In Chicago, we see all kinds of weather: extreme temperatures, heavy precipitation, snow, hail, high winds, and severe storms. Sometimes we see them all in one day. This, of course, takes its toll on a commercial roof. Our duty as roofing contractors is to install roofs that can withstand severe weather temperament and provide our customers with a product that lasts a long time. With that in mind, the best roofers pay attention to three things for a sustainable roof system: planning, products, and preventative maintenance.


First things first: How is the building currently being used, and how will it be used in the future? This is where to start. Talk to the property owner or the property owner’s representative—the people who spend day after day at the facility in question. How much foot traffic does the roof see each month? Is there a plan for the roof’s future? The answers to each of these questions will help determine the type of roof you’ll bid and install. The owner might, for example, be planning to install a solar array or garden roof atop the roof you’re planning. In that case, an 80 mil TPO might be a more appropriate choice than a 60 mil. If the owner anticipates significant foot traffic, you should consider the type of cover board you’ll use to make sure the roof is durable enough to handle it.

Work with the customer, who can give you a clear sense of the factors that will contribute to the stresses the roof might experience. And then, when bidding on a project, provide “good,” “better,” and “best” options. Or, if you’re not interested in installing just a “good” roof, only provide “better” and “best.” Clearly explain the differences between the options so the customer understands what they’ll be getting for each and what that means for the future performance of the roof.  

Also to consider when planning, particularly for larger buildings: Is the roof FM insured? If the building is insured by FM Global, the roof often will be as well, and you’ll need to consider additional factors — high winds, hail, fire — to ensure you’re installing a system that will allow the roof to maintain its FM rating. Again, gather as much information as possible about the building and its use.


High-quality products matter when dealing with weather, as does the roofing company’s relationship with manufacturers. Every roof system a roofing contractor installs should be designed to function well in the typical weather conditions of the region. Durability is key, and cheap, second-rate products do not hold up over time.

Cutting corners might yield a lower — and perhaps sometimes more successful — bid, but it won’t lead to a roof that will last very long. For example, engineering down a project with the installation of a 45-mil roof coating instead of a 60-mil just to save money will result in a roof that struggles to make it through its warranty period. Choosing the more resilient option from the start will give the customer a longer-lasting roof. And although the upfront cost may be higher, the long-term savings are undeniable when the roof faces temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer followed by a 45-degree rainfall—a real shock to the system.  

It’s also worth your time to develop good relationships with good manufacturers. If you know you’re using high-quality products from a respectable company, you know your end result will be top notch and that it will stand the test of time. When you bring a product to a project, you’re bringing a partnership with the manufacturer there as well, and a good working relationship is essential. If you trust your manufacturer, the customer can, too. And when questions arise during an installation, the technical side of the manufacturing company is a phone call away.

Better products allow contractors to offer better warranties, as well, and, combined with a regular maintenance program, a good contractor should be able to get a roof to live well past its warranty period.

Preventative Maintenance

Even the best roof won’t continue being the best through severe weather if it’s not properly maintained. This is where regular inspections and preventative maintenance come in. Part of selling a customer on a new roofing system is also convincing them of the importance of regular maintenance. Some may question the need for annual or semi-annual inspections and maintenance, arguing that they’re paying plenty for a high-quality roof and shouldn’t have to pay more. But just like the human body or an automobile, a roof will function best over time with the appropriate attention to detail, as what starts as a small problem can quickly turn into a much larger one. A roof with even minor wear and tear, unaddressed over time, won’t stand up well to severe weather or even the temperature fluctuations it sees through a particular season. A well-maintained roof will do a far better job of that over time. It’s simply the smartest practice: A preventative maintenance plan helps the customer safeguard the considerable investment of a commercial roof. 

On the roofing contractor’s end of things, inspections and maintenance should always be careful and thorough. As you would in planning for a roofing project, consider the roof’s usage and ask questions. Has anything changed? What does the future look like for the roof? Examine all elements of the roof and address accordingly. Then, when severe weather does strike, your customer’s roof will be ready.

Preventative maintenance, of course, doesn’t guarantee that a wild weather event won’t damage a commercial roof. Regular maintenance will, however, ensure that a roof’s pre-existing issues don’t contribute to that damage.  

You never know what Mother Nature will throw at a roof, particularly in regions that see all the extremes. But proper planning, products, and preventative maintenance can help a good roofing contractor provide customers with the best results possible over time.