When a roof wears out, it can tell a lot about why exactly it is failing. Each type of failure - blisters, splits, punctures, etc. typically result from a very specific cause.
One example is poor roof system design, which can lead to splits and debris that cause punctures. Understanding what causes the most common types of roof problems can help you, the building owner or facility managers prevent the errors that all too often shorten the life of the roofs.
It all begins with the design of your roof and material choice.
The roof membrane you choose should reflect the characteristics of your building. If there is going to be a lot of foot traffic, you should choose a roof system that is resistant to the associated damage. If the roof is wide open where there can be significant thermal movement, a more stretchable material such as an EPDM membrane might be a better choice than a system that has limited elongation.
Details must be carefully thought out prior to installing your roof system.
For example, a transition from a gravel stop to a parapet wall is a poor design that must be compensated for in the roof design. A metal transition piece can help alleviate problems that occur as a result of differential movement and different directional movement between the gravel-stop portion and the parapet portion. Also, correcting slope-to-drain problems should be determined early (in the design stage).
The roof must also be properly installed, using dry materials and installed according to the design details and/or manufacturer’s requirements.
Expansion joints have to terminate in a way that the end of the joint will still compensate for building movement. This means that there should be no material crossing the joint — not gravel stops, copings, membrane, and certainly not roofing cement — that cannot flex or move with the natural movement of your building. All seams should be properly adhered.
Finally, the roof must also be properly maintained.
Access to your building's roof should be limited to only those who need to be up there. Keep smokers, lunches and sunbathers off the roof. Not only will cigarettes burn holes in the membrane, but the foot traffic will damage the surface and cause your roof to fail prematurely. Someone in the building should monitor the activity of sign installers and window washers to be sure that they are not damaging the roof when they are up there to work. HVAC installations should be flashed not by the mechanical contractor, but by a competent roofing contractor to be sure that the penetrations are properly sealed.
The roof itself should be examined twice a year, including having the drains cleared and all roof debris removed. Any small problem like a puncture or sealant failure should be addressed at this time to be sure they do not cause problems that lead to failures. The life of a roof is finite, but it doesn’t have to be short-lived. Some common sense when designing the roof, attention to detail when installing it, and proper care will maximize the life of your roof.
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