Time for a checkup: Conducting hospital roof inspections

By Rick Cunningham / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
July 31, 2017

Regular maintenance will protect one of the most expensive assets in your healthcare facility: the roofing system. The least expensive time to repair the roof is before the damage becomes evident through a leak.

Scared of costs

People are afraid of roofing because it can be expensive. If they ignore roofing problems until the building is actually leaking, repair options will be limited and cost more than if addressed earlier. It is shocking how many times in a year my company has been called to a hospital after a complete interior remodel because roof leaks were discovered after the first rain.

Many facilities do not budget for reroofing — just repair. Without regular inspection and proactive maintenance, it can be a huge surprise for facility managers to discover that reroofing is necessary.  

In order to head off unbudgeted expenses, it is a good practice to schedule inspections by a professional commercial roofing contractor once or twice annually. That gives you an opportunity to preserve an expensive capital asset and extend the serviceable life of the roof.

If the inspection reveals that the roof is compromised but not irreparable, there are options that can be considered that would preclude the need to completely remove the existing roofing system, which would reduce the repair cost substantially.

What to look for

During a roof inspection, it’s important to check for cracks or tears, open flashings, or mechanical damage caused by contractors working on the roof. Any new equipment must be checked to ensure it has been installed properly.

• On the building’s exterior, look for:

• Bald or bare spots on the roof where UV reflective granules are missing from the cap sheet

• Cracked masonry wall caps or parapets

• Cracks or discoloration of acrylic domes on skylights or smoke vents

• Cracks, blisters, punctures, or ridging of the roof membrane

• Debris on roof or in drains and gutters

• Defective, damaged or missing caulking at masonry tilt panel joints

• Excessive accumulation of granules on roof surface or in drain/gutter

• Gaps or cracks in caulking around roof penetrations (vents, antennas, skylights, HVAC units, etc.)

• Loose, buckled or damaged flashing

• Missing domes on drains

• Nails or screws from deck backing out through membrane

• Vegetation in contact with the roof surface

When inspecting the interior, these are signs the roof needs maintenance:

• Cracked roof deck joists, purlins or glulam beams

• Discoloration or water staining of window frames

• Discolored or water-stained ceilings and walls

• Mold on any interior surfaces

• Raised or deteriorated areas on the walls below the roof deck

• Rust, or dark staining from rust, visible on joists or other structural components

• Water staining on roof deck joists

Often hospitals have metal decks with structural or lightweight concrete that is sloped to drain.  If water gets under the roof membrane, it can saturate the concrete deck or insulation. The absorption properties of lightweight concrete can give facility managers a false sense of security. Water can leak through the roof and be absorbed by the concrete for years before manifesting as an active leak inside the building.

Water damage to the concrete and underlying metal deck can more than double the cost of reroofing. Replacing the concrete can increase project costs from $2-3 dollars per foot to $10-15 dollars per foot.

Additional requirements for California

Maintaining the health of a hospital’s commercial roofing system is especially important in California. Hospitals there are governed by strict Office of Statewide Hospitals Planning & Development (OSHPD) standards.

When you start tearing roofs off for replacement, that’s where things can get ridiculously expensive. Everything on that roof then has to meet OSHPD standards. On a commercial building, you can reroof without being required to address HVAC and roof slope issues. On a hospital, HVAC ventilation equipment and rooftop mounting equipment must be brought up to current OSHPD codes if they are moved due to reroofing. Those upgrades can end up costing four to five times more than the roofing itself.

Professional help

Regular inspections give facility managers the chance to repair or restore their roofing systems before damage gets too expensive. Paying a reasonable price for inspection and maintenance saves money over the long-run — especially if problems are caught before a complete tear-off and replacement of the roof is merited.

Rick Cunningham is president of Highland Commercial Roofing and a member of the Institute of Roofing, Waterproofing and Building Envelope Professionals, and the U.S. Green Building Council. 

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