Flat roofing systems are notoriously prone to leaks and other forms of moisture damage. That’s why routine inspections and maintenance for commercial roofing systems are a must. But how are flat roofs inspected?
Inspecting Roofing Membrane for Signs of Damage
The first thing a commercial roofing contractor will do is identify the kind of flat roofing material installed on your roof. Some types of flat roofing materials are more vulnerable to certain forms of damage and manifest specific warning signs.
However, there are warning signs of damage that will appear in most roofing systems, and these should be included on every contractor’s checklist. Common signs of roofing damage include:
- Leaks – Due to their low slope, flat roofing materials are generally more vulnerable to leaks and moisture damage. This includes metal roofing systems, which may eventually suffer leaks caused by corrosion. Also. keep in mind that water tends to pond on flat surfaces.
- Surface degradation – Foot traffic, prolonged exposure to the elements and pressure from heavy HVAC units and other rooftop equipment can eventually take a toll on your flat roof, degrading its surface over time. These factors can result in granular loss, holes and punctures, and can even cause blisters to appear on the roof’s surface.
- Deteriorating seals – Waterproof membranes and special roofing cement create a protective barrier over vulnerable points–most notably the roof joints and flashing–to prevent rainwater from infiltrating the roof’s underlayers. To ensure these seals are still in good condition, a contractor will inspect the surface for any drying, cracking or deterioration.
- Clogged drains – Flat roofs are a bit of a misnomer, as they’re not entirely flat. This is because they have to be slightly elevated to ensure water flows down into the drains. However, if leaves and other debris build up and create clogs, water could start to pond on the surface of your flat roof. That’s why it’s important to have these drains routinely cleaned and unclogged. Rainwater might also start to pool on the surface of your roof if the drainage system doesn’t have the capacity to handle the amount of rainfall your area receives.
- Mold – Mold and moisture damage usually go hand in hand. Remember: Moisture is key to the proliferation of mold, which can weaken the roofing membrane and even become a health hazard. Since mold thrives in damp, dark environments, its presence indicates there are damp areas within your flat roof.
- Structural damage – The warning signs of structural damage include brittle shingles, blisters, cracking, punctures and tears. Even relatively minor roofing damage can quickly affect other parts of the building, which is why these roofing issues should be fixed as soon as possible.
Why flat roofs should always be inspected after storms – As a good rule of thumb, you should always have a professional roofing contractor inspect your flat roof after an extreme weather event, even if you haven’t noticed any leaks. No matter how durable your roofing system is, it’s bound to suffer some form of damage from a severe storm. Having a contractor inspect your roof after a storm helps ensure emergency roof repairs are promptly conducted to prevent relatively minor roofing damage from affecting other parts of your building.
Common Causes of Roofing Damage
What are the usual culprits behind roofing damage? Here’s a quick overview:
- Ponding water – As mentioned earlier, ponding water is the most common cause of flat roof leaks.
- Ultraviolet damage – Thanks to their low slope, flat roofs are more exposed to damaging UV rays. These UV rays slowly break down the surface of your flat roof, causing cracks to form over time.
- Extreme temperatures – Extreme temperatures can degrade the roof’s surface. That‘s why it’s important to choose a flat roofing material that’s suited to your area’s climate.
- Age – All roofing materials have an estimated lifespan. As your flat roof nears the end of its lifespan, it’ll suffer more breakdowns and require more frequent repairs. While repairs might not seem like much individually, the cumulative cost can quickly add up. That’s why, at a certain point, getting a commercial roof replacement will make more financial sense than continuing to schedule repairs every month or so.
- Penetrations – Penetration is a word used to describe a roofing component that’s installed by drilling a hole through the roof. If certain structures, including plumbing vents, pipes and gas lines, weren’t installed properly, water will be able to infiltrate your flat roof through the gaps between the roof penetrations and the roof’s surface.
- Irregular or improper maintenance – Irregular or improper maintenance is just as bad as neglecting to have your roof maintained at all, which is why you need to prepare a commercial roof management strategy and make sure only qualified contractors handle all roof maintenance and emergency roof repair work.
Developing a Commercial Roof Management Strategy
What are the essential components of a commercial roof management strategy? Here’s a quick overview:
- Digital roofing file – A roofing file contains important details such as your roof’s dimensions, the kind of roofing material installed, the brand used (to help maintain the consistency of your flat roof’s performance), receipts issued by your contractor, previous roof inspection reports, warranty info and your contractor’s details. Digitizing the roofing file will make it easier to update it and keep track of maintenance and repair costs.
- Roof access control – Access to your building’s rooftop should be regulated, as wear and tear from foot traffic can degrade the roof’s surface. It’d be a good idea to craft a building policy on personnel and tenants’ access to the rooftop. If you’re a building owner, we recommend including a clause regarding access to the rooftop in your in tenants’ lease.
- Routine roof maintenance and inspections – As a general rule of thumb, commercial roofing systems should be inspected at least twice a year. The National Roofing Contractors Association recommends scheduling these inspections before the start of summer and winter to prepare your roof for extreme temperatures. Through routine inspections and maintenance, contractors can detect and fix roofing issues before they affect other parts of your building.
- It’s important that only experienced professional contractors handle roof inspections. After all, less experienced contractors are more likely to miss the early warning signs of roofing damage.
Choosing the Right Flat Roofing Material
Of course, roofing maintenance can only do so much. At a certain point, you’ll need to schedule a roof replacement. To reduce the risk of leaks and lengthen the lifespan of your commercial roofing system, you should choose a flat roofing material that can handle your area’s climate.
Here’s a quick overview of the most widely-used flat roofing materials:
- Single-ply roofing – Single-ply roofing membranes, which are made from rubber, can be installed either by being chemically attached to your roof’s insulation or by being ballasted. There are two types: Ethylene Propylene Diene Terpolymer (EPDM) and Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO). The former usually lasts 25 to 30 years, while the latter has a slightly shorter lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
- BUR roofing – BUR roofing, or tar and gravel roofing. is made of alternating layers of bitumen and reinforced fabric, and come in three-, four- or five-ply varieties. The final roofing layer, which is made from rock or stone, protects the flat roof’s underlayers from UV rays, extreme temperatures and wind damage. BUR roofing also lacks seams, which are the weak point of conventional roofing systems.
- Liquid-applied roofing – Liquid-applied roofing can cover the entire roof without creating seams, resulting in a highly leak-resistant flat roof.
To learn more about your flat roofing options, consult a professional roofing contractor.
Hoover Contracting Inc, a family-owned business with over a decade of experience, offers a wide range of professional residential and commercial roofing services. To schedule a consultation, call us at (217) 213-5122 or fill out this form. Talk to us today!