This is part one of a seven-part series designed to help you deliver great value to your investors, clients, and tenants. Our goal is for you to save money, reduce risk, and finally, to generate profit through smart management of your roofs. Roofing, both the industry and the thing over your head, can be terra incognita for the property manager. Unseen, confusing, and misunderstood, the modern commercial roof is often ignored, mismanaged, or under-managed -- typically addressed only when it becomes a problem. Value in the roof system is left as a juicy, low-hanging, yet unpicked fruit. As independent roof consultants, we help our clients and readers access that value, but we realize we can only serve a few at a time. This series, we hope, will help more property managers capture that value than we could ever reach in face to face meetings. We promise to keep each segment short, and to give you actionable information.
The flat (low-slope, technically) roofs are critical to the commercial building and, it goes without saying that the commercial building is critical to the functioning of our modern economy and society. The sheer amount and variability of commercial buildings, uses, climates, and regulations has led to a proliferation of roof systems, methodologies, and approaches, leading to a fragmented decision-making and purchasing environment for the property owner or manager. To turn confusion into clarity, we will start with three questions which are (editor’s correction: aren’t) on everyone’s minds, and that is: what is a roof system, how does it function, and how should you think about roof management.
What is a roof system?
Simply put, the roof is your building’s shield; its primary line of defense against sun, wind, hail, snow, moisture, ice, low-temperatures, high-temperatures, and downpours of rain that would otherwise wreak havoc on your business operations. But, unlike the shields so impeccably maintained by the knights of yesteryear, the roof is a shield which penetrated by all manner of equipment, posts, vents, curbs…and yes, unwitting humans (we will get to that). It is also a shield that, if leveraged and managed correctly, can be like that mythical shield wielded by Captain America to vanquish his foes: a surface that can gain energy from the enemy’s attacks and make you (and your bottom line) significantly stronger.
Ok so how does this shield function?
The basic function of the roof will be apparent to anyone over three years old: to keep out the bad stuff. How the roof does this is, to many, a mystery, and is indeed complex. Suffice it to say that to protect the building, the roof first must first protect itself. To do this, a roof system relies on multiple components which serve different purposes.
The waterproofing components are the roof membrane, termination bars, sealants, flashings, seams and joints. Seams, flashings, termination bars, and sealants are the "detail waterproofing" components.
The substrate is made up of roof board, insulation, and the roof deck.
Penetrating the roof are heating and cooling units, a variety of vents, and in some cases, support posts.
If you would like to dive into the more technical aspects of roof design, reach out to us and we can provide some materials for you. here is a glossary of roofing terms. We know that managers are busy however, and want to focus on the bottom line. It isn't plausible for you to become an expert in every field of building design as well as the whole suite of property management best practices, but you do need to know a few things.
For our purposes, however, you need to know three things:
The “detail waterproofing" roof components are those that both protect the roof itself and the building within it. These components degrade at varying rates.
If degraded or damaged, these components fail and will allow moisture into the roof.
If moisture enters the roof system, the life of your roof system serviceable life of your roof just decreased, and roof restoration just became more costly.
In summary, the roof is a shield, the roof system requires maintenance, and by the time you are experiencing leaks inside the building, you have already lost much of the battle. To win that battle, you need a plan, and to develop a plan you need to understand your objectives and constraints.
Here is a list of key concepts and questions that you must consider if you do not want to expose yourself to unnecessary costs and risks while losing the opportunity to create value.
Concept: The roof is a shield for the building.
Is this shield you have the correct one for the climate, area, and building type? What are the best options given the condition of the roof, location, climate, and building use?
Concept: Not all roof systems are appropriate for every situation
Do I know the difference? Do the service providers advising me align with my goals or do they want to sell me something?
Concept: Lifecycle cost and value at sale are the two primary drivers of roof management decisions and the single best way to maximize both is to extend the life of the roof system.
Do my budgets and roof management practices achieve these ends? Do the service providers I am using align with this approach? Should I install a new roof? Re-roof? Coat the existing roof? Perform planned preventative maintenance (PPM)? Reactive maintenance?
Concept: Roof condition, roof budget and investment and management plans for the building should align.
Am I managing the roof as a strategic asset? What are the investment goals? Is the current state of the roof likely to deliver those goals? What is the most cost-effective plan of action that delivers alignment? Are the service providers I have going to give me an accurate information with which I can formulate that plan of action?
Concept: The components which make up this shield form an interlocking protection mechanism in which the roof protects itself
Are the components of the roof being maintained? Are there weak spots which will lead to damage of the primary components of the roof?
Concept: The roof represents a disproportionate amount of risk
Is my roof contributing to mold inside your building? Do I have safety checks in place to ensure slip and fall accidents are prevented? If a slip and fall accident occurs within the building due to a leak, can I demonstrate I was diligent?
Concept: Roof warranties do not equal roof life
What are the warranties years on my roofs? What do those warranties oblige me, the owner, to do? What is the expected serviceable lifespan remaining in my roof? How can that lifespan be maximized?
Concept: “If it ain’t broke do fix it”(it's the best time to)
Do I know where my roof is leaking and why? Do I know what components are likely to fail, when, and do I have a budgetary plan for executing that work when that work will deliver peak value to my clients and shareholders?
Concept: The roof absorbs a the majority the elements that hit the building, the most consistent of which is sunlight (UV)
Is my roof costing me or my tenants utility (heating or cooling) dollars? In my climate, does a black roof or white roof reduce my energy bills more? Should I consider solar? What programs are available? What is the ROI of additional insulation, should I have to re-roof?
Concept: “If you can work on incentives, don’t work on anything else” – Charlie Munger (Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, commonly considered one of the best minds in investment strategy)
Are your service providers aligned with your goals? Are your maintenance staff trained, supported, and monitored to clean and perform basic maintenance?
If you put the above guidance and questions into action (and you manage a large enough roof) you will have already saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars (depending on how much roof space you manage). We will delve into these concepts in more detail in the next installments. Thank you for reading, please feel free to reach out to us via the socials, email, or through this site.
About the Authors:
Daniel King is commercial roof specialist and a leader in the application of management consulting practices to roof systems management consulting. Daniel holds an MBA in finance from the Atkinson Graduate of Management and is a founder of Integrative Roofing and Energy, a pioneer in the field of owner representation in commercial roof consulting which serves major REIT and Fortune 500 companies nationally.
John D’Annunzio is one of the most respected voices and minds in the technical aspects of roof evaluation, roof design, and roof management. With over 25 years as a roofing consultant to Fortune 500 companies and a technical consultant to major architectural firms around the USA. He has served on projects around the world while writing four books on roofing and waterproofing, serving as an expert witness, and performing laboratory analysis of roofing materials. John is the Managing Editor for Architectural Roofing & Waterproofing Magazine and technical editor for Roofing Contractor Magazine.