As the fall colors change and the harshness of winter looms on the horizon in many areas of the nation, school maintenance workers should be preparing to check out the condition of the roofs on their campuses.
That's not necessarily because anything terrible will happen to the roofs during the winter.
“We have less trouble in the winter,” says Kevin Johnson, director of buildings and grounds in the Red Wing (Minn.) School District. “Everything is frozen shut.”
But minor trouble overlooked in the autumn can fester under wintry conditions and become major issues when the springtime thaw arrives.
“When three feet of snow on your roof starts to melt and you have leaves and debris plugging up the roof drains, that's when you're going to have trouble,” says Johnson.
If water runoff can't drain freely from the roof, its weight can put added pressure on the roof and lead to a more rapid deterioration of the roofing surface.
Johnson says workers need to walk the roofs to make sure drains are clear and to check for trouble spots on the roof surface.
“You need to check close to the parapets — that's where cracking usually occurs,” says Johnson.
Making sure roof flashings are in good condition also is critical, says Tim Benzie, supervisor of the facility management group for Inspec, an architectural and engineering firm in Minneapolis. The firm works with the Red Wing district and many other school systems throughout Minnesota on roof-maintenance issues.
In a cold climate, it's critical to inspect the roof flashings to make sure there are no leaks. Ice damming can occur beneath loose flashings when snow and ice melts and refreezes, says Benzie. This can lead to more significant roofing problems.
Some buildings could benefit from a thermal scan that detects heat loss and can help uncover wet insulation or other problems with the building envelope.
“Good maintenance practices can get two, three or four extra years out of a roof,” says Benzie.
Roofing experts say schools should check their roofs twice a year at a minimum — in the spring and in the fall. Benzie says he recommends visual inspection of roofs at least four times a year.
Percentage of public schools in the Northeast region of the United States that reported having less than adequate roofs, 1999.
Percentage of public schools in the Midwest region of the United States that reported having less than adequate roofs, 1999.
Percentage of public schools in the South region of the United States that reported having less than adequate roofs, 1999.
Percentage of public schools in the West region of the United States that reported having less than adequate roofs, 1999.
Percentage of school renovation projects completed in 2003 that included roofing retrofits.
Percentage of college renovation projects completed in 2003 that included roofing retrofits.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, “Condition of America's Public School Facilities, 1999” and American School & University's 30th annual Official Education Construction Report, May 2004.