of the entire system, each component must be monitored for maintenance repairs.