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Commercial Roofing Inspections

Article: No. RI-KB-2-14.1

Summary:  This article outlines commercial roofing inspection procedures.  Due to the topic length the article will be written in several parts.  The Author can be reached by e-mail concerning content or the opinions expressed in this article. Please use the Article number for reference.


Audience:   Building Owners, Property Managers, Facility Managers, V.P. Construction, Director of Building and Grounds, School Boards, Town Managers, Condo Construction Committees.


Building owners planning commercial roofing inspections are advised to become familiar with inspection procedures for commercial roofing.  This article is intended to help understand the range of inspection services that can be performed to assess the condition of commercial roofing systems.


The two organizations listed below publish guidelines and provide training for their members for Commercial Roof Inspections. The guidelines they publish and training provide the roofing industry a knowledge base for best practices. 


The professional organization for roofing consultants is  RCI.  "RCI, Incorporated is an international association of professional consultants, architects, and engineers who specialize in the specification and design of roofing, waterproofing and exterior wall systems."

The National Roofing Contractors Association; NRCA provides training courses and materials on roof inspections.  As the title indicates their members are predominately roofing contractors and suppliers. As part of their membership services they also provide programs that maybe used by building owners and the maintenance departments.

I will also provide several market observations that are relevant when purchasing roofing inspection services.  I will describe key data areas to help building owners prepare for negotiations with their service provider and better understand the business of commercial roofing inspections.


I recently asked an experienced roofing consultant to discuss roofing inspection trends, data collection requirements.  His statement .  "Every consultant thinks that their approach, naming conventions terminology is superior to their colleagues"   My take away: Building owners need to be better informed, active listeners and ask good questions.  


Even with this over confident group, roof inspection procedures will vary widely by the service provider.  Since training, experience and background of the individual inspector are unknown you may need to start by asking a few questions to understand their role and experience.  If you feel the service is being performed by an inexperienced trades person or sales person, anticipate gaps in their evaluation. Many firms have experience; the person on the job is still the X factor to a comprehensive roof assessment.  

Car Service Analogy:  A newer car lost oil due to a bad seal and was driven without adequate oil pressure.  If that event is not part of the maintenance history the vehicle will be inspected, serviced and valued based on the year of the vehicle, mileage, the visual condition etc.   Even a test drive would likely miss this future engine problem unless other tests are performed.


Roofing systems are complex systems that can mislead inspectors in making condition assumptions based on age for service life remaining.  Inspection companies that are more interested in selling services may provide a quick visual walk of the roof, down load a satellite image in a colorful report add their logo and make a judgment call based on "experience".   


By reviewing some of the steps and information collected during inspections you can make a better informed decision on the due diligence planned by an inspection firm.  There are also considerations for the circumstance.   If you call for an inspection due to a leak, that is an immediate priority for the inspector Vs an annual condition assessment. One is situational; the other is part of the long term asset management plan.


My point, contractor inspections can be helpful for the building owner, however, a contractor no charge inspection is not paid to fully evaluate the roof since their time is not free or the cost to drive to the site.  Their service is part of the overhead that includes selling roofing materials and labor to compensate for their time.  Facility managers that think free inspections are no cost are naive. Fact:  Roofing services, maintenance, coatings etc. represent the highest margin for contractors.  Building owners aware of these business dynamics should fully evaluate the cost of repair to achieve the lowest cost for a roofing year.  Then make a decision which approach is the best value.


The Goal  


The objective for commercial roofing inspections, roof asset management and roof assessment should be to lower the annual cost for a roofing year.  That calculation is a simple concept, the roof costs X to purchase (capital) and ongoing maintenance (expense) is added until the roof has reached its service life.  Using this simple example:   Roof Section:  7,000 s/f   Capital Purchase $20,000, life time expenses $ 8,000.00.


Final Cost $ 28,000.00, service life 14 years the cost of a roofing year is $2,000.00 or .29 per s/f per year.  This simple calculation excludes the cost of capital, tax benefits and other businessconsiderations. Building owners can calculate when the service life is reduced the annual cost increases.


The Building


Each building is unique based on site location, structural frame, wall systems and roof deck.  A building is designed and constructed for an expected service life.  All buildings age and deteriorate. Buildings that have significant deferred maintenance, flaws in design and construction are the genesis for complications in roofing system performance.  Of concern for building owners is their building envelope condition is usually a low priority by roofing estimators and less experienced consultants. 


The structural frame of the building connects the building to roofing system deck etc. and should be included any thorough evaluation.  Signs of leaks, visible from the underside of the roof deck help direct inspectors to the roof location for further evaluation.  If a structural defect is observed or the conditions indicate there are signs of a deficiency the inspection company would provide or recommend a structural evaluation by a registered engineer.   Alert: if your inspector has not looked at the building or the structural elements supporting the roof they could miss a significant problem.


Providing the inspector a set of as built plans, warranty documents or a maintenance history will be a valuable for planning the inspection. If you have electronic records the inspector will spend less time on site confirming as built information.  Fact: There are "soft" cost savings in maintaining good as built documentation.


Inspecting the Roof Section


Just getting on the roof may require some effort.  Buildings are built for a purpose and that may not include easy access for an inspector. Building owners need to help inspectors anticipate which roof sections are difficult to access.  Access can be provided by the owner or the inspection company will charge a fee for setting ladders and staging.  There are also complications with steep slopes, adjacent buildings and roof top equipment. The inspector should preplan access with the building owner by scheduling the day, time and access point.  The safety of the inspector is the first priority and caution should be used before allowing access to parties without adequate ladders and safely equipment.  Inspection firms may be willing to take risks; the building owner would be well advised to insure all safety precautions are followed.  


Once the inspector is on the roof; a priority is to document the as built roofing system.  These named items are examples from 12 years of documenting as built roof system construction.   Each firm may approach this documentation in any order, expand it  or excluded items  based on inspection type, fee and scope of work that was used to contract for the inspection.


Commercial Roof System- As Built Data

Roof System Construction


Existing System type

Document the layers of the existing roof system type.

Core Composition

The core information is obtained by taking a roof core; the information may also be obtained from "As Built" records.  Layer Type Standard entries are Surfacing, Membrane, Insulation, Vapor retarder, Deck, and Interior Finish. Provide a description of the layer type from the deck up, or surface down. Include the Method of Attachment to the layer.


Note: Also, details for roof systems on metal or shingle roof sections, where a physical core is not appropriate, should also be documented.

Core Photos

Include Core Photos in report to document the roof system.  

Membrane Defects


1. Type of Defect

Defect type (e.g. blisters, bare felts, splits).

2. Severity

Severity rating (Minor, Moderate, Major)

3. Quantity

The quantity of this defect type

4. Status

Outstanding if this defect has yet to be repaired.

5. Photo

Photo (s) shows the defect.

6. Details and Condition

A  description of the type, cause, size,  additional details

Roof Top Details


1. Detail Type

Perimeter, drain, projection, or equipment.

2. Description

A description of the terminating item such as parapet wall, projection, gravel stop, pitch pocket.                                     

3. Flashing membrane

Description of the flashing membrane (if applicable).

4. Flashing metal

Description of the flashing metal (if applicable).

5. Photo

Photo shows construction detail and flashing

6. Details and conditions

Details and condition information for each roof top detail that should be documented.

Moisture Surveys


1. Type of Survey

The type of survey performed.                                                        

2. Date performed

Date of the survey.

3. Membrane condition

Membrane condition (e.g. dry, damp, wet).

4. Insulation condition

Insulation condition (e.g. dry, damp, wet).

5. Survey details

Additional information about the survey performed, if required

6. Survey photos

One or more photos, with a date and description of the findings

7. Thermographs

One or more Thermographs, with a date and description             

8. Historical

Record  any relevant history , delta of previous moisture surveys



1. Type of Activity

Type of activity - e.g. inspection, repair, replacement etc.

2. Budget Year

Recommendations to be completed, a specific budget year.

3. Action Items?

Recommended activity is one that must be done ASAP in order to eliminate health and safety issues, or to prevent high cost repairs later on.                                               

4. Allocation

Budget allocation - e.g. expense or capital.

5. Urgency

Urgency - low, moderate, high.

6. Budget Cost

Estimate budget amount                                             

7. Details of Activity

An explanation of the recommended roofing activity.

8. Scope of work

Any reference documents                         


Documenting the Roof Section Inspection


A comprehensive commercial roofing inspection requires knowledge, experience and a significant time investment on the roof; to observe, confirm and document the as built conditions and off the roof to research any findings, organize data for the next inspection and then make those long awaited recommendations.


Building owners receiving inspection data, own multiple facilities and plan on going roof inspections should consider adopting an organized electronic format where the data updated and managed. 


( End Part One)



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