5 Unique Considerations for Industrial Roofs

September 17, 2018

They’re not the norm, and they’re certainly not pristine, wide-open, or unobstructed. Industrial roofs are walked all over and worked on top of. They’ve got to be tougher. And the people who manage manufacturing, food processing, and warehouse facilities have got to stay vigilant. Industrial roofs work overtime. We’ve outlined five reasons why.

The roof is a work platform.
Keeping water out is just one of the many responsibilities of an industrial roof. Mechanical systems, HVAC equipment, grease vents, and process piping need regular servicing and turn the roof into a work platform. When sharp tools are dropped, HVAC panels slice through single-ply membrane, or dropped screws and nails are walked on, destruction is inevitable. Regular foot traffic is hard enough on the roof.

All that wear and tear takes a toll on the roof’s lifespan and increases the frequency of repairs. Leaks aren’t just a nuisance at food processing and distribution facilities; even the smallest leak can contaminate food and result in a million-dollar recall.

A durable roof system is a must. SBS modified bitumen roofing or thicker single-ply membranes (e.g. 90 mil) are usually specified for their durability. Dense cover board is also recommended and will help prevent insulation from being crushed, which reduces its R-value.

Even the most durable roof system on the market isn’t invincible though. Do your best to keep people off the roof. Installing walkway systems (either mats or elevated steel walkways) can help protect the roof when that’s simply not possible. Instruct employees and contractors to stay on the path. Post signage or ask them to read and sign off on written instructions detailing how to work on the roof to minimize damage, and how to report it even if they do.

Lastly, have the roof checked out regularly. For heavily trafficked roofs, inspections may be required up to four times a year.

People are working on the roof.
With so many trades traversing the roof to maintain rooftop systems, piping, etc., it’s vital that you protect workers from injury. The most dangerous areas of the roof are skylights, roof hatches, and other holes that an individual could fall through, as well as the perimeter edge where an individual could fall off.

Ask your roofing contractor how the roof can be designed and maintained to reduce liability and potential accidents. Install permanent fall protection equipment (e.g. horizontal lifeline, guard rails, etc.) and train employees on how to use it properly. Post signage at roof access points warning of the hazards and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and inspect fall protection equipment annually.

There is processing residue on the roof.
Not only are chemicals, grease, oil, acid, and fats on the roof at industrial and food-processing plants damaging to the roofing system, but they can also make the surface slippery for rooftop workers. It’s important that you investigate the source of processing residue, repair leaking equipment, or redirect the emissions/discharge. If necessary, grease guards can be installed to filter and collect grease and oils from rooftop exhaust systems.

You’ve got birds.
Whenever grain is present on the roof, birds will gather. They may seem harmless, but the roof damage they cause is anything but. Their pecking results in punctures and eventually leaks. Acidic bird droppings will eat through most roofing materials, including metal. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that accumulated bird droppings can reduce the life of some building roofs by up 50 percent.

Having to reroof more often isn’t the only reason to be concerned about birds. They can also cause a recall at food processing plants. Parasites and transmittable bird-borne diseases are especially troublesome and could be transmitted into the facility through roof leaks or tracked in from rooftop workers.

A thin coating of bird droppings can be very slippery, creating a hazard for rooftop workers. Nesting birds may swoop and dive, creating dangerous working conditions. Consider employing bird deterrent equipment; there are many options on the market today.

The roof is congested with processing pipe.
Very few facilities can rival the large number of penetrations found on a food processing plant’s roof. The more penetrations, the greater the risk for leaks. “The most vulnerable part of any roof system is that point at which the horizontal roof deck and a vertical surface join,” says the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). Proper installation and ongoing maintenance is critical to ensure a watertight seal.

When the roof is congested with processing pipe, roofing projects are more complex. Ammonia lines may require a subcontractor move them, resulting in a longer project timeline because fewer squares can be laid up in congested areas.

Processing pipe will also influence reroofing decisions when the existing roof nears the end of its service life. Recovering the roof with another system or adding more insulation could have a domino effect. These both increase roof volume. Ben Fashimpaur, Vice President National Account Manager, D. C. Taylor Co., warns, “Additional roof height can cause additional expense. Maybe now all of your fan curb heights have to be raised. Industrial piping also may have to be raised.”

Whenever you’re modifying the roof with a new penetration, contact your roofing contractor. He’ll provide advice on adequate spacing between penetrations and appropriate flashing details. He can also seal the penetration once it’s been added to ensure it’s sealed according to manufacturer specifications and the recommended practices of the NRCA.

To stay ahead of roof leaks, routine inspections and basic maintenance (e.g. refilling the sealer) are key. If your roof has a high volume of penetrations, have it inspected every three to four months.

When you know the challenges, concerns, and considerations unique to industrial roofs, you can 1) install the most appropriate roof system and fall protection equipment, 2) put processes in place to protect it from damage, and 3) maintain it to ensure maximum service life.