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Know your building's roof, or pay the price

Posted: December 3, 2008 8:37 p.m.
Updated: December 4, 2008 4:59 a.m.
A cursory review of media reports nationwide in recent months revealed an alarming number of instances of costly damages to buildings due to negligence or procrastination with roof repairs. Consider:

n A clogged drain pipe resulted in damages to about 1,000 books at the University of Hawaii, according to an Associated Press story Oct. 28.

n Roof leaks at a public library in Alabama damaged carpets and ceilings and short-circuited computer network connections. The existing roof is not scheduled for replacement until 2010, according to the Birmingham News on Oct. 22.

n The city of Peabody, Mass. seeks $535,000 for a middle school's roof repairs - and the city does not know when the roof was last overhauled, reported the Salem News on Oct. 17.

n Rush County, Ind., has spent $190,000 on roof repairs on a courthouse the past five years, the Rushville Republican reported Sept. 17.

n The Building Commission in Mahoning County, Ohio, in September approved more than $289,000 for roof repairs to a building housing its Department of Job and Family Services.

Understandably all the examples were buildings for government agencies. Few stories outline roof damage to private commercial buildings because the media's access is limited. But we know they're out there.

It's unfortunate when an organization tries to squeeze "one more year" out of a failing roof, and pays the price.

If a roof is 15 or 20 years old, ongoing repairs can add up - not to mention potential for a complete failure.

We're seeing so many stories of rain damages because of the time of the season. The eastern United States already sustained some rainstorms; in Southern California the rain season approaches. Here in the Southland, roofing and the seasons can get complicated, because several days of high winds can be followed fairly quickly by rains.

Wind damages left ignored can bring surprises. After a period of high winds it is imperative to inspect the roof of any structure. The safest and fastest way is from the ground with binoculars. However, most commercial roofs are flat and a ground inspection won't reveal much. It may require a visit up top.

Going onto a roof, remember safety first. Use a firm ladder and wear sure-footed shoes. Rainy or windy days definitely are not advisable for roof climbing. Look for basics of an aging or failing roof: cracks or peeling of the roof system; obvious holes; clogged drains; and signs of areas where water may have pooled. Clogged drains are the most common cause of commercial building roof leaks.

Look inside. A ceiling stain is obvious, but also consider crawling through high-ceiling chambers or using a tall ladder to take a look as close to the top of the ceiling as possible.

Leaks often do not fall straight down; they can follow beams or walls and cause damage elsewhere.

Most of the year in Southern California, commercial building owners might get by with an inadequate roof.

But this fall the winds have blown pretty hard, and even without damages, there may be debris up top to pose problems in the months ahead. A roof is an asset and should be treated that way, with proper management to prolong its life cycle and protect the other valuable assets underneath.

Rod Menzel is president and founder of GreatWay Roofing, which serves the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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