Help! My Roof Gets Lots of Foot Traffic

October 25, 2016

The roof system’s primary job is to keep water out, but for many facilities, the roof is working overtime. At manufacturing sites, industrial buildings, and restaurants, the roof is being asked to do so much more. With grease vents, HVAC units, and process piping on the roof that need regular servicing, the roof isn’t just for waterproofing any more, it’s also a work platform.

Monthly, weekly, or even daily rooftop foot traffic at some facilities can cause frequent and/or significant damage, reducing the roof’s lifespan and increasing the need for repairs and routine maintenance. Beyond just accepting this as fate, is there anything you can do about it?

The answer is yes.

Design the roof with foot traffic in mind.
A reputable roofing contractor will ask you detailed questions about how the roof is used long before they provide you with a quote. Only once they have an understanding of the roof’s many functions, is a roof system and project proposed.

If a reroofing project is in the near future, but you’re not sure how often the roof is accessed and for what reasons, start a log for employees and contractors. This data will help your contractor evaluate which roof system best meets your needs.

If heavy foot traffic cannot be avoided, the roof system should be designed with that in mind. SBS modified bitumen roofing or thicker single-ply membranes are usually specified for their durability. Thickness of single-ply membranes is indicated by the mil, with 1 mil being equal to 0.001 inch. Some of the thickest membranes on the market are 90 mil.

Dense cover board and insulation are also recommended and will help prevent insulation from being crushed (which reduces its R-value).

Retrofit the roof.
If it isn’t quite time for a total tear-off, consider reroofing a small section to beef up the durability of the roof where work is frequent. For example, if window washers are putting their equipment in the same place on the roof every time they visit, this can minimize the damage they cause. Another area where this is wise is at access points, where workers step off a ladder or through a door to work on the roof; damage from constant foot traffic in these areas is almost inevitable.

Your other option is to add walkway systems. Either mats or elevated steel walkways not only protect the roof membrane from destructive foot traffic, but they also minimize the damage by limiting where people walk (i.e. so it’s not so widespread)

Elevated steel walkways often provide guardrail, which can enhance safety for rooftop workers.

Set some rules.
Lastly, work to change behaviors. Implement strategies to minimize foot traffic and whenever it can’t be avoided, make sure that individuals – whether it be your own employees or subcontractors – understand where to walk (stay on the path!) and how to minimize damage. Post signage, use that log we mentioned earlier, provide written instructions to subcontractors on how to protect the roof, and give directions on how to report damage.