Among other maintenance, schools should conduct roof inspections twice a year.

Keeping up on Your Roofs

July 1, 2013
Regular inspections and prompt repairs will prolong the life of a building’s roof.

School systems, especially when budgets are tight, often are tempted to defer maintenance of their facilities, and one of the easiest places to forgo maintenance is a building roof—it is out of sight, and few people can see whether it is being kept in good condition or ignored.

Administrators and maintenance workers know that the accepted standard is to inspect all roofs at least twice a year, but when staffing is stretched thin and more urgent and visible jobs claim priority, roof inspections and follow-up repairs may be postponed.

That short-term thinking could cause serious damage to a facility over time and jeopardize the health of building occupants.

The Guidelines for Maintenance of Public School Facilities in Maryland provides these estimates for the life expectancy of roofs: 

•Built-up systems (multi-ply): asphalt, 10 to 25 years; elastomeric, 15 to 30 years.

•Pitched roof: asphalt shingles, 20 to 25 years; metal/standing seam: 40 to 50 years; clay tile/slate: 50 to 70 years.

Roofs that aren’t regularly inspected may have much shorter life spans.

“The key to maintaining good roofs is the timely removal of water from the surface and substructure of the roof,” says the U.S. Department of Education’s Planning Guide for Maintaining School Facilities. “Thus, all leaks and damaged tiles must be repaired as soon as possible to prevent water damage and mold growth.”

The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) Best Practices Manual divides roof maintenance into three categories:

•Regular—response to requests for routine repairs.

•Preventive—undertaken on a scheduled basis to maintain systems by inspections, cleaning and other efforts. 

•Major repair/replacement maintenance: major repairs, including total replacement of roofs. 

Accurate recordkeeping is important for roof maintenance. The CHPS says school maintenance departments should document the type of roof and its manufacturer; the estimated area and installation date of each roof section; which contractors installed which roofs, which warranties cover the work; all repairs that have been carried out; and when inspections have been completed.

One of the two annual inspections of school roofs should be done in October or November to find potential problems before winter weather sets in.

Among the conditions roof inspectors should look for:

•Decay or deflection in roof beams. Deflection from settlement of roof materials may result in low areas where ponding may occur.

•Rot, decay or deflection in trusses and joints.

•Corrosion or cracks in roofing.

•Deterioration and water leaks in roof penetrations.

•Proper seals on curbs, joints and flashings.

•Any ultraviolet damage to the roof coating.

•Whether water is draining properly, away from the building, and gutters are clear of debris.

•Whether HVAC equipment on a roof is discharging condensate. 

For schools looking to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities, the federal government’s Energy Star Building Manual recommends retrofitting roofs with cool-roof solutions.

“Many schools have few floors yet a large footprint, which means they have a high ratio of roof area to total facility square footage,” the manual says. “This makes them good candidates for cool-roof solutions.”

Recoating or painting white or another highly reflective color will reduce the amount of heat that a building absorbs.

“This change can often reduce peak cooling demand and cooling energy use by 15 to 20 percent, depending on the climate zone,” the manual says. “When a roof requires replacement, adding insulation will reduce heat gain and loss.”

The CHPS recommend that cool roofs be cleaned with a high-pressure spray at least once a year. 

Kennedy is staff writer for AS&U.

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