Who’s in Charge of the Roof?

August 27, 2015

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Who’s in Charge of the Roof?


Replacing the roof on your property can be one of the single most costly and disruptive decisions any building owner or manager must ever make.  The numerous options and opinions can be confusing if not overwhelming.

There is plenty of information published regarding specific products or systems you can install on your property; however, little is ever mentioned regarding repairing and restoring versus replacing your roof.  The following is intended to be a brief overview of what would be required to properly understand the alternatives facing a facility manager or building owner.

Start With a Plan

It should be understood from the start that your roof will eventually need to be replaced.  When you replace your roof, it shouldn’t be a surprise to the responsible parties.  The roof is a major part of most buildings and is under constant attack by the elements.  Intense sun, torrential rain, high gusts of wind and thermal shock all contribute to the wear and tear that will eventually cause your roof to be replaced. You need to look at your roof as a depreciating asset; consideration should be given to maintaining this asset and its inevitable replacement.

Your roof should be designed so water can drain off, and in such a way that it is able to withstand the expansion and contraction of the building as a system.  In theory this sounds relatively simple; however, attention must be focused on the small components of the system to insure maximum usefulness is achieved.  Roofs rarely fail all at once; small parts wear out and, if left unattended, can cause total failure of the roof system.

Preventative and Predictive Restoration

Those who have a roof warranty should read the fine print that requires routing maintenance and exclusion of responsibility for areas that connect to your roof system.  I constantly encounter clients who think their roof warranty is one of those “bumper to bumper” programs, when in reality it excludes almost everything that will leak.

Don’t rely on your warranty to keep your building dry or insure total satisfaction with your roof system.  It has been my experience that most roof warranties are used as marketing tools and are never examined until a problem occurs.

A good roof inspection and restoration program should include all of the following items:

  1. All historical information regarding the roof and all components included in the system.
  2. All previously performed restoration and repair.
  3. Roof access control. Only qualified parties who understand the system should be allowed on the roof.  A significant number of roof complaints are related to damage by other trades such as A/C repairs, electrical concerns, etc.
  4. Warranty information.
  5. Date of last inspection and areas of concern.

Most roofs will be in decent condition, but almost every roof will require minor repairs.  Some roofs will require significant repairs.  If your roof is leaking, serious damage has already been done.  Your roof insulation, if exposed to a leak, will lose most of its effectiveness.  Your decking system could become questionable if exposed over any significant period of time.  The damage to interior space usually requires extensive restoration to match undamaged areas.

Roof Systems

Considering that very few buildings are ever the same, every property presents its own unique considerations.  The selection of your roof system should incorporate the following considerations; access, deck, slope, weight, traffic, local weather conditions, wind zone, codes, insurance and budget constraints.

Roof systems fall into two categories: built-up roofs (BUR) or single-ply systems.  Both of these categories have a number of sub categories.

Built-up Roofs

The concept behind the BUR system is a combination of multiple layers of asphalt and felt.  This system is the most forgiving to workmanship errors in the short run due to the multiple layers of material.  BUR systems are very good in areas that have extensive foot traffic or equipment maintenance requirements.

Another popular system that falls under the BUR category is the modified bitumen roof.  This is a combination of treated or modified asphalt and fabric or felt assembled at the factory, and is becoming more and more popular as codes restrict the use of gravel on buildings.

You must remember that a BUR system is manufactured on your roof.  The different components on your roof are assembled or manufactured under less than desirable manufacturing conditions and the installers must be very skilled to insure proper assembly of the system.

Built up roofs have been installed for over 100 years and if assembled properly, provide outstanding performance.


This roof has been referred to as a “roof on a roll”, and these products have only been in the US market since the mid 1970’s.  There are a number of systems made from such materials as rubber, hyphalon, PVC and thermoplastic.  These systems are often less expensive to install than BUR systems; however some systems have experienced shorter life cycles.

The single-ply systems are less forgiving to foot traffic and equipment maintenance than a BUR and can be punctured easier.

The EDPM (rubber roof system) has performed the best of all single-ply systems.  The product’s ability to expand and contract with the building’s movement during thermal shock conditions has made it an excellent system.

Both BUR and single-ply offer advantages and disadvantages.  The selection of the proper roof system should be designed by a qualified contractor or consultant who understands the building use, owner’s expectations concerning the roof’s expected life and budget constraints.

Selecting a   Contractor

The most important decision you will make regarding your roof is the selection of a contractor.  Everything involved in your roofing project will be influenced by your contractor.  Your contractor will control the success or failure of your project.  Even the best products, if properly designed and improperly installed, will eventually leak.  A good contractor can install a good roof with marginal materials.

Don’t allow price to be the sole determining factor when selecting your contractor.  A lower price can always be obtained at the owner’s expense in the long run.  When selecting your contractor, you should consider the following items:

  1. How long has the contractor been in business?
  2. Does the contractor have a stable financial background?
  3. Can the contractor provide you with a list of current and past references?
  4. Does the contractor have adequate insurance coverage?
  5. Could the contractor bond the job if required, and what would it cost/
  6. Does the contractor provide continued maintenance, as required, after the completion of the project?

Prequalifying your contractors prior to bidding is the most important decision in your roof selection process.

Your roof protects all the other assets of your building.  This includes furniture, equipment, inventories, fixtures and tenant relationships.  You are protecting the majority of a building’s net worth with the roof system.  Don’t you agree that a concise, deliberate process to manage your roof expenses and roof inspection program could reduce your overall roofing costs and make your job much more pleasurable?


Article written by: Gregg Wallick