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Cause and Effect: Understanding Common Self-Storage Roof Problems and How to Prevent Them

Understanding Common Self-Storage Roof Problems and How to Prevent Them
Preventive maintenance for your self-storage roof may seem like a pain or overkill, but failing to do it could be tremendously costly. Here’s an overview of common causes for leaks and other problems, the dangers they pose, and steps to avoid them.

Most self-storage facilities have a lot of roof square footage, and you may think it’s too expensive or time-consuming to practice preventive maintenance against leaks and other issues. The reality is you can’t afford to ignore it. Putting a precautionary plan in place will save you money down the road by reducing repairs and delaying the need for replacement. This has been proven time and again. Keep in mind, too, that warranties usually require some level of ongoing maintenance to remain in effect.

Of course, before you can prevent roof-related problems, you need to understand what causes them, and they can differ depending on roof type. Metal roofs, which are common in self-storage, have unique characteristics that can be difficult. Unlike traditional, flat, built-up or modified roofs, metal roofs aren’t intended to be waterproof. They’re designed for water flow, which means there should never be any ponding or standing water for extended periods.

Let’s look at some common causes of self-storage roof damage, the dangers they pose and steps you can take to prevent them.

Surface rust
Surface rust
 

Causes of Damage by Roof Type

Some of the things that can create leaks in your metal self-storage roof include:

  • Surface rust: If left unattended, it can peel the roof coating, causing holes or scaling; and this can lead to major structural damage. Using an inhibitor won’t remove the rust, but it’ll stop it from spreading.
  • Deflection: This basically appears as holes or crimping/creasing of the metal panels, most commonly caused by foot traffic. This can lead to ponding and, ultimately, rust and leaks.
  • Movement: A metal roof should be designed to move, allowing water to flow off. If you use a repair product that doesn’t allow for proper elongation (flexibility), the panels will continue to move, but the patch won’t. This can cause more issues than the original leak.
  • Incompatible materials: Metal roofs require specific materials to help avoid corrosion and rust. Using dissimilar metals together can cause a negative reaction.
  • Punctures: Holes, creases and crimping are generally caused by foot traffic or HVAC installation. If an installer drags an HVAC unit across the roof, there’ll be a trail of tears and punctures.
  • Fastener issues: There are two types of attachments for a metal roof panel: clips, and fasteners with rubber washers. Clips attach to the purlin, whereas fasteners are concealed once the panels are seamed or crimped together, generally with a sealant underneath. Fasteners with rubber washers are self-drilled, sometimes every 2 square feet. Over time, they’ll back out and leave holes or gaps between the metal and rubber washer, opening the roof to water intrusion.
  • Open laps: If the metal panels aren’t properly installed, the seams can lift and open, creating an area for water and, ultimately, structural damage.
  • Missing parts: Over time, pieces of a roof can fall off due to wind, debris or deterioration. Issues with foam closures, vent flashings and boots, edge metal, gutters, and downspouts can all lead to water intrusion and leaks.
An example of deflection damage A roof fastener that has backed out of position
Top left is an example of deflection damage. At right is a roof fastener that has
backed out of position.

If your roof is not metal, these are your most likely culprits:

  • Membrane damage: For various reasons, commercial roof membranes tend to split, tear, crack or expose open laps. The latter is typically a sign of poor workmanship at the time of application, while cracks are typically a sign of age or material defects.
  • Loose parts: Drains, gutters, scuppers and flashing can loosen or require additional sealant. Repairs can be made by tightening, clamping and securing loose components as well as by coating and sealing open joints. Checking the integrity of caulking and sealant needs to be part of regular maintenance.
  • Ponding: When water ponds on the roof surface for more than 48 hours, it’s a sign that there’s an issue with the drain system. Ponding deteriorates a roof prematurely and can cause leaks.
An example of incompatible materials An example of missing edge metal
Top left is an example of incompatible materials. At right is an example
of missing edge metal.
 

The Impact

Regardless of your roof type, consequential damage from a leak is a big risk for self-storage facilities. It can negatively affect your business in a variety of ways, including:

  • Damage to stored goods: Water entering your storage units can naturally damage walls, floors and ceilings. It can also ruin tenants belongings, which can lead to insurance battles and unhappy customers. Act quickly to determine the leak source and temporarily stop water from entering the building.
  • Slips and falls: Moisture on the floor can create hazards of injury throughout the property, which puts you at risk for workers’ compensation claims or customer lawsuits. Be mindful of these perils and have them quickly remedied.
  • Wet insulation: Along with potential structural damage, wet insulation will contribute to higher monthly utility costs. When it gets saturated, it’s nearly impossible to dry and prevent moisture from accumulating. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates losses caused by thermal resistance, even from minor leaks, can be as much as 70 percent. Ask your roofing company to use infrared scanning to catch wet insulation before it becomes a costly problem. If any is found, remove it and replace it with the same R-value thickness.
  • Mold and insects: Moisture from a roof leak can serve as a source for mold and bacteria growth, as well as attract cockroaches and other insects. This is a recipe for disaster within self-storage units. In addition, the cost to mitigate mold or exterminate insects can add up if not dealt with promptly.
A lifted seam Roof punctures
Top left is a lifted seam. At right are Roof punctures. 
 

Prevention

The good news is there are things you can do to self-storage roof leaks and other related problems. For starters, remove debris from drains and look for obvious damage, like punctures and splits, after a weather event. Detritus from storms and natural elements can clog downspouts, which gives rainwater nowhere to go. This results in ponding on the roof.

Schedule an inspection and maintenance routine with a professional roofing contractor. It’s generally recommended that this be done twice per year, but check your warranty to make sure you’re following its guidelines.

The roof is one of the largest assets of any self-storage facility. Get the most out of your investment by actively managing its care to maximize its useful life. Proper maintenance will save you money in the long run. Don’t allow small issues to become big problems and a financial headache!

Marian Nolletti is a co-owner of Simon Roofing, a national roofing manufacturer and contractor. The company provides roof-asset management, evaluation, preventive maintenance, repairs, restoration and replacement. For more information, call 888.353.7178.

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