5 Roofing Red Flags for Commercial Properties

Aaron Kovan

Roofs are considered one of the largest ticket objects for real estate. They are extremely expensive, intrusive, and time consuming to replace. Structural problems that are not identified and mitigated can be difficult to fix later, and most importantly, roof damage can have secondary effects on the rest of the structure and the building envelope. This can be avoided with regular roof maintenance, which can recognize warning signs and avoid emergency calls (and costly!) In the event of roof leaks. Investing small amounts in proactive maintenance is a small part of constant fixes or full replacements.

An annual inspection is a critical part of roof maintenance, while a property condition assessment includes an assessment of the roof system for pending transactions. Reach out to knowledgeable consultants who have experience with roofing assessments and solutions. You can help create a maintenance list for defects and repairs and provide maintenance records for future planning. The consultant can also help you assess whether the current roof meets your requirements and plan a suitable eventual replacement within the correct price range.

Here are five of the biggest “red flag” issues I see performing health assessments that could lead to much bigger problems in the future.

1. Phenolic foam insulation From 1980 to early 1992, phenolic foam roof insulation was made in the US to respond to the need for greater energy efficiency after oil spikes in the 1970s and 1980s. Foam phenol insulation has been installed on the corrugated roofs of thousands of commercial, industrial, and residential buildings, typically in the Midwest, East Coast, and Texas. Unfortunately, the insulation material can become very acidic in the presence of water and is also very friable. The introduction of moisture through leakage or condensation creates an acidic environment that attacks the metal decks. The friability of the material significantly increases the surface area exposed to the water and accelerates the problem. Damage can range from surface rust to large holes in the pavement, which can affect the stability of the roof and create safety issues. The phenolic foam insulation resulted in the largest roofing-related class action settlement in history.

In older buildings with phenolic foam insulation, observations for moisture or persistent leaks are essential. Soft areas at the roof level can indicate waterproof insulation and weakened decking materials. Also, look for organic debris, areas where ballast can be removed and touched up, and typical EPDM roof membrane shrinkage that could potentially infiltrate water. If worst-case damage is suspected, determine if and to what extent the roof terrace was corroded and work with a qualified roofing advisor to remove corroded material and replace the decking.

2. Pools on roofs One of the biggest attractions for apartment and hotel properties these days is a fancy rooftop pool. Unfortunately, if not properly designed and maintained, it can also be one of the most common causes of devastating leaks and water penetration into the rest of the structure. To make matters worse, buildings are constantly in motion. Although small and imperceptible, the movement can cause the pool liner to crack and leak. The water can easily penetrate the building and quickly degrade other building materials, both cosmetically and structurally. For current property owners, go beyond pool maintenance. Consider two (or more, if used frequently) maintenance visits per year with a detailed inspection of the pool linings, drainage lines and surrounding pool decks. When buying a property with a rooftop pool, you will receive all the information and original construction documents you can get regarding the pool and the type of secondary containment, a record of historical maintenance and a detailed review of its current condition.

3. Thinking Water is the enemy in terms of building science and the overall health and condition of a building. One of the main purposes of the building envelope is to prevent water from entering the structure. Roofs are an integral part of this defense system. However, a roof that successfully keeps the water out can still fall victim if the water stagnates or builds up on the surface. The physical weight of the water can cause problems – a body of water 20 by 20 feet and only 1 inch deep weighs 2,000 pounds! That pond stretching over a flat roof without proper drainage can potentially lead to structural failure. In addition, the water accelerates the aging process through chemical leakage and increased UV radiation exposure. Depending on the circumstances, your warranty may not cover the cost of roof replacement due to water issues. It is therefore the responsibility of the owners to maintain proper drainage on their roofs, to check frequently (especially after snow or rainfalls) for water retention and to free the drains of foreign bodies.

4. Deterioration of the ballast roofs Ballast roofing systems typically use stones or paving stones to hold the loosely laid membrane in place and protect it from deterioration from general wear and tear and UV radiation. Ballast is often removed from areas for patching and general maintenance. After the work is completed, the ballast is often shifted, exposing an area of ​​the membrane to accelerated aging processes. Movement and displacement of ballast can also occur in northern climates during freeze-thaw cycles. Check the roof twice a year and after maintenance to make sure the ballast is properly distributed.

5. Maintenance-free wear Most of the above roof problems can be resolved with general year round maintenance and roof care. The most common observation I make when inspecting roofs as part of building assessments is general non-maintenance and wear and tear. Leaves and other organic debris are very common and can clog sewers and even create soil conditions that can create unexpected foliage and even trees, the roots of which can penetrate the roof membrane. Frequently clean up dirt and check your roof immediately after bad weather events. Corroded and foreign materials can cause chemical degradation and puncture of the membrane. And if the roof is not designed to accommodate occupants, only allow qualified personnel to walk or access enclosed areas.

Of the three typically most expensive real estate investments – roofs, HVAC systems, and interior fittings – roof system failure can result in costly damage to other components of the building system the most. Therefore, regular roof maintenance is essential for the physical and financial health of a building. The ability to identify the roofing issues described above before they impact the integrity of the building allows owners to proactively extend the estimated useful life, avoid costly and unforeseen repairs, increase assets, and simplify transactions in the event of a change of ownership .

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