Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset: Five Threats to the Longevity of Your Roof

When it comes to commercial real estate, the most expensive system in your building is usually your roof. In industrial buildings in particular, roofs worth millions of dollars are not uncommon these days. Roofs are exposed to the elements and are rarely seen by residents and property owners. They are also very vulnerable. Chances are, roof repairs and replacements are among the biggest expenditures in your budget. So what are you doing to protect your roofs?

We see the same problems over and over again during our routine inspections of commercial roofs across the country. These five culprits are responsible for most of the damage and / or risk we see on commercial roofs. Ignoring these is the quickest way to void your warranty, develop leaks, and shorten the life of your roof.

mother Nature: Water and plant material are a double blow for your roof. In a storm, hundreds of liters of water pour over your roof and winds blow leaves and debris into your sewers. Roofs aren’t rated for more than an inch or two of water, so proper drainage is essential. Even under normal circumstances, drains can become clogged with dirt and plant matter, especially if you have trees near your building. Think about it: you pay someone to look after your landscape and sweep your parking lots, but much of the debris that ends up on the ground hits the roof first. Who will keep your roof free of dirt and your drains clear and functional?

Tenant: Firstly, for safety reasons, nobody should have access to a roof unless they are trained and equipped to do so. Your roof access should be locked and strictly monitored. Even well-intentioned tenants can do damage trying to “fix” something as they and their contractors are not qualified to penetrate and properly seal your roof. We see improperly installed vents, cables, devices, and more. These cause leaks, fire hazards and safety issues. If you have a triple tenant who is responsible for the maintenance of the roof, you should still regularly check and document the condition of the roof. We often find that tenants do not maintain roofs according to the owner’s standard and certainly not according to the level required by the roof guarantee.

Contractor: HVAC, telecommunications, and other contractors are not umbrella contractors, and they may not give your roof the respect it deserves. Improper installation of equipment, improper sealing of roof penetrations, failure of securing equipment covers and access openings, leaving debris behind: we often see damage associated with contractors. Something as simple as dropping a screw and stepping on it can put your roof at risk. Your best line of defense is to limit rooftop access to verified and qualified contractors and review their work immediately upon completion.

Roof equipment: When we receive a leak call, our first step is to ask the tenant or resident where the water is entering the building and trace it back to its source. In most cases, the leak is not due to a roof deficiency, but rather to an HVAC unit, plumbing, exhaust vents or other rooftop equipment. If rooftop equipment is not properly installed, inspected, and maintained, it can become a path for water to enter.

Negligence: By now you may notice an issue: regular inspections are key. Inspections identify the issues described above before they become serious threats and protect the roof warranties as well. Your roof warranty contains specific inspection, maintenance and documentation requirements without which the warranty is void. In addition to roof health, there are fire, life and safety concerns that can go unchecked if you fail to check your roofs regularly.

If you own or manage a portfolio of roofs, getting regular inspections, maintenance and documentation can be challenging. Participating in a comprehensive umbrella management program ensures that your inspections are on time and documented so that your warranty coverage is maintained. It will also offer regular maintenance. As part of your roof management program, you should be provided with an annual capital budget so that you can plan for a canopy if necessary. We find that most of the roofs in our roof management program are exceeding their expected lifespan, sometimes by up to five or ten years. By extending the life of your roof, a roof management program can pay for itself many times over. And if you’ve got net leases, you can pass the cost of a roof management plan on to your tenants as upkeep of the common area. With an ROI like this, there’s no reason not to include your buildings on a roof management plan.

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