When Minor Problems Become Costly Roof Repairs

November 13, 2018

Maybe your company recently purchased the building. Maybe you just became responsible for the roof. Or maybe roof maintenance has never been priority. How bad could it be, right?

Unfortunately, when regular roof maintenance isn’t performed, the extent and cost of the repairs can escalate rapidly. The following scenarios help to illustrate how quickly a small problem can turn into a big repair.

You haven’t maintained your pitch pans/pockets.
Pitch pans are a major maintenance item. If you’ve ignored them for two years or more, it’s likely you’ve got roof leaks. The pitch pan is designed to encapsulate a roof penetration. Problems arise when that pitch pan sealant dries out, shrinks, cracks, and pulls away from the sides. This occurs because of the expansion and contraction of the roof system through the seasons and movement of the penetration. When general preventive maintenance is performed, the old sealant is cleaned out and removed, concrete grout is checked, and the pitch pan is filled with more sealant.

The HVAC technician didn’t tell you he damaged the roof.
Cuts, abrasions, slices, and small punctures seem minor but they can lead to very costly repairs if not identified and remedied quickly. If the HVAC technician (or any other rooftop worker) causes damage, they should report it to the building owner immediately. A roofing contractor can heat weld or adhere a patch to cover the damage and restore the membrane’s waterproofing capabilities. If left unattended, water will infiltrate the roof system through the puncture, saturate the insulation, and possibly even corrode a metal roof deck. What could have been a small simple repair is now the reason for a major roof replacement.

Plants and trees are sprouting on the roof.
Cleaning the roof regularly reduces the chances that seeds will take root on the roof. Spring and fall are ideal times to perform this kind of maintenance. In the spring you can check the condition of the roof after winter and in the fall, once the leaves are down off the trees, you can make sure conditions aren’t right for any of those maple seeds to germinate. Not only will plants and trees growing on the roof clog roof drains, they’ll also take root in your membrane, resulting in roof leaks.

Ponding water doesn’t dissipate after 48 hours.
The general rule of thumb is that water shouldn’t sit on a roof longer than 48 to 72 hours. Ponding water is especially dangerous in winter, when the puddle becomes a large sheet of thick ice. Ponding water is a hazard to rooftop workers and a structural load concern that could lead to roof collapse. A 45-mil TPO membrane will deteriorate faster in areas where water is ponding, as well. While tapered insulation and roof crickets are costly, the upfront cost pays off in the long run.

Flashing has deteriorated or is pulling.
Flashing problems are most common on ballasted EPDM roofs. When the temperature fluctuates with the seasons, it causes expansion and contraction; flashings are the first things to fail because they’re pulling so tightly. Leaks are inevitable as is a costly repair.

Drain baskets are missing.
Drain baskets are important because they prevent large vegetation and debris from getting into drainage pipes. At a cost of less than $100 each, replacing drain baskets costs a fraction of what a plumber will charge to snake the drain if it’s backed up. If unaddressed, the roof fills up like a bath tub and roof collapse is impending. All through-wall scuppers, collector boxes, gutters, and downspouts must be free of debris to ensure proper drainage of water from the roof.

Caulking and sealants have never been replaced.
Don’t be tricked into thinking that caulk and sealant will last the life of your roof. Just because your roof system warranty is for 15 years, doesn’t mean you have 15 years free of maintenance. The life of caulking is six to eight years. A regular roof inspection will examine the condition of caulking and sealants for counterflashings and terminations and replace or seal if necessary. Without an inspection, you risk water infiltration into the roof system and leaks.

If you see it, repair it. Maintain the roof to catch deficiencies before they necessitate expensive repairs or replacement. It extends roof life and keeps costs reasonable.