Death, Taxes and Roof Leaks

By: Jim Harnden, Roof Consultant

Benjamin Franklin wrote in a 1789 letter “our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

My little spin on this famous quote is “you can be sure of 3 things in life: death, taxes and roof leaks.”

If I had a dime for every time I’ve used that line when talking to a building owner or manager, well, I would have ten bucks or so……but it’s true! These three things will eventually catch up with you if you don’t keep them in check--some sooner than others. I can’t help with the first two, but I would like to help save you some headaches and maybe thousands of dollars when it comes to your flat/low slope roof replacement.

New Materials Economize Roofing

Years ago, if you had to replace your roof, it was necessary to tear off the old one before installing the new one due to the weight of the materials being added. Well, technology has helped eliminate this step in certain situations. New lightweight, strong single ply membranes have been developed over the last 20 years, saving building owners and managers millions of dollars on the maintenance of their buildings.

There are three standard types of lightweight single ply roof membrane that are used regularly in the re-roofing business. Each product differs in its chemical makeup, cost and performance.

The first is EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Terpolymer), simply called “rubber roof” by some. Usually black in color, this material comes in standard roll widths and is usually laid on the roof top and seamed together with adhesives. It can be ballasted, held down with river rock, mechanically fastened or even adhered with glue to the roof deck or insulation.

TPO (Thermoplastic Polyolefin) is the second material used on roofs. It is usually white and comes in standard roll lengths. This material is rolled out and either mechanically fastened to the roof deck with screws or adhered. The pieces are heat welded together to make a strong watertight connection.

The third material is PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) roofing membrane. It comes in standard roll widths or can be custom manufactured to fit your roof. The material is usually mechanically fastened and heat welded together at any seams, but it can also be adhered.

Next Step: A Thorough Evaluation

When you’re considering a new roof, your roofing contractor should do a thorough evaluation of the entire roof system before giving a recommendation. Taking a core sample of your roof is necessary to determine what your existing roof is composed of, how many layers you have, and what the overall condition is. This step is crucial in determining what the next step will be.

Current building codes allow for up to two roof systems on a structure. So the first question is: how many roofs are up there already?

Once you’ve determined that you’ve got a single layer and can roof over it, you’ve got to evaluate the condition of your roof, along with the condition of the substrate. Tearing off any type of existing roof is dirty, labor intensive, and generates a lot of waste. It’s not always avoidable, but it’s always worth a thorough inspection to evaluate.

If a roof is found to be totally saturated, it must be torn off: No exceptions. Covering up an existing wet roof is not acceptable. It will only cause more problems down the road. The entire roof system will have to be removed down to the roof deck and disposed of properly. This process can sometimes double the cost of your project!

But if the saturation is isolated, those wet areas can be identified with the help of thermal imaging. A thermal image of your roof shows heat loss which usually is related to saturated areas of the roof. These areas can be cut out and replaced with new dry insulation, providing they are limited to an isolated area.

Once the old saturated roof has been removed and disposed of, you will have to build up your insulation to the current energy code, which in our area is an R value of 30. This is two layers of 2.6 inches of ISO insulation to make 5.2 inches = R-30. ISO insulation is an added expense, and two layers means more labor to put it in place.

Preventing Leaks

Leaks typically occur because of poor installation of the system to begin with or excessive foot traffic from management or subcontractors. So, be wary of the cheapest quote. Preserve your roof by limiting activity on it. Make sure you know who is up there, and what they are doing. Place walk pads or sacrificial membrane around your mechanical units. You will save thousands of dollars and plenty of headaches if you keep up on the maintenance and inspections of your flat or low slope roof.

Don’t let the roof get saturated—nip problems in the bud! If you are not aware of an issue or you just choose to ignore it, it will cost you more money in the long run, which in turn leads to headaches and big expenses.

Regular inspections of your roof top by a qualified and reputable contractor are a must in order to make sure your roof is performing like it should and serves its purpose long into the future.

All Elements Knows Roofing

When I explain the roofing process to a building owner or manager, their eyes and ears always perk up when they learn I might be able to re-roof their building for about half the cost of a previously gathered quote which included removing the existing roof system and building the insulation back up to current code. Tear-off and re-insulating is not always necessary if a roof has been properly maintained and serviced by a qualified contractor.

I would like to reiterate my lack of expertise when it comes to death and or taxes. However, I am considered quite an authority when it comes to the third inevitable fate, roof leaks! So give us a call at All Elements and we’ll do what we can to save you money and set you up with a solid, reliable, long-lasting roof.

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