Roofs are considered one of the biggest-ticket items for real estate properties. They are extremely expensive, intrusive, and time-consuming to replace, structural issues that are not caught and mitigated can be difficult to fix later, and, most importantly, roofing damage can have a secondary impact on the rest of the structure and building envelope. This can be avoided through regular roof maintenance, which can identify warning signs and avoid those emergency (and costly!) roof leak phone calls. Investing small amounts in proactive maintenance is a small fraction of constant fixes or outright replacement.
An annual inspection is a critical component of roof maintenance, while a Property Condition Assessment involves an evaluation of the roofing system for pending transactions. Consider engaging with knowledgeable consultants experienced in roofing assessments and solutions. They can help to create a deficiencies and repairs maintenance list, as well as provide a record of maintenance for future planning. The consultant can also help you to evaluate whether the current roofing fits your needs, and plan for an appropriate eventual replacement within the right price range.
Here are five of the biggest “red flag” roofing issues I see when conducting Property Condition Assessments that could lead to much bigger problems in the future.
1. Phenolic foam insulation From 1980 through early 1992, phenolic foam roof insulation was manufactured in the US in reaction to a need for greater energy efficiency after oil spikes in the 1970s and 1980s. Board foam phenolic insulation was installed on the corrugated roof decking of thousands of commercial, industrial, and apartment 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 leaks or condensation creates an acidic environment, which corrodes the metal decking. The friability of the material greatly increases the surface area exposed to the water, accelerating the issue. Damage can range from surface rust to large holes in the decking, which can compromise roof stability and present safety issues. Phenolic foam insulation resulted in the largest roofing-related class-action settlement in history.
For any older buildings containing phenolic foam insulation, observations for any presence of moisture or ongoing leaks are essential. Soft areas at the roof level can indicate water-logged insulation and weakened decking materials. Additionally, look for organic debris, areas of ballast removal and patching, and typical EPDM roofing membrane shrinkage, all of which can create potential for water infiltration. For suspected worst-case damage, determine if and to what extent the roof decking was corroded, and work with a qualified roofing consultant to remove corroded material and replace decking.
2. Pools on rooftops One of the biggest draws for multi-family and hotel properties these days is a swanky rooftop pool. Unfortunately, if not constructed and maintained properly, this can also be one of the most common sources of devastating leaks and water infiltration into the rest of the structure. Making matters more complicated is that buildings are in a constant state of movement. Though small and imperceptible, the movement can result in pool liner cracking and leaks. The water can easily find a way into the building and quickly deteriorate other building materials, both cosmetically and structurally. For current property owners, go above and beyond on pool maintenance. Consider two (or more, for frequent use) maintenance visits per year, with detailed inspection of pool liners, drain lines, and surrounding pool decks. If you are purchasing a property with a rooftop pool, obtain all the information and original construction documents you can regarding the pool and what kind of secondary containment is in place, a record of the historic maintenance activities, and a detailed inspection of the current condition.
3. Ponding Water is the enemy in regard to building science and the overall health and condition of a building. One of the main purposes of a building’s enclosure is to prevent water from entering the structure. Roofs are a major part of that defense system; however, a roof that is successful in keeping the water out can still fall victim if the water stagnates or ponds on the surface. The physical weight of the water can cause issues – an area of water 20′ by 20’ and only 1” deep weighs 2,000 pounds! Expanded across a flat roof without proper drainage, this ponding can potentially result is structural failure. Additionally, the water accelerates the aging process through chemical leeching and increased UV radiation exposure. Depending on the circumstances, your warranty may not cover the cost of roof replacement due to water-related issues. So, it is incumbent upon owners to maintain proper drainage for their roofs, to check for any kind of water accumulation frequently (especially after snow or rain falls), and to clear drains of any foreign materials.
4. Ballasted roofing deterioration Ballasted roofing systems typically use rock or pavers to hold the loose-laid membrane in place and protect it from deterioration through general wear and UV radiation. Often, the ballast is cleared from areas to allow for patching and general maintenance activities. After the work has been completed, the ballast is frequently left displaced, exposing an area of the membrane to accelerated aging processes. Movement and displacement of the ballast can also occur in northern climates during freeze-thaw cycles. Check the roof twice a year and after maintenance activities to make sure that the ballast is properly distributed.
5. Non-maintenance wear and tear Most of the above roofing issues can be mitigated through general year-round maintenance and roof upkeep. The most frequent observation I make when examining roofs as a part of building assessments is general non-maintenance and wear and tear. Leaf and other organic litter is a very common occurrence that can clog drains and even generate soil conditions that can sprout unexpected foliage and even trees, the roots of which can penetrate the roof membrane. Clear debris frequently, and check your rooftop immediately after severe weather events. Corroded and foreign materials can result in chemical degradation, and punctures to the membrane. And if the roof is not built to accommodate occupants, only allow qualified personnel to walk on or access contained areas.
Of a property’s three most typically expensive capital expenditures – roofing, HVAC systems, and interior finishes – failure of the roofing system has the greatest potential to result in costly damage to other building system components. Therefore, regular roofing maintenance is essential for the physical and financial health of a building. Being able to identify the roofing issues outlined above before they impact the building’s integrity enables property owners to proactively extend its estimated useful life, avoid costly and unforeseen repairs, increase asset values, and facilitate easier transactions upon change of ownership.