How Designers Can Help Extend the Life of a Roof
by Richard K. Olson, president & technical director, Tile Roofing Industry Alliance
(Editor’s Note: Richard K. Olson is president and technical director for the Tile Roofing Industry Alliance. The association represents industry professionals involved in the manufacturing and installation of concrete and clay tile roofs in the United States and Canada, and works with national, state, and local building officials to develop installation techniques, codes, and standards for better roofing systems. Olson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
With fall approaching, it is that time of year where pre-winter maintenance should be on the schedule of every building owner. Traditionally we have only considered this in more severe weather climates, but the need for proper maintenance is found in all climate regions. There are several areas of a building that are overlooked when it comes to annual maintenance, but the roofing assembly is one of the most ignored. Design professionals, however, can educate building owners on the importance of extending the roofing assembly’s serviceable life by scheduling yearly maintenance.
Most steep-slope roofing assemblies are moving more towards gutter applications in areas with even moderate rainfall. During the off-winter months, there will be the accumulation of sand, silt, and vegetation that will reduce the ability to move water away from the eave areas. More jurisdictions are requiring buildings to be designed to connect water runoff to storm water or filtration options, which require ongoing inspection to make sure they perform as designed.
With many cities now moving to environmentally appealing downspout planters to capture the water, proper water flow is critical. Water should not be allowed to migrate behind the planters and below the foundations of the building. The inspection of the drainage and planter capacity should be performed at least yearly. Gutter guards create a permeable cap for the gutter systems that allow debris to be washed or wind-blown from the roof without being trapped in the gutter. Some designs may hold the debris on top of the guards and if bound with silt can create deterrents for rain flows downslope that might back up under the eave course of the roof cladding. Maintenance guidance should include the proper cleaning and inspection of all gutter systems and guards to ensure water will be allowed to properly leave the roof and that debris is not accumulating.
Removing debris, silt, and dirt will allow water to easily transition downslope. Transitional metals at the end of valleys should be inspected to make sure water is not allowed to dive back under the roof cladding system. Overlaps of the flashings in the valley should be checked for damage and penetrations that might create leaks. The flashings at roof-to-wall areas should be cleaned to make sure that proper protection of the wall cladding is being provided. The manufacturer of the roof, wall, and underlayment components have proper installation guidelines that are readily available where questions might arise as to the correct installation for such flashings.
Each year the roofing assembly should be checked for proper flashing and sealing around roof penetrations. This will include any pipe/soil jacks, skylights, chimneys, roof drains, solar, or HVAC installations. In most roof leaks, the penetration areas are the root cause of the problem. Where caulkings and sealants are applied, they should be designed for the specific weather and compatible materials that are being sealed.
For colder climates where ice damming may be an issue, the review of proper balanced ventilation to help reduce ice buildup might be helpful. In most installations, proper design for air circulation, insulation, and flashing can reduce or eliminate the occurrence. The installation of snow retention systems is becoming more popular, but such systems need to be reviewed and properly designed to not compromise the cladding manufacturers’ installation requirements. Attachment to the cladding or through the roof assembly will take additional sealing or flashing to help keep the water/snow properly directed on the cladding surface.
When roof maintenance is being performed, this is an opportunity to visit the condition of the fastening and underlayment systems. Often, there are minor repairs that can give access to view the underlayment condition. As the design professional, this is a great opportunity to send out an email or reminder to your clients for roof maintenance during the early fall. Many HOAs, builders, and property management companies appreciate the connection to the design profession that can help validate the importance of this work to extend the life of the roofing assembly.