By Thomas Van Ness
As self-storage buildings age, roof upkeep and repair become a more important and time-consuming aspect of facility management. An inspection and maintenance program is an important part of sustaining roof life as well a way to avoid costly repairs and property claims down the road.
The predominant roof system used in the self-storage industry is metal. With proper inspection and maintenance, this roof type can last for decades. The goals of a good program are to proactively locate and repair possible leaks while extending the life of the metal panels.
This inspection and care guide will help you keep your roof in the best possible condition. The most effective examination for metal-roof systems includes four specific areas: the perimeter, the ridge, fasteners and debris.
Perimeter inspections are simple and quick. First, walk around the building at the ground level, looking for any loose guttering, if applicable. If your facility doesn’t have gutters, look along the eaves of the building.
There should be foam closure strips that are typically visible from the ground. These may shrink and erode over time. Missing closures can create several leak points along the walls and doors. The strips can be replaced fairly easily by removing the metal fasteners along the eave strut and lifting the metal panel. After each strip has been replaced, it’s a good idea to swap the old fasteners for new fasteners and seals.
After the ground inspection, walk the roof. This time, notice if the gutters are clean and free of debris, dirt and sediment. Anything that blocks drainage should be removed. It’s vital the gutters drain well to keep water from backing up during a rain. Areas of dirt and mud can be displaced using a water hose and small broom.
It’s also important to notice any areas of ponded water in the gutters. The low spots that hold water might be caused by mechanical damage or loose gutter straps. Make the appropriate repair to ensure good water flow to the downspouts and lengthen the gutter life.
The ridge is another important area for potential leaks. Walk along the side of the ridge cap—not on it—visually inspecting the fasteners. Those that are loose or missing should be replaced. Any misalignments found on the ridge cap need to be checked for proper sealant tape. If tape is lacking, apply sealant to that area.
If your building doesn’t have a ridge cap, then not only does the maintenance person need to inspect fasteners, he must pay careful attention to the creases in the metal panel. These can crack over time and create leaks. They can be fixed with a small amount of non-silicone sealant at the point of the fracture.
Effective fastener inspection requires walking each fastener row, one at a time. Fasteners are the single biggest maintenance concern on R-panel roof systems. Although it can be boring, it’s important not to rush this part of the inspection. The amount of water one loose fastener can allow into a facility is surprising.
As you walk the rows, notice the area around each fastener. If you see a circle of black particulates, this is your first sign that maintenance is needed. Those particulates are the remnants of the neoprene washer and the first indicator the fastener may begin to leak. It’s not guaranteed it will leak, but the odds go up significantly. The options are to remove and replace the fastener with a new one or apply non-silicone sealant to the top of the fastener, making certain to completely encapsulate the head.
Often, fasteners will succumb to the pressures of roof expansion and contraction, and simply “back out” of their tight position. This can often be visually identified. The fastener may be sticking up above the roof with exposed threads or, sometimes, it may be missing completely.
Debris on the roof can clog gutters as well as damage metal panels. Certain metal items can strip the Galvalume coating from the panels and dramatically shorten their life. Wire hangers and batteries are two of the biggest culprits, and the end result can be a large area of rust. The longer the metal item is on the roof, the greater the damage will be.
In the self-storage industry, limited access to units makes leak identification a difficult task. I always recommend that any vacant units be inspected by the manager immediately following a significant rain. This opportunity to find unreported leaks may yield surprising results and can help alleviate complaints from tenants down the road. When a leak is identified, make or arrange repairs as soon as possible.
Newer metal roofs should be inspected every 24 months to make certain all fasteners are in good condition and to remove all debris. As a roof ages or leaks begin to occur, the inspection schedule should change to every 12 months. If possible, keep records and photos of the roof condition. Often, similar issues will occur in the same basic area of the system. Having notes on what’s been done can dramatically shorten the time it takes when pursuing a leak.
A comprehensive inspection and maintenance plan will help you identify potential leaks before they become a serious issue and ensure your roof lasts as long as it should. Each roof is different and will have its own specific needs. However, a well-defined, timely inspection procedure will keep it watertight for decades.
Thomas Van Ness is the regional sales manager for Global Roofing Co., a full-service commercial roofing company serving the Midwest and South. He’s been with the company for four years. For more information, call 405.761.3876; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.globalroofingcompany.com.