When is it time to Repair, Recover, or Replace?

By: Paul Levisee

Commercial Low Slope (“flat roofs”) roofing systems are designed for long-term performance with warranties ranging from 15 years to 30 years, but many can still develop problems during their expected lifespan. Many problems can arise when a roof is designed incorrectly, installed wrong, or improperly maintained. Far too often, roofers come across roofing that begins failing or is in need of attention long before the expected life of the roof is over.

When looking to fix a problem with your commercial roof, there are a few options: full replacement, re-cover, or repair. It’s important to answer a few questions first, that will help guide you in the right direction.

Questions to Consider:

1. What is the condition of the roof? Is there damage from traffic, negligence, debris or storms?

2. How much of the roof is damaged? How badly is it damaged? Is there wet insulation or substrate? Has it damaged the roof deck or joists?

3. Does it have the proper amount of insulation for what the building is being used for?

4. How easy would it be to tear off? If the price difference between a full tear off and a re-cover is small, tearing the roof off and installing an all-new roof system with current Energy Code R Value and positive water flow would be the better option.

5. Are you looking for a long-term or short-term solution? Is the building scheduled for demolition, but you need a short-term solution? Are you planning an addition or planning to sell? How long will you remain in the building? Is selling with a warrantied roof a plus or is the cost a negative?

6. What is the building used for? Is it heated and/or cooled?

7. Do the activities in the building create moisture (pool, manufacturing process, refrigerated or freezer space)? If so, it may not have the correct roof or improper ventilation could have resulted, which means a repair or re-cover may not eliminate all your water issues.

8. All Elements, Inc. have put together a few different options (and the benefits of each) to help you determine the best path to take when faced with roofing issues.


Some problems on a roof can be minor or easy to repair. In these cases, replacement is usually not needed. Here are some reasons you may choose to repair the roof:

  • The membrane or base material are in good shape and have not met its life expectancy
  • The roof has adequate insulation and the insulation is dry and not crushed
  • You want to keep the cost down and budget for a capitol expense in the future

Benefits of repair:

  • Less costly than a re-cover or replacement
  • Extends the life of the roof and allows for budgeting for future replacement


Not every damaged roof needs to be replaced. If the roof is functioning properly and has good insulation, the most cost effective solution would be to perform a re-cover. In most cases with alow slope roof (flat roof), if a building has only one roofing system installed you can install another single ply roof over the top. Here are some reasons you may want to re-cover your roof:

  • The roof has good insulation, but the membrane has met its life expectancy
  • The roof has proper drainage

Benefits of re-cover:

  • Less expensive than a full replacement
  • Less disruptive than a full tear-off
  • Less time from start to finish for installation
  • New warranty would be provided

Full replacement

If a roof has been neglected for too long or if damage to the membrane is too severe for a re-cover to be considered, then a full replacement may be needed. Also, if a roof has been re-covered once before and now has two roofing layers, a re-cover may not be an option. Lastly, when repairs that have been made are failing, you will need to replace it. Here are some reasons to replace a roof:

  • The roof is in need of major repair and costs begin to reach higher than the typical repair budget
  • Insulation is showing buckling, soft spots, or saturation
  • If you are looking for a long-term solution
  • If you are looking at new technologies for your roof like a solar or Energy Star rated roof


Benefits of replacement:

  • Usually the better option if customer plans on keeping the building for the long-term
  • Lower maintenance cost
  • Energy savings; in most cases added insulation will be required

With all of the above information in mind, it is always good to find a trusted roofing professional to do an inspection on the condition of your roof.

Many companies will offer a free inspection to figure out what stage the customer’s roof is in. After that, will typically will offer an annual maintenance program. These programs will cover basic upkeep like cleaning scuppers, inspection of base flashings, basic caulking issues, and a visual inspection of roof surfaces.

Wondering what stage your roof might be in? Feel free to give us a call. We’d be happy to conduct an inspection of your roof or answer any questions you might have!