Choosing the correct replacement for an aged roof – or identifying the best choice for a new building – is no easy task. The perfect roofing solution for one building may be the worst option for another just down the street. That’s because no two buildings are precisely alike, even if they closely resemble each other. So how do you choose a new roof, given all the choices in the marketplace? You can start by asking a series of questions, before you choose the roof, the roofing contractor or the manufacturer.
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1. What is this building’s mission statement?
Before calls are made to roofing contractors or manufacturers, the first item to address is the company’s mission statement as it relates to the building.
You need to know as much about the building and its future as possible. Does the company plan to keep this building as part of its real estate assets for the next 10 to 20 years? Are there any plans to expand it in the near future, or to change its use? What are its current and future occupancy, insulation requirements, aesthetic priorities and even the maintenance schedules for rooftop equipment?
2. What physical and other elements influence the roofing system selection?
After identifying the goals and mission of a facility, it’s time to evaluate the building itself. You need to begin by looking at the building’s location and the attributes of its surrounding area. You need to examine building codes, weather trends, topography – even the direction the building faces.
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The physical characteristics of the building are also crucial: size, shape, design, height and age.
You also need to look at the construction materials used to build the facility and the location of HVAC and fire protection equipment, particularly if either or both of these are partially or totally housed on the rooftop.
3. What flexible-membrane roofing options are available?
SPRI, the association that represents sheet membrane and component suppliers to the commercial roofing industry, identifies three major categories of membranes: thermosets, thermoplastics and modified bitumens.
4. Which type of membrane and attachment system are best for the building?
Many factors determine the best system for a particular building. For most buildings, there are a number of options and advantages that need to be weighed against the facility’s mission statement. The decision should not be made only on the basis of cost. Other important considerations for membranes are building height, wind exposure, anticipated roof traffic and aesthetics.
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For those concerned with building aesthetics, colored membranes can make an attractive contribution to the building’s appearance.
5. Does all roofing material delivered to the job site bear the UL label?
If not, specify that it must. This is the only way you can guarantee that the roofing materials installed on your roof are the same materials tested by Underwriter’s Laboratories. Additionally, be sure that the roof assembly you buy or specify, which includes the insulation, is UL-classified and -labeled. Using an insulation other than what was tested with the roofing membrane may void the UL classification. If the UL Building Materials Directory does not list the roofing system you are sold, insist on verification of the classification in the form of a photocopy of the UL’s letter of approval.
6. Does the system require a wind uplift rating?
Wind uplift damage can be extensive and expensive. Accepted as an industry standard, American Society of Civil Engineers Standard 7-95, “Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures,” can be used to determine the wind zone of the building. Wind uplift testing, such as that performed at Factory Mutual or Underwriters Laboratories, can be used to determine that the selected roof system meets or exceeds the local wind uplift requirements.
7. How much does the completed system add to the dead load weight of the roof structure?
A ballasted thermoplastic or EPDM roof may require in excess of 1,000 pounds per 100 square feet, while a mechanically attached or fully adhered thermoset or thermoplastic membrane weighs 33 pounds per 100 square feet. A lighter system often allows you to reroof directly over your existing roof, while the heavier ones may require you to tear off the old roof and begin anew. But weight is only one consideration in the selection of a roof membrane and attachment system. A ballasted roof may be the best choice for a given facility. Facility executives must assure that all relevant considerations, including weight, are taken into account in the decision-making process.
8. What are the expertise and financial strengths of the roofing contractor you are considering?
Roofing contractors need to be chosen with great care. The introduction of new roofing materials and application techniques within the past 10 years has led to many changes. A professional roofing contractor should be familiar with different types of roofing systems, to help you make the best decision for your facility, based on your budget.
The quality of workmanship is crucial to good roof performance. The National Roofing Contractors Association offers a professional roofing selection guide. In addition, many manufacturers have approved contractor programs with specific qualifications that roofers must complete before approval.
9. What is warranted and by whom?
There are two basic categories of roofing warranties. The contractor’s warranty typically covers workmanship. The manufacturer’s warranty covers at least the materials, though many cover additional items. Even if the manufacturer’s warranty is broad, it will not completely protect you if the roof is improperly installed.
More important than the warranty, however, is getting the right flexible-membrane roof on your building in the first place. If the roof is correctly designed and installed to meet your facility’s needs, building codes and geographical considerations, and the warranty covers those needs, you probably will be enjoying the benefits of a flexible-membrane roof many years after the original warranty expires.
10. After the roof is installed, what after service and educational programs are available for the facilities management team?
Seminars offered by roofing industry associations like SPRI and manufacturers can be invaluable ways for the building’s roofing team to expand their understanding of commercial roofing system types, installation processes and maintenance considerations. Specific courses are available to help building owners and facilities managers learn more about various roofing systems, materials and components; insulation and accessory products; elements of roof design; contractor selection; warranties and maintenance considerations.