Roof-specific asset management can keep you out of hot water-- or dripping water

July 30, 2003
Roofing-specific asset management protects the investments you've made

If your main building could talk, what would it say about how it's being managed? Perhaps it would begin by reflecting fondly on the day it was commissioned. The design team debated the roofing details, argued over the language in the material specifications, compared the best warranties and ultimately selected a contractor that delivered the project's design intent. The owner wanted this plant to be the model of many to come, and the plant felt well cared for and important.

Fifteen years later, the roof of the building, now known simply as "P-14," is in need of maintenance, system upgrades and repairs. However, the current manager can't locate the specifications for the roofing system and materials, and the roof warranty is hidden away in the division manager's file cabinet 1,000 miles away. Meanwhile, ponded roof water is dripping on a critical manufacturing process, and the building's financial managers demand documentation and budgets before any major repairs can be made.

Missed opportunities

If old P-14 could talk, it would explain that the roofing problem was brought about by unintended lapses of attention to the details in its care and management. P-14's original owners had the foresight to purchase an extended roofing warranty, but the warranty terms were never reviewed. As a result, the facility management team never conducted the required annual inspections or performed regular maintenance and made repairs that weren't in accordance with the warranty. When the roof leaked, the roofing manufacturer claimed the warranty had been voided and refused to compensate the owners for any repairs.

Now the building is being sold yet again and will be priced at a discount because the prospective buyer isn't willing to pay top dollar for a building with a history of missed repairs, random care and maintenancenot to mention that darned leak.

Why programs are ignored

Most roof consultants, professional roofing companies and industry gurus agree that roofing asset management is critical to maintaining the integrity of any roofing system and to avoiding the problems P-14 is suffering. Even the lowest-maintenance system on the market still needs to be inspected as part of a building envelope management program. So why aren't more companies implementing proactive roofing management programs?

The most common reason is that roofs are difficult to access and easy to ignore. In addition, they're designed to perform for 10 years to 15 years, so the facility decision-maker can sometimes delay repairs without experiencing the consequences personally. While putting off maintenance and repairs may be a good short-term strategy for the lucky few, others down the road will have to explain why their budget outlay jumped by $300,000 to pay for an emergency deck repair.

Even when they make a decision to implement an asset management program, many facility managers are challenged by the many roofing details, plans, specifications and material that need to be managed. In the past, plant engineers stored this information in random locations throughout the plant. Some organizations tried to automate the tracking of roofing information with homebrew software, but it was rarely, if ever, compatible with other corporate databases where maintenance information could be found, either at a single plant or other company facilities. Thus, even if the plants could "speak," chances are they wouldn't understand each other.

Roof management software

Fortunately, contemporary asset management software programs can help facility managers easily and securely collect, store and manage the information vital to a roof asset management program. Some of the leading programs, which have specific roofing management formats that can be shared among companies, divisions, service companies and consultants using e-mail and the Web, have been in use for more than five years. Because different asset management software packages can vary greatly in terms of features, it's important to evaluate the relevant selection factors.

Software considerations

The appropriate choice for some companies may include a combination of compatible software that can collect information, working in conjunction with files maintained at service providers' offices or accessed online using a Web browser. If considering software not specifically designed for roofing asset management, be sure to follow a consistent format for inspecting, collecting, managing and documenting roofing data because users are likely to change formats or data fields otherwise. Lacking such guidelines, it can be difficult to share information, even if the data is consolidated manually.

Another option is software specifically developed for roofing asset management. Unlike general spreadsheet applications or relational databases, these applications are likely to support both integrated digital pictures and CAD drawings. This software is likely to have detailed report-writing features designed specifically for roofing asset management. These roofing-specific software packages may cost more, but considering the expense of roofing replacement, the investment in software is only a small percentage of the annual roofing budget.

Reporting options

The purpose of most reports is to share information in a format that the recipient can understand. For instance, following a roofing survey or inspection, a user can produce a detailed report for non-technical managers that helps them better understand:

The existing condition of each roof section.

Who installed it.

How defective sections should be repaired.

The purchasing decisions that can extend the roof's life.

With this data in hand, executives are better able to plan for a more uniform allocation of funds, instead of relying on an inconsistent, reactive distribution of resources.

Asset management reports also might include condition reports for a specific roof section or inventory status report for budgets and planning. Ideally, the reports can be distributed electronically or as printed, full-color documents. Other features to consider are:

The ability to include specific condition analyses.

A means to link to digital pictures.

A capability to mark roofing defects on CAD drawings.

The ability to prepare financial forecasts.

Putting the program to work

If the building inventory is large, start with those exhibiting a history of recurrent problems to identify and document which areas need the most attention. Start assembling building asset management data by requiring repairs to be documented in a set report format, including photos, and to be logged at the time they are completed.

As the asset management program accumulates information in an organized format, it quickly becomes apparent which warranties and roofing histories are missing. To avoid future gaps, implement a data collection process for adding information to the files.

When commissioning a building, request that project contractors furnish electronic documents under the closeout procedures found in CSI MasterFormat specifications, Section 01810. Request that roofing-specific information, such as warranties and as-built roof drawings, be submitted electronically in accordance with Division 7Roofing, Section 1Quality Assurance.

If the objective is to include a large number of facilities in the database, data collection may seem daunting. Use benchmarks based on the needs of the organization and facility management priorities to target improvement over a period of time. For instance, roofing sections covering the most critical manufacturing operations should be a top priority because they have a significant effect on the business.

Asset management software, combined with a solid asset management program, can help facility managers and roofing professionals protect the company's roofing investment by collecting and distributing data that can help them make informed decisions regarding future roof maintenance and repair. They also can produce and maintain a roof history for future managers. In a way, it's giving the building a "voice" in the way it's managed.

Steven James is President of Digital Facilities Corp. He can be reached at or 905-844-3300.

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