When is it Too Late for Maintenance or Coating? Mike Silvers, CPRC, Owner Silvers Systems Inc. and FRSA Technical Director For most roofing contractors, maintenance departments are an important part of their operation. They are critical to provide a full-service approach for their customers. Proper maintenance or coatings applications can significantly prolong the life of a roof system. This is especially true with low slope roof coverings. The presence of roof drains, scuppers, parapet walls, perimeter edge flashing, mechanical equipment, pipes, conduit lines and cables, as well as many other penetrations and conditions, warrant careful inspection. Where applicable, any deficiencies or obvious causes for future problems should be addressed. Having trained personnel that perform these tasks regularly are an asset for your company and your customers. Maintenance and coatings, which are often done by maintenance personnel, are usually solid profit centers for contractors and should be viewed as such. It can be tempting to do as much of this work as you can find and usually rightfully so. Typically, it’s a winwin. There is a difference between maintenance and a repair. Most roofing contractors will try to repair, that is, to stop water intrusion on most roofs, often on some pretty poor roof coverings. This is, after all, what we strive to do. It is imperative, though, that when we attempt to repair a roof covering that is at or past the end of its serviceable life, that we share that with the owner. That brings me back to the question, when is it too late to propose doing maintenance or coating a roof? I think that’s when “it is at, or past it’s serviceable life.” If there is nothing left to maintain, or no life left to extend, it’s kind of like doing surgery on a dead person. Over the years, I’ve told many customers with worn out roofs that we will attempt to stop the leaks (no guarantees), but this roof is well past effective maintenance. A nationally known attorney said in a seminar years ago that it is hard to explain to a judge why you took an owner’s money to coat a roof in order to extend its life when it had no life left to extend! The same could be said for long-term preventative maintenance. So, when is it too late? The answer varies with roof types. If you’ve been at this a while it is usually pretty easy to recognize: to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (1964), I know one when I see one. That is okay for those of you who are experienced, but probably not if you don’t have enough experience. I will try to share a few tips about different types of low slope roof coverings and when it may be too late.
Bituminous Built-Up Roofs
Built-up roofs (BUR) have proven that if properly
installed and maintained they can last for many, many decades. The asphalt or coal tar acts as the waterproofing for as long as the reinforcement has tensile strength. I’ve explained tensile strength to people over the years by using a pair of jeans as an analogy. If you’ve ever stooped down and the knee of your jeans ripped, they have lost tensile strength and thereby could not resist the force exerted on them. If your mother ever tried to patch them (with newer thereby higher tensile strength denim patches), you know what eventually happened. The old jeans ripped right next to the patch. I’ve seen this same occurrence when new modified bitumen membrane is used to patch an old BUR. So, if a built-up roof splits in the field (open area) of the roof, it has most likely lost its tensile strength, so any attempt to maintain it will eventually prove futile. A test cut should indicate if there was a workmanship issue that caused the split, if not it’s time for a reroof.
Modified Bitumen Roofs
Modified bitumen roofs, like BUR, have a long-proven track record but can also suffer loss of tensile strength. If they are fiberglass reinforced, they can split much like BURs. Some polyester reinforcements have high initial tensile strength and greater elongation properties that may maintain them longer. The elongation properties of the modified asphalt can help make up for the loss of tensile strength but eventually they will succumb to age as well. The laps on modified membranes can be problematic due to improper installation or, in some cases, they can fail www.floridaroof.com | FLORIDA ROOFING
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