Investing In A High-Quality Roofing System

Owners who view the roofing system as a one-time expense, and make specification decisions based solely on first costs, run the risk of incurring higher roof maintenance and repair expenditures. The bottom line: Selecting the wrong system is likely to cost a facility executive significantly more than if the right system had initially been selected.

High repair costs can be avoided by installing a high-performance roofing system and conducting routine preventive maintenance throughout the life of the roof. The first cost of a quality roofing system may be higher, but the lower life-cycle costs of the system will more than offset the initial investment.

The initial cost of a roofing system includes materials, labor, overhead, profit and indirect costs associated with the structure. The life-cycle analysis takes the first cost of the roof, then adds to it the future costs of operation and maintenance over the economic life of the roof.

The facility executive that fails to consider the value of a life-cycle costing approach to the purchase of a new roof does the facility and everyone involved with it a financial disservice. First-cost buyers may overlook such important future expense reduction opportunities as:

• Energy cost savings in the heating and air conditioning of the building through the use of white, reflective membranes or coatings and extra insulation.
• Extended roof service life for an optimally drained roof.
• Enhanced roof fire retardence and wind uplift resistance, resulting in reduced insurance costs.
• Extended roof service life resulting from the use of heavier structural framing materials, allowing a heavier roofing system.
• Future savings when the roof is to be replaced by using reusable roof component accessories.
• Reduced roofing surface repairs through installation of a heavier membrane of walkway pads for high-traffic roofs.
• Prevention of roof surface degradation in those roof areas where harmful emissions may occur by installation of appropriate protective devices.

The most cost-effective roof is one that will stand up to the elements and demands of time. Therefore, facility executives should be actively involved in the initial planning stages to determine the best roofing system based on the established criteria for the building.

Planning and Specification

Make sure the roofing system will meet the needs of the facility by answering the following questions:

• What type of system will provide the best long-term performance and energy efficiency?
• How will weather conditions and climate affect the building and roof?
• What is the desired service life of the roof?
• Is resale value of the building important?
• What type of system will incorporate the best drainage characteristics?
• What type of maintenance program will be followed?
• What are the expectations for the roof?
• Are there environmental concerns?
• Does the roof need to be wind- and fire-rated?

Once these questions have been answered, start the selection process based on location, physical characteristics, and building structure and type. Then choose quality products specifically engineered to be integrated and installed as a complete roofing system. To do this, form long-term relationships with manufacturers that are financially sound and have a reputation for commitment and experience in the marketplace. Check the track record of suppliers, as well as the quality controls they provide during installation.

Life-cycle costing analysis doesn’t do any good if the facility executive chooses a manufacturer that is unable to demonstrate financial stability, experience and roofing system longevity.
Successful roofing installations also depend on the expertise of a quality-focused, professional roofing contractor.

Many times, roofing is specified just to get the building covered and protected. Facility executives should realize that the majority of the cost is in labor. Slightly more material dollars up front may save many dollars on premature replacement costs.

It’s also important to remember the role of the roof as the first line of defense against the elements. The roofing system is a key investment that helps to protect the interior environment of the building. Focusing on the lowest initial cost can leave facility executives with a system that is unproven and contributes to further difficulties during the life of the building.

Although the roof makes up less than 3 percent of the construction cost of a commercial building, it is among the most critical construction components, considering the consequences if it fails.

When the facility has as its basic purpose the protection of not only humans involved in daily commerce, but also valuable business assets that are critically important to the conduct of that commerce, the roof emerges as more than a cost component of the total building asset – it becomes an asset in and of itself.

The key to life-cycle cost is total system analysis. A roof is a system that requires a broad spectrum of elements working together. When a building owner chooses an asphalt roofing system for a given application, the system should be specified and installed as a whole. The performance of any roofing system can be optimized when all the components are selected based on how they integrate as part of a total roofing system.

A Whole System Approach

As with any investment, the ultimate value of the roof will be determined in large part by the investment term. In this case, the term is the realistic, anticipated life of the new roofing system. The best way to determine how long a roofing system is likely to last is to consider the documented performance of the system in similar applications and environments.

The value of a roof can actually increase if it survives its first few years without incident. A life-cycle curve often has a bump for premature mortality. If a roof survives past the time period of that bump, then the long-term outlook actually improves.

Calculating Life-Cycle Cost

A general formula for calculating the life-cycle cost of a roof is to subtract the estimated salvage cost of the new roof materials from the purchase price and then add the projected costs of maintenance, repair and replacement over the forecasted economic life of the roof. For this calculation, the value of today’s dollar must be converted to a future value.

Energy efficiency has become a significant factor in determining a roof’s life-cycle cost. Many facility executives are specifying metal-clad or coated modified bitumen membranes and flashings, other reflective membranes or additional insulation as energy-efficient options. A variety of aluminum or white acrylic coatings can be applied to smooth surfaces. Granule-surfaced modified bitumen membranes can be applied to enhance reflectivity. By improving the energy efficiency of the building with reflective membranes or additional insulation, facility executives can often reduce cooling costs.

Before problems occur, preventive maintenance should also be conducted to remove visible debris from the roof, clean drains and perform minor repairs. No matter how thorough the maintenance program is, however, it is necessary to make routine, semi-annual inspections to reduce long-term repair costs. At a minimum, facility executives should have their roofs inspected once in the spring and once in the fall.

The eventual tear-off and disposal of the roofing system is another necessary factor to be included in the life-cycle cost. Some systems require a more labor-intensive removal process, which can add to the total cost, while certain membrane types can be recycled, which may ultimately reduce the cost of the system.

Seek Help

With the wide range of system types available in today’s commercial roofing industry, one of the main obstacles facility executives encounter is acquiring the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions. Manufacturers offer seminars that allow facility executives a forum in which to expand their knowledge base and understanding. Once owners have the information necessary to make sound specification decisions, they can confidently specify roofing products and systems that will meet their long-term goals.