Roofing costs can be controlled by staying informed

July 15, 2004
Inspection, information and predictive maintenance keep roof costs under control
The "out of sight, out of mind" thinking of building owners has contributed to expensive emergency repairs, lost production and premature replacement of industrial roofs. "Companies have lots of money tied up in assets," says Greg Walterscheid, an accounts manager for architectural consulting firm The Conley Group ( "If they are not investing to maintain those assets, they will pay the piper in the long run, for example with many leak repairs or a several-million-dollar re-roof. They need to manage the 'forgotten asset' or they'll end up paying $9 to $12 per square foot to replace it before the end of its service life."It's sad to realize these common, critical and low-tech components of essential infrastructure are often neglected to the point of catastrophic failure when proper roof care is so conceptually simple and cost-effective.Get up thereProper care begins with regular inspections. Experts recommend one to four inspections per year, with frequency depending mainly on the type and condition of the roof, the environment and how much traffic the roof sees. A relatively new, simple and high-quality roof with few penetrations in a mild climate may get by with an annual look-see, whereas an aging plant with lots of high-maintenance roof-mounted equipment and exposed to severe weather may need quarterly or even more frequent inspections."The roof is the fifth wall. When it leaks, it's an expensive proposition," says Tim Nelligan, president of Redondo Beach, Calif.-based United Cool Roof Systems ( "Inspect it every 90 days. There are four seasons; inspect the roof four times a year."Regular inspections routinely uncover debris on the roof and clogged drains. "Unless that roof is similar to a bathtub, it's going to leak when it rains," Nelligan adds. Look for bullet holes, tree limbs, and especially damage from HVAC and other maintenance personnel. "Sometimes it looks like they did the work in golf shoes. You have to go up after their work to see if there is damage."Walterscheid recommends inspections twice a year. "Walk around and observe it after it's cleaned, once before winter while there's still time to fix things, and once after winter and before spring rains," he says. That will give you time to update your records and make an action item list to take care of before the season hits.You don't need a trained inspector for every inspection. "A maintenance supervisor can do it," Nelligan says. "It's good to have a contractor come on a regular basis, but 20 minutes every 90 days can save thousands of dollars."Every two years, have a specialist do a "hard" inspection, Walterscheid says. "Some companies go to a roofing contractor for this, which is OK if you have a competent and honest contractor," he says. "Others come to consultants like us."Specialists have long used diagnostic and condition-evaluating tools, including infrared thermography, core sampling, materials testing and borescopes, but much of their value simply comes from a thorough visual inspection by someone who knows what to look for.
Figure 1. Roofing management software can help predict needs and schedules, and track performance year-to-year.
Know all about it
Many plants have incomplete and/or inaccessible records on roof origins, conditions and warranties. For most, the problem starts soon after the construction dust settles.When the building is built, whichever decision-maker is there at the time is the one who specifies the roof. "It's supposed to last 10 or 15 years, so the owner ignores it, figuring, 'Somebody will have to replace it, but probably not me,'" says Steve James, president, Digital Facilities Corp. (, makers of roof-management software. The roof gets no attention from the plant manager, the construction records get lost, and after a while, nobody has any knowledge about the original roof. At the same time, most companies are trying to get by with fewer employees. One person may be in charge of several or even hundreds of buildings, and he or she needs to have access to information to make good decisions. "For example, warranties are purchased at a price of 10 or 15 cents a square foot, and many owners don't have a good process for keeping track of them," James says. "They end up re-roofing a building that's under warranty. It's a disservice to put the responsibility for maintaining a roof on someone without giving them the information they need."One of those "someones" is Henry Moncure, staff engineer and project manager for Philip Morris, Richmond, Va. In 1998, Moncure was asked to manage the company's roof plan. In many cases, warranties were not enforceable or were not being used. Actions such as the annual inspections required to maintain the warranties were not being done.At the same time, project funding was limited. Moncure needed to prioritize roof repairs and match them to funds, and he needed to be more proactive to get money allocated ahead of time rather than ask for emergency funding."I put together an RFP for a firm to develop a database for all the facilities," Moncure says. "It would track leak reports to identify problem areas and update priorities."Philip Morris decided to create a long-term relationship with a roofing consultant company. They chose a company (Conley Group) that could assign a full-time inspector and is large enough to staff up to four simultaneous projects. The agreed-upon fee structure is a percentage of project cost."Conley did a detailed condition survey with Digital Facilities software, including photographs, recommendations and priorities based on cost-versus-value determinations," Moncure says. "The database prints out needs by site and projected expense by year , a virtual shopping list , available on time for our budget cycle."The proactive program helps Philip Morris make critical decisions. "If funding is delayed, we can identify which projects to defer, and we can talk intelligently with management about risks," Moncure adds. "We've had a couple of cases where funding was delayed and roofs failed right where we told them they would."Have a planGood records support long-range planning. "If you lay out a five-year plan, now you can put three projects out to bid instead of one," Walterscheid says. "You can get economies of scale , lower costs from contractors, consultants and manufacturers. Stronger warranties, lower prices , it's a domino effect."If a plant has a functioning computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), it would seem to make sense to use it to track roof information. But James claims CMMS software has limitations when it comes to roofs, and suggests plants consider specialized roof-management software to store roof data and aid decision-makers. "CMMS programs are good at writing work orders, but their capabilities are often oversold," he says. "Companies that try to dominate all areas of asset management find they can't do it. There are too many specialized areas like roofing. But they can take higher-level fields from the roofing software."Someday the CFO will be able to hit a button on SAP and bring up the roofing budget, but not today."Software gets the information out of a file drawer or some individual's head. "People often are just guessing what they need to budget for roof repair," Walterscheid says. "Software enables accurate prediction of needs and schedules, and lets you track performance year-to-year [Figure 1]. It helps lower the cost of acquisition, extend service lives and calculate ROI." You can move costs into maintenance from capital expense, and data and photographs make it easier to get funding. "You can show proof to anyone," he says.It comes down to understanding what you own, knowing what it needs and what to expect. Some roofs last longer than others, and some applications are harder on roofs. When trouble comes, you want to know whether to repair or replace, and the life-cycle costs of different options.But beware: The cost of getting neglected roofs onto a proactive program can be shocking, Walterscheid says. "It typically takes two or three years to catch up with neglect."Pre-qualify vendorsThe experts agree it's wise to line up roofing suppliers and installers well before the work must be done. Roofing is skilled labor, and the contractor has a strong influence on quality. "The key to a lasting roof that requires minimal maintenance is the roofing contractor," Moncure says.At Philip Morris, he developed a short list of qualified contractors by first asking for suppliers' recommendations. "We started with the roofing manufacturers' A-list," Moncure says. "Then we evaluated their safety records, and 20% passed. Then we visited their offices and interviewed them."The size of some of the projects limited the company's choices. "We did not want our $1 million to $3 million projects to exceed 30% of their annual business, so we had to seek larger contractors to be sure they have the resources and would not go bankrupt," Moncure adds.One criterion to be wary of is the warranty. The roof with the longest warranty is not always the most durable or leak-tight. If the roof is installed improperly, the manufacturer will not issue the warranty. And some warranties have clauses that make it very difficult to keep them in force."A warranty doesn't keep water out," says Ridge Stockdale, president, Polythane Systems ( "What people don't foresee is a low-price roof never stops the leaks. After eight or nine years of calling in on the warranty to chase leaks, they give up and re-roof." He says it's better to look for "real evidence of long-term performance. Ask the vendor to show you a 20-year-old roof."Moncure agrees. Philip Morris sought to specify roofs that will last 25 years with minimal maintenance. "We started by identifying roofing suppliers with proven history that would meet a requirement for a 20-year warranty," Moncure says, "and we require the installing contractor to back a five-year warranty instead of the usual two years."Sound expensive? "With pre-qualified suppliers and contractors, we can get competitive bids," Moncure adds.Another way to keep costs down is to keep your mind open. "There is no ideal roof," Stockdale says. The best roofing system for a given application depends on many parameters: region, building design, usage, etc. "The key to a successful roof is a contractor who knows how to put it down properly. In some areas, single-ply is successful, in others, built-up. It all depends on the workmanship."Make roofs last
The ideal industrial roof would last forever, requiring only regular maintenance to avoid the capital expense and production inconvenience of replacement. Such a roof may become available, but even now, with proper care, a quality roof can last much longer than you might expect.One way to extend service life is roof coating. "Our roofing system is very durable," Stockdale says. "If you maintain it, after 15 to 20 years you can recoat and double its life at a small fraction of the original cost."Coatings can be considered an expense rather than a capital improvement, so plants may be able to write them off in the same year rather than depreciating them over decades.With their significant life-cycle cost and potential for interrupting production, roofs should be treated like any other asset. "We try to help owners see the ROI of asset management," Walterscheid says. He describes an industrial client with 20 facilities. "Each plant used to have the responsibility for its own roof, but they wouldn't spend the money because of its impact on the bottom line," he says. "Now corporate is taking over so each plant isn't punished for taking care of its roof. Once someone is burned by an expensive roof failure or loss of production, corporate gets interested." 

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