When it comes to addressing an aging roof, you don’t have to feel like a cat on a hot tin one. As facility managers are forced to do more with less due to shrinking staff and budget constraints, roof replacement, repair, and maintenance are frequently delayed, sometimes indefinitely.
Many facility managers find themselves in a position of playing catch up with a portfolio of aging roofs, many of which have unknown conditions and may be near the end of their service life. Consider the following strategies to develop a roof asset management plan.
1) Establish Expectations
First it’s important to identify why roofs fail. Ideally a roof would fail due to age and exposure to natural factors such as heat, ultraviolet (UV) light, and water. However, poor design, lack of maintenance, material failure, improper construction, abuse, and severe weather can contribute to premature roof failure. Consequently, most roofs do not fail on a normal and predictable age-related deterioration curve.
The normal roof service life for a low slope roof is between 15 and 20 years. It does not take an expensive roof system to exceed this norm. With sound strategy and an action plan, you can lessen the risk of failure, extend roof service life, and reduce total cost of ownership.
Whether you are taking over responsibility for an existing portfolio or have been managing a portfolio for years, overcoming the challenges associated with an aging portfolio starts with obtaining information in order to make sound decisions.
2) Deploy Staff or Outsource Help
In spite of how smart the world has become, buildings, computers, and corporations do not have the skills and expertise to develop strategy, implement an action plan, and make decisions – only people do.
There are many team member roles and responsibilities to consider as you develop your strategy. Consider the following staffing roles, responsibilities, and resources when formulating your overall plan:
- Appoint a roof champion: The roof champion is someone who understands the value and importance of managing roof assets and is the face and voice of your facilities’ roofing program. A facility without someone committed to roof maintenance will likely have an aging, failing fleet of roofs. The care and maintenance of a roof can only take place at the facility and with boots on the roof. Whether this role is provided in-house or outsourced, it is imperative that the responsibility be assigned and executed by a team member who is committed to following a program.
If you don’t know who is responsible for roof maintenance at a facility, it should be a red flag. As an example, if roofs are on a 20-year replacement cycle, that means no more than 5% of roofs would be replaced in a given year, and thus 95% of your roofs are in maintenance mode. The roof champion should have a constant tab on this.
- Benefit from an expert: Implementing replacement projects requires technical and procurement expertise. In-house roofing experts are rare these days because engineering staffs are slim and devoted primarily to production processes.
Roof design takes time, training, and experience. Rather than letting roof projects fall in the lap of the new guy in engineering, it is more effective to develop roofing proficiency with a mid- to long-range timeframe and to invest in training. If that is not realistic, consider outsourcing.
As you evaluate your personnel resources, look for gaps or opportunities to streamline the process and leverage existing resources.
3) Assess Assets and Risks
Completing an assessment of existing roof assets is critical to developing an effective roof management strategy. The assessment should reveal four fundamental profiles: size, age, service life expectancy (condition), and risk.
Size is so basic, yet is often considered trivial and remains unknown. However, size is the common factor in most budget and cost calculations. You cannot know if you are funding at a sustainable level if you don’t know roof square footage.
Age can reveal a lot about the past and help you develop a strategy for the future. Roofs that are 15 years old may increase the risk rating slightly. However, this is particularly troublesome if there are systemic material formulation problems within your portfolio. Robust materials and systems allow roofs to last into their 20s and even 30s.
As we emerge from a tough economy and a period of underfunding, the need to recognize risk has grown immensely. A risk profile is important because it is rare that roof funding will be available on a yearly basis to address all the facilities’ needs.
With a shortage of funding being the norm, it is necessary to prioritize spending and activities. Rather than prioritize based solely on age, condition, or the squeaky wheel, you must consider risk. Limited funding will force you to address the biggest risks first, including areas with important occupancy, high sensitivity, increased likelihood of business interruption, or high probability of system failure.
It is very important that an assessment of the physical assets be conducted with expertise and objectivity in order to recognize systemic tendencies and predict realistic service life potential. Having reliable information can reveal if a tidal wave of roofing issues is coming your way.
4) Build a Budget
As part of your assessment, also plan to assess past spending patterns. Determine what investments have been made for roof repair, maintenance, and replacement. Ideally, you can look back on past spending, and based on your physical assessment, you can forecast with a three- to five-year budget. Every facility should have a budget that includes roof repair, maintenance, replacement, and inspections.
Most likely you will look back and recognize a pattern of under spending. This may present a more difficult environment to justify a larger, more adequate budget because management often considers previous spending as precedent, and year-over-year increases are scrutinized heavily.
5) Take Action
As you develop your action plan, remember that the most effective strategies for long-term roof performance are balanced with well-thought-out approaches to:
- Preventive maintenance/repair: Protect your roof assets – it’s likely that a higher percentage of your roofs are due for some level of preventive maintenance or repair. This is not simply fixing leaks; it is planned and proactive. Often, preventive maintenance and repair activities are overlooked even though they typically require the smallest dollar investment and provide the highest return.
- Design: Professional design fees tend to be a small part of an overall roofing budget but can have the highest impact on long-term roof performance, especially when combined with preventive maintenance. Leaders should have established corporate roof design guidelines that also include risk management objectives as well as bidding and procurement processes.
- Construction: Proactively managing construction projects and implementing a quality control process will improve the quality, safety, and reliability of the roof system. No amount of preventive maintenance or repairs will make up for an improperly installed roof.
Executing a three-prong assessment of your team, physical assets, and available funding will provide a solid foundation for determining future resource requirements and strategy. You will also have the information needed to form an action plan and, more importantly, justify that plan to management.
Ron Harriman is a senior consultant and partner with Benchmark, Inc. (www.benchmark-inc.com), a roof and pavement consulting firm based in Cedar Rapids, IA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.