10 Common Commercial Roof Problems

Problems on a roof can happen to any building, but most of the issues are largely preventable through planning. Several factors will influence a roof’s service life: design quality installation, products, maintenance, roof use, abuse, and weather. The 10 roof problems listed below are common occurrences, but through quality work and planning, most can be easily dealt with before a major, expensive problem occurs.

Problem #1: Roof leaks. With any type of roof, if it is leaking then you have a problem.

Solution: A proactive preventative maintenance program can eliminate or reduce building interior water intrusion.

Problem #2: Blow-offs, tenting, or billowing. This occurs if the roof is not adhered properly to the substrate. Single-ply roofs are at risk for blow-off and billowing.

Solution: Ask your roofing contractor to provide the proper specification or building code for your area when installing a new roof.

Problem #3: Poor installation or workmanship. A faulty installation increases the likelihood of problems and reduces a roof system’s life expectancy. Workmanship tends to be one of the more common problems or reasons for problems down the road.

Solution: Ask your contractor for a checklist specific to the roof system that should be used for information-gathering (data-collecting) and reporting. Also ask about moisture surveys. Roofs with insulation should be surveyed prior to being overlayed via non-destructive methods. Have your contractor provide a written inspection report, complete with digital photos. Clear details on any structural changes or modifications to the roof surface should also be provided to you.

Problem #4: Lack of maintenance. There are many reasons not to neglect a roof, including financial and safety, but it’s important to have routine inspections done. Ponding water, a base flashing that is slipping, or pitch pockets that haven’t been filled are items that can be easily spotted and fixed.

Solution: To maximize roof service life, a proactive maintenance program should begin in year #1. If you wait too long to initiate the program, you will reduce the potential benefits.

Problem #5: Ponding water.The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) has classified “undesirable” ponding water as standing for more than 48 hours, although ponding can pose a threat in even shorter time spans. A matter of “deep” concern in the roofing industry is the fact that a 1” deep pond weighs 5.2 lbs./square foot. The additional weight of the load may pose a threat to the structural integrity of the building, with a very real possibility of roof collapse in extreme cases.

Solution: Look into ways to address proper drainage on the roof by adding roof drains or using tapered roof insulation. Also, check the flashings, as they can be a source of leaks.

Problem #6: Punctures and the addition of penetrations. For those with single-ply roof systems, damage from foot traffic can be problematic.

Solution: Limit traffic and conduct cursory inspections after tradespeople have been on the roof.

Problem #7: Safety. Fires, odors, slips, and falls are common issues that occur on the roof.

Solution: Make sure you have all the proper personal protection equipment, such as safety glasses, approved footwear, and hard hats. You should also have a copy of all the MSDS information for all the products being installed on the roof.

Problem #8: Improper repairs. Using materials that are not intended for application on specific roof types can result in permanent damage.

Solution: Ask your roofing contractor if they are certified from the manufacturer to install and repair your roof.

Problem #9: Shrinkage. Single-ply roof types are unique. If you walk out onto an EPDM roof, one of the first things you’re going to look for is evidence of shrinkage. The two items most commonly seen are flashings pulling away from the wall or curb and crazing and cracking of uncured membrane, which is commonly used at perimeter and penetration flashings.

Solution: Make sure you’re conducting visual inspections. Some experts recommend a minimum of two per year (late fall and early spring)…certainly at least annually.

Problem #10: Blistering, ridging, splitting, and surface erosion. These issues are commonly found with BUR roof systems, but can also happen in some single-ply systems.

Solution: Do your homework and make sure you select a certified and licensed roofing contractor before selecting or installing your new roof.

To learn more about how to address these problems through hands-on courses or free online webinars, check out our training classes through the Center for the Advancement of Roofing Excellence (CARE).

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  1. sean

    I like that you point out that lack of maintenance is a big problem with commercial roofs. It is easy to forget about a roof. However, in a commercial environment, where the safety of individuals, and productivity of a company are dependent on reliable facilities, it is important to keep the roof well maintained.

  2. McKayla Strauss

    It’s not surprising to me that a lack of maintenance would be a common commercial roofing problem. I imagine it’d be pretty easy to forget to take care of something like that. I know I’d forget to have it done, especially if I have other business-related things I needed to attend to.


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