How Often Does Your Commercial Roof Need Maintenance in California?

In an earlier blog, we looked at the top five causes of commercial roof failure, discussing factors such as:

  • Inferior roof design;
  • Poor workmanship;
  • The use of substandard roofing products;
  • Aging and deterioration;
  • And the environmental impact on a roof’s material, joints, seams, and flashing.

We concluded that, whether you’re based in a state where extreme weather conditions play havoc with your roofing system or you’ve inherited an old or poorly installed roofing system, the best preventative measures for roof deterioration are regular maintenance and repair. This is even true of well-installed and more modern roofing systems, which can have their expected service life extended beyond 20 years if properly maintained.

A poorly maintained roof will eventually begin costing more than any savings from avoiding necessary maintenance and repairs. So, how often should a commercial building owner or facility manager in California expect to do maintenance on their commercial roof to maximize its overall life cycle performance?

Let’s take a look.

Factors Impacting the Frequency of Commercial Roof Maintenance In California 

A roof protects the integrity of your building from the exterior elements. Four common factors directly influence the longevity, upkeep requirements, and overall lifespan of any roofing system:        

1. California Weather Conditions and Climate

Due to its elevation changes and coastal location on the Pacific ocean, California has a diverse range of climates that occur in close proximity to each other. While most weather patterns in the state are Mediterranean with hot and dry summers, the Desert, Cool Interior, Highland, and Steppe climates all create distinct weather conditions that can affect your roof and require specific maintenance:

  • Ponding and Drainage: In the Northern California zones with increased rainfall, ponding can be a primary concern. If left unattended, the accumulated water can increase roof load and deck deflection, decreasing the strength of your roofing system. Roof sags, leaks, material deterioration, and weakened membranes from blocked drains contribute to an increased frequency of roof repairs.   
  • Temperature: In warm climates, a black roof can reach anywhere from 140 -190 degrees on a 90-degree day. Such thermal load contributes to heat aging, which decreases the durability of any roofing material. Plus, drastic swings in temperature and humidity cause expansion and shrinkage that can lead to cracks and rapid decay. 
  • UV Radiation Exposure: Ultra Violet (UV) rays from the sun can alter the chemical compounds of certain roofing materials, causing your roof to break down. For example, the protective oils in asphalt can evaporate, leading to further thermal shock that requires extra repairs. Continued exposure to UV rays typical of California’s sunny climate can increase the amount of maintenance your roof needs.     
  • Extreme Weather Conditions: California is situated within the Ring Of Fire and on top of the San Andreas fault line that contributes to earthquakes, droughts, hurricanes, high winds, and other weather events. Wind load can damage your roofing system, and you might need fasteners that give your roof a better uplift rating (preventing shifting, leaks, and material peeling common to the upward pressure found in extreme weather). Plus, California ranked first in total forest fires and acres burned in the United States during 2020. You can reduce repair costs with Class A Fire-Rated or fire-resistant materials to prevent flame penetration. Determine your risk of forest fires with California’s Fire Hazard Map.

2. Type of Commercial Roof System Used

Not all roof systems are the same, and each type offers different benefits and drawbacks concerning your maintenance and upkeep requirements. 

  • Built-up Roofing: Built-Up Roofing (BUR) layers several roofing materials (i.e., tar and gravel) for a time-tested roof that can last up to 40 years if well maintained. You need to apply a new top coating every four to six years for maintenance (often due to deterioration from UV rays), and you should get an inspection every year to catch any potential issues.   
  • Metal Roofing: Metal roofs are a lightweight option ideal for California climate because of the system’s good resistance to wind, positive solar energy reflectance, and overall structural strength against forest fires. Metal roofs require low maintenance, but you do need to make regular checks for punctures in addition to regular re-sealing for any flashing near penetration points such as exhausts, drains, or pipes. 
  • Modified Bitumen: Modified Bitumen is an asphalt-based roofing system ideal for flat roofs. It offers good heat insulation and excellent water resistance due to the adhesive membrane, but the membrane itself will require periodic patching as it degrades over time. It is also recommended that you apply reflection surfacing to the membrane sheet every ten years to protect against sun damage. 
  • Single-Ply Membrane Roofing: Singly-Ply membrane systems are sheets of rubber attached or adhered to insulation that offers a 30-year average roof life span. A single-ply roof will require semi-annual inspections in addition to check-ups after extreme weather events. Exposed adhesive can melt in the sun and cause leaks, and the roof type is at risk of punctures, so it needs at least two yearly cleanings (if not more) of all debris. 
  • Spray-Applied Polyurethane Foam Roofing: Spray foam roof systems expand into a solid layer over an existing roof, making it ideal for fast roof replacements. If you opt for this roof type, It is advised that you perform monthly clean-ups around terminal points and drains to prevent punctures that turn into leaks. You will also need to re-foam if your warranty expires or if you spot stains from prolonged heat/sun damage (usually every ten years). 

3. Roof Age and Traffic

The older your roof becomes, the more additional maintenance it will require. Even if you take great care to repair punctures, a quality roof has a limited lifespan, often between 20 – 40 years (system-dependent). Your roof will require replacement as the weather elements lead to unavoidable deterioration. Problem events such as hidden moisture damage or unseen cracked flashing will increase as your roof nears the end of its standard lifecycle.  

Outside of regular weather decay, the rate at which your roof needs additional repairs will also depend on the amount of traffic it experiences. Your roof holds HVAC and other building systems that contractors need to access for repair, and that can lead to damage to the roof itself. Careless use of tools, spilled chemicals, and even simple walking can lead to small tears that turn into major issues. 

Rooftop walkways are a great aid, and you can also place rooftop pads down for those who need access. If possible, implement a traffic strategy that logs which personnel can walk on the roof, any tools used, acceptable rooftop pathways, and inspection schedules for high-traffic areas.   

4. Routine Maintenance Check-ups

Periodic monitoring of your roof can extend the lifespan of your building and lower your total maintenance costs. An inspector will locate areas of concern that need attention, but you should also do your own maintenance reviews when possible, as early awareness of any problem can prevent further expense later on. 

Look for the following signs of deterioration or decay when conducting your scheduled inspections:

  • Discoloration or stains on your roofing system
  • Curled, dry, or brittle roofing materials
  • Cracks, tears, or rips in any membrane or flashing
  • Exposed, melted, or incomplete adhesive on all seams
  • Ponding, blocked drainage, and mold growth
  • Holes, punctures, or dents from objects and debris
  • A dirty surface covered with tree limbs, tools, or other garbage
  • Bent, damaged, or broken penetration points (exhausts, vents, pipes, etc.) 

You can also follow the six recommendations that the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA) has identified for the proper care of a low-slope asphalt roofing system: 

  1. Maintain historical records of your roofing system, any materials used, and planned repairs
  2. Control roof access with a traffic strategy
  3. Conduct regular inspections with a professional
  4. Use trained maintenance personnel for routine check-ups
  5. Report leaks or damage
  6. Use professional roofing contractors for all repairs

Each step can help you build a proper maintenance plan that extends your commercial roof’s service life, reliability, and performance.

Routine Inspections Should Be Part of Any Commercial Roof’s Maintenance Schedule

Professional inspections typically occur once a year and will help you understand what condition your roof is in, identify potential roof damage or leaks before they become a problem, and ensure that earlier repairs are still holding up. Your commercial roof should also be inspected after any significant event, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or wildfire, for any signs of damage so you can do emergency fixes and also schedule the necessary repairs.

Regular roof maintenance and inspections can significantly impact a commercial roof’s overall performance. Contact RoofSource for your annual commercial roof inspection today. We can advise you on maintaining your commercial roof to reduce the risks of early failure and help ensure the longest possible life expectancy.