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Would you ever consider not changing the oil in your automobile? Would you not change the filter in your a/c unit on a regular basis? Have you ever asked yourself what is the costliest building component of your facility that, if neglected, could cause significant damage to the entire structure and contents, and MUST be replaced periodically?

Have you ever looked at your roof as a piece of equipment? Your roof is just like a piece of equipment that demands regular maintenance if it is going to protect the contents of the facility and last its projected life.

Unfortunately, the roof seems to fall in the “out of sight, out of mind” category with most building owners. It is not until the roof starts to leak or fail that it gets some attention. Even then, building owners are often just interested in stopping the leak, instead of correcting the underlying problem. This “do nothing” form of roof management could be the costliest mistake any owner could encounter.

I have heard numerous stories about roof drains becoming clogged and roofs collapsing due to being overlooked. Insurance carriers are becoming more aware of these type situations and denying claims of this nature, stipulating the owner’s neglect. In that case, the building was surrounded by trees and had collected enough leaves and debris in the previous three years to fully plug the necessary drainage required for the roof. The accumulated water trapped on the roof by the parapet wall quickly exceeded the dead load capacity of the building, and the roof collapsed. Fortunately, no one was killed; however; the business could not afford the loss and closed.

Another example of negligence on the owner’s part is the story about a school principal in Kansas who gave the C.B. club permission to mount an antenna on the roof of the computer building. With the assistance of the school custodian, the students mounted the antenna through the two-year-old roof with lag screws. Six months later, the summer maintenance staff discovered a leak in the computer science room and approximately $25,000 in damages to the equipment. The school contacted the roofing manufacturer who provided the warranty on the roof. The manufacturer inspected the situation and refused to honor its warranty obligation and voided the warranty due to water infiltration into the roof system. The insurance company denied the claim, based upon the roofing manufacturer’s report, forcing the school to replace both the damaged section of roof and the consequential interior building damage to carpet, walls, and equipment.

Both examples could have been avoided if the owner had performed a single visual inspection of the roof and maintained a detailed log of roof access. These two functions are the start of a roof maintenance program. Someone should be designated as the responsible person for each buildings roofing system. This person should be familiar with the roof system, roof warranty, required maintenance, and a qualified contractor to perform the required maintenance.

Most roofs deteriorate and leak over “a period of time.” The major areas of concern, and where you can anticipate needing to perform routine maintenance, are:

  • Debris removal and drainage concerns
  • New rooftop equipment alterations
  • Surface degradation * Blistering and splitting of membrane
  • Flashing punctures and open laps
  • Counter-flashing caulking and fastening
  • Coping attachment and laps
  • Wall cracks and spalling
  • Gravel stop splits and securement
  • Discharge of containments
  • Excessive traffic wear
  • Expansion joints
  • Pitch pan shrinkage

Ken Schneider, an architect who specializes in life-cycle analysis of roof systems, has published a guideline for the estimated life of particular systems and anticipated maintenance costs.

Roof SystemEstimated Life
Reported Maintenance
(Costs, $/ year) Sq. ft
Asphalt BUR13.6.58
Coal Tar BUR18.1.43
Modified Bitumen17.2.65


It has been my experience that properly installed roof systems that have periodic routine preventative maintenance performed can far exceed the estimated life expectancy.

Getting started on an annual program could be the soundest investment you can make, considering the replacement cost of your roof and the potential liability associated with consequential interior damages. If the owner doesn’t feel qualified to perform such inspections, they should contact a qualified contractor who does this type of work on a regular basis.



About the Author

Best Roofing
Gregg Wallick
President & CEO at 954-941-9111