Keeping the Rain Off Maintaining the Roof Over Your Head

Keeping the Rain Off

 After the four walls of a given structure, the roof is sometimes referred to as  the “fifth plane”—and just like the walls that hold it up, the roof is an all-important structure  that can make or break a building’s performance. Chicagoland's changeable climate, which as we all know ranges  from sweltering hot and humid summer heat to bone-chilling cold in the winter  months, often exacerbates trouble spots. If not properly maintained, even a  minor roof problem can lead to costly repairs.  

 What's Up There?  

 Tyler Amick, director of repair and special services for Sullivan Roofing in  Schaumburg says the modified bitumen is the most common type of roof in  Chicago. The modified bitumen, he says, comes in a 3-foot wide by 100-foot long  roll of roofing material, which makes for a challenging installation.  

 Reid Robinson, a property preservation consultant with Weathershield, LLC in  Oswego agrees with Amick. “Modified bitumen is likely the most common material used for flat roofing  applications in Chicago,” says Robinson. “You will see quite a few built up roofs here and there but for your taller  buildings, it is a logistical nightmare getting hot tar or a kettle on the roof  to do an application. Depending on the contractor, more recent additions to the  marketplace are showing up—but these types of roofs are expensive, manufacturer specific and in most cases  have a much shorter history to look at in determining the life expectancy of  the product.”  

 According to experts, the modified bitumen is an evolution of asphalt roofing.  It’s made from asphalt and a variety of modifiers and solvents. There are several  ways of connecting pieces of this material. In a heat application process the  seams are heated to melt the asphalt together and create a seal. There is also  a cold applied adhesive application process, and some self-adhesive forms of  this system. This material is also referred to as APP or SBS.  

 “In the suburbs of Chicago the most common type of roof on larger square-foot  buildings is EPDM [Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer] because of cost and larger  rolls equals faster installation,” says Amick. “However, with the green movement, more people are looking into a white roof. The  City of Chicago has a reflective requirement which requires a white membrane or  a roof material to be coated to meet the reflectivity requirement. In many of  the suburbs it’s the owners’ choice to have a white or black roof; however economics might play more of a  role. The bitter taste of poor quality lingers far longer than the initial  sweetness of a cheap price.”  

 Jason Burns, director of sales for Windward Roofing & Construction in Chicago says, “Flat roofs are very common in the city of Chicago but the residential suburban  areas have more steep pitched shingle type roofs. Today’s roofing technology in both flat and shingle roof styles have advanced  capabilities and designs to handle the harshest of weather conditions,” adds Burns.  

 Common Problems

 Even though a majority of roofs might be flat throughout Chicago they are  constructed by different companies, which results in varied states of  performance so it’s best to do your homework and always check references while searching for a  roofing company.  

 Industry experts agree that there are leading problems with almost every flat  roof that usually occur around the drains, pitch boxes, flashing and electrical  piping. Regular maintenance and oversight can prevent massive and costly roof  problems from occurring.  

 “We see a lot of issues and roof problems caused by a lack of maintenance and  routine care,” says Burns. “Most people unfortunately do not think about their roof until it becomes a  problem.”  

 “The biggest issue with most roofs is lack of maintenance,” says Robinson. “Most people and organizations don’t worry about their roofs until there is a leak. A close relationship with a  qualified contractor who can inspect your roof for possible damage or weak  points in the system is your best bet against costly repairs. The best way to  maintain a roof is periodic inspections by an Illinois State Licensed Roofer or  qualified consultant. Inaction and deferment of maintenance will always lead to  leaks and maintenance issues in the future. All it takes is one season’s freeze-thaw cycle to make a small repair a major problem. Sometimes an ounce  of caulk can prevent a pound of paperwork.”  

 “Simple routine inspections and maintenance to clean gutters and drains, check  flashings, skylights and protrusions will save building owners and residents a  lot of future headaches,” adds Burns.  

 Cost & New Technologies

 Many elements come into play during the construction of a roof. “In the past, flat roofing mostly consisted of dragging a kettle of hot tar  around and assembling a ‘built up roof system,” says Burns. “With today’s technology, much cleaner, greener and reliable roofing membranes are  available. I would say the majority of today’s flat roofing systems are composed of single ply roofing membranes such as TPO,  EPDM, and PVC which offer great protection against Chicago’s extreme weather conditions and come with great warranties between 10 and 30  years.”  

 “Most construction related to roofing starts about the given roof deck (wood,  metal, Gypsum, Tectum or concrete),” says Amick. “Historically, the roofer will add roof insulation over the deck and then install  the roof system per the manufacturer’s warranty requirement or architect specification.”  

 Burns notes that the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago have recently  adopted and enforced an Energy Conservation Code that applies to roofing  construction. The codes include implementing the use of roofing insulations and  reflective roofing membranes and coatings to lessen the impact of heat and  solar reflectivity on the earth and ozone layer.  

 Experts say that depending on a host of variables such as weather, materials,  size and maintenance, a new roof can last anywhere from 15 to 25 years. While  most roofing companies will do an inspection and assessment as part of their  proposal, those companies that do charge for a report charge from $0.07 to  $0.20 a square foot, depending on the size of the roof.  

 “A lot of factors result in the cost of a roof,” says Amick. “For example, a low sloped 10,000-square-foot building in the suburbs might cost  $5.00 to $8.00 a square foot as compared to a building with limited access,  that could be $15.00 to $20.00 a square foot. What type of roof, how much  R-value, does it need tapered insulation and how long of a warranty you want  are all factors. Any reputable roofing company will provide free roof  evaluations and budgets to help the client make an informed selection.”  

 “There’s an extremely wide variance when it comes to how much a roof should cost,” adds Burns. “On shingle roofs, the average is anywhere between $3.00 and $5.50 per square  foot depending on the building access, design and roof system needs. High-rise  flat roof replacements typically range anywhere from $10.00 to $25.00 per  square foot. Living green roof assemblies with plant life, gardens and walkway  pavers can go up to $120.00 per square foot.”  

 Preventative Maintenance

 When it comes to upkeep, Amick says Chicago’s weather does play a factor on any roof type but with a proper preventative  maintenance program small issues can be caught before they become costly  repairs. He recommends performing inspections at least twice a year. “Inspections are typically conducted during the spring after a harsh winter and  in the fall before the harsh winter starts,” says Amick. “Some roof manufacturers even require documented roof maintenance programs as  part of their roof system warranty.”  

 Amick believes that an owner should always request a “no dollar limit warranty.” They can be 10, 15, 20 or 30 years from the manufacturer of the roofing  material. The NDL warranty will require that the manufacturer of the roofing  material has inspected and certified that the roof was installed to the best of  their ability per the required specifications.  

 “If you want to protect and maintain your roof it’s important to sign up with a competent, licensed roofing company for an annual  roof maintenance program” adds Burns. “The relatively small initial cost can save thousands of dollars down the road.”  

 In the end, experts agree that hiring a company to do continual oversight is the  best option for boards and managers. It’s also wise to have a reputable company come in once a month to do maintenance  and periodic inspections. This type of membrane maintenance will save tons of  money down the line because you might discover a moisture issue before it  escalates to a serious problem.  

 With good installation, proper care, and regular maintenance, your building's roof should keep the rain, and everything else, for that matter, off your heads  for many, many years to come. 

 W.B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland  Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.

 

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