An existing roof doesn’t need solar panels, vegetation, or a certain membrane color to be environmentally friendly. A truly sustainable roof has the best possible performance for the longest period of time.

“Thermal properties and service life are key attributes for a sustainable roof system,” says Jim Kirby, vice president of sustainability for the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing. “These directly affect energy efficiency and longevity. Fewer replacements are better from a material, energy, and waste perspective.”

Poor drainage, deferred maintenance, and infiltration issues can cut your roof’s service life in half and significantly increase your energy bill. Stay on top of repairs and strategic improvements to extend the life of your roof, avoid unnecessary replacements, alleviate grid demand, and conserve resources.

Perform Preventive Maintenance
The best way to extend your roof life is to keep its condition in good shape. “With routine inspections and repairs, you can easily get 20 years or more out of your roof,” says Ted Michelsen, president of Michelsen Technologies, a roof consulting firm. “But if you defer maintenance, your roof’s life could drop to only 10 to 15 years.”

Let’s say your building is expected to last 80 years. With good maintenance, you will have three roof replacements. But if the service life is shortened to 15 years, you will end up reroofing five times during the same period – a 40% increase in replacement costs over the building’s life simply because you’ve been lax about upkeep.

Roof construction can have serious environmental impacts as well. Excess replacements consume raw materials that could be conserved otherwise, thereby increasing your carbon footprint. Each premature demolition also adds thousands of pounds of bulky, potentially hazardous waste to landfills. Reports vary by region, but construction and demolition materials can account for up to 36% of solid municipal waste, finds the EPA. And not all roofing materials can be salvaged through recycling programs.

Durable roofs keep their integrity through routine repairs. These yearly maintenance costs pale in comparison to the price of a replacement – a matter of investing pennies vs. wasting dollars.

“Annual maintenance costs are about 1% of the cost of new roof,” Michelsen estimates. “You could be spending 10 cents per square foot on yearly upkeep rather than $10 per square foot for a replacement.”

Regardless of system type, any maintainable roof should have proper drainage, good access, control of rooftop traffic, and a design that enables repairs, says Michelsen. It should also have supporting documentation whenever possible, such as original design specs, a complete leak and repair history, and the warranty.

A proactive maintenance plan includes ongoing inspections to evaluate the roof’s condition. The purpose of these assessments is to uncover failure conditions and repair them before they become a reality, Michelsen explains. You should also evaluate existing repairs to ensure the fix hasn’t lost its viability. A good rule of thumb is to inspect twice a year, such as before and after winter, as well as after major storms.

You should also look for damage whenever there’s been work done on rooftop equipment, he adds. Contractors may inadvertently cause damage by leaving debris, such as leftover screws and nails. Poor detailing from installation or repair work may also compromise the assembly, and even heavy foot traffic can result in wear and tear.

Other issues to look for include holes, flashing defects, animal activity, and organic debris such as leaves and sticks. If your roof is on a newly acquired property, make sure to evaluate existing repair work. If your maintenance history is incomplete, be on the lookout for temporary patches or evidence of former repairs.

You may also encounter damages that are specific to your roof type:

BUR – Blisters are common in these systems and can’t be ignored as they only worsen over time. Displaced or damaged surfacing may also occur.

Modified Bitumen – These roofs also suffer from blisters. This issue is often seen in pre-2004 roofs, says Michelsen, because manufacturers at the time weren’t recommending high enough temperatures to achieve a good bond. If they lack proper surfacing or the surface layer has been worn away, the membranes could become exposed.

Single Plies – Look for open seams, displaced ballast materials, splits, or cuts. You may also find surface damage caused by UV degradation. Raised fasteners are another issue. Causing the membrane to be worn away by foot traffic or working their way loose, they can penetrate through the membrane.

Metal Roofs – These systems are subject to seams popping open as well as backing out fasteners. For those with a galvanized finish, corrosion can be a big problem, cautions Michelsen. The condensate from copper coils rapidly strips off the finish, leaving the steel exposed and prone to rusting quickly. Adequate piping is needed to carry away air conditioner condensate.

Ballasted Roofs – Ballast holds the roof down and protects against wind movement, but it’s not uncommon for it to shift over time. It’s important to have ballast in its proper place so the roof maintains even loads, Michelsen notes. Otherwise the system is at risk of collapsing if the ballast drifts to one spot and the load weight exceeds structural capacity.

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