Roofing Trends: Shelter From The Storm

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roof installation and maintenance PHOTO: Firestone Building products; Johns Manville

By Jillian Ruffino
Published in the February 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Long before mankind could imagine such inventions as airconditioning, high tech security, or cubicles, it discovered thebenefits of a secure, watertight structure to protect against theelements. From the natural shelter of cave dwellings man emerged toconstruct roofs from various native materials, including animal skins,dirt and twigs, and tree bark. These early roofs needed to becompletely portable and likely required constant repair.

In some ways, very little has changed. The essential purpose of aroof—to shield building occupants from the ravages of weather—is thesame. And every roof expert shares one basic tenet—roofs should notleak.

These days, the demands placed on roofs have changed significantly.They are expected to last 20 years or more and, with proper preventivemaintenance and inspections, should not fail, particularly duringinclement weather.In many ways, inclement weather is a top concern for facility managers.Severe climate conditions have prompted facility professionals to takea cautious stance. What has changed over the years, and what is thebest preparatory approach?

Weathering The Storm

Facility managers must keep in mind many things when renovating,replacing, or designing a maintenance plan for roofs. KatrinScholz-Barth, principal of Washington, DC-based Katrin Scholz-BarthConsulting, a firm that specializes in green roofs and storm waterpermitting, cites increased wind loads and more frequently occurring100 year rainfalls, hurricanes, and hail storms. (One hundred yearrainfalls are defined as the amount of rainfall during a specificlength of time that has a 1% chance in any given year of being equaledor exceeded.)

John Geary, director of marketing for Indianapolis, IN-basedFirestone Building Products, agrees that changing weather is a newfactor in roofing. “Facility managers and building owners must be awareof the need for roofing systems that do more than just keep water outof their facilities. All across the country, increased durability andhigh performance roofing systems are important protection againsthurricane force winds and golfball sized hail.”

Stew Snoddy, vice president of Stevens Roofing Systems in Holyoke,MA, adds, “The ozone layer is depleting, which will have an effect onroof performance.”

The impact of the sun’s rays on a roof can also be particularlyharmful. Roofing materials can decay over time due to the sun’s heatand ultraviolet rays.

Fortifying a facility from the dangers of extreme conditions issignificant not only for the sake of the building and its occupants,but also because these weather changes are precipitating modificationsto the legal requirements for roofs. Codes are being revamped in lightof recent weather changes along with the push to create cheaper, moreenergy efficient solutions.

Scholz-Barth explains, “Climate and weather have always affectedroofing decisions, from load bearing capacity to insulationrequirements. Recent changes in weather have prompted reviews and editsto building codes to increase protection against more extreme weather.”

Sarah Tholen, manager of marketing communications for JohnsManville, headquartered in Denver, CO, adds, “Code changes that dealwith wind resistance and energy efficiency, such as Title 24 inCalifornia, are driving changes in the industry.”

Many companies, including Johns Manville, are developing productsbased on this ongoing overhaul. “For example,” Tholen continues, “JMdeveloped a mineral-surfaced, white acrylic coated fiberglass cap sheetso multiple roofing systems could comply with Title 24.”

Other companies are taking climate and code modifications intoaccount during the research and development process for new products.At Firestone Building Products, Geary explains, “We have introducedproducts and systems that use 90 mil EPDM rubber and 80 mil reinforcedthermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) membranes as part of assemblies that canwithstand wind speeds up to 100 mph. In addition, new metal edgedetails reflect the importance of properly anchored roof systems at theperimeter of buildings to meet increasingly stringent codes.”

Keeping Pace With Change

Proper maintenance and informed decisions can help ensure a longlife for a facility’s roof. To explain it simply, Scholz-Barth says,“Past and current, the most pressing issue and greatest challenge inroofing is to provide a reliable, watertight, and leak freewaterproofing system for a 20 year service life.”

These issues will always be at the top of every facility manager’slist of concerns. The question is, how should they be addressed?

It is possible to prolong the life of a roof, diminish the impact ofregular wear and tear, and ensure the roof remains in good conditionduring a storm through adequate maintenance practices. However, it iseasy to install a roof and forget about it until something goes wrong.This is a mistake that could lead to leaks or potentially damaging rooffailure.

“Roofs are not maintenance free. Some roofing types require lessmaintenance than others, but they all require some degree of upkeep,”says Snoddy. “The better this asset is maintained and cared for, thelonger service life facility managers will get in return.”

Inspections are necessary to prevent costly damage. Some problemsmay not be evident from a superficial perspective, Tholen warns. “Aleak is an obvious problem. Less obvious, however, is wet insulation,which can cause an organization to lose thousands of dollars of thermalinvestment. The investment in a regular maintenance, inspection, andrepair program is imperative to manage the roof properly.”

[To read about how infrared inspections can help locate wetinsulation, read “Infrared Technology Can Improve Safety And Operations.” 

Facility managers cannot be experts in every aspect of buildingdesign; in this matter, it is necessary to consult with specialists.Geary suggests conferring with a qualified architect, consultant, orroofing contractor when starting a maintenance program or renovating orreplacing a roof. These professionals can provide crucialrecommendations.

Tholen concurs. “There is a renewed effort to educate and communicate the four basic principles of performance criteria, which include design, materials, installation, and maintenance. Roofing contractors and manufacturers are working to educate and train personnel and customers regarding roof systems and these criteria.” Tholen also stresses the importance of becoming familiar with today’s newest roofing materials and systems. Innovation is following in the wake of a need for stronger and more energy efficient roofs. 

Joseph W. Mellot, director of technology at Cleveland, OH-based TheGarland Company, Inc., offers these examples: “It is likely that futureroofs will have some greater level of reflectivity, although they maynot necessarily be ‘white.’ Advancements in pigment technologies and anincreasing understanding of optimum reflectivity and emissivity inrelation to specific geographic regions are making it likely thattomorrow’s designers will be customizing roofs to the specific energyrequirements of individual buildings.”

In fact, customization is key. Snoddy asserts that a commonly heldbut incorrect belief is there is only one solution to any given problemor that there is a “silver bullet roofing option.” His recommendationis this: “Talk with several contractors, and understand what they aresuggesting and why. Review every product choice and consider bringingin manufacturers’ representatives from a few different companies togain a better understanding of the technical differences in theproducts recommended.”

Specific climates also require different types of roofs, and in someareas, additional preventive maintenance and more frequent inspectionsmay be necessary. Depending on the geographic location of a facility,products must be chosen carefully to accommodate for different weatherphenomena.

These days, new options for roofing products often reflect the needfor greater strength as well as sustainability. Geary says, “Roofs willsoon include more durable membranes, better reflective surfaces, higherinsulation R-values, and enhanced attachments.”

Snoddy adds, “New polymers and polymer technologies are availablethat have the potential to provide a long-term, highly effectiveroofing solution.

“Also, facility managers should understand the basics,” continuesSnoddy. “Sloped roofs are better than flat roofs. If a facility has aflat or relatively flat roof, it could be wise to consider a changethat encourages water to leave the roof, rather than reroofing andending up with the same problems.”

Concerns for the future can be offset today with careful planning.Facility managers must be prepared for whatever may come. Roofs todaycan last several decades and protect a building and its occupants fromserious forces of nature.

This article was based on interviews with Geary, Mellot, Scholz-Barth, Snoddy, and Tholen.

To discuss some of your experiences in real time, come to FacilityBlog; to comment on this article, send an e-mail to [email protected].

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