Unsure about how to address an aging roof on your commercial building? Here’s why ripping and replacing existing roofs isn’t always the most economical choice.
As the first line of defense against extreme heat and cold, elements like snow and hail, and natural hazards like fire, a commercial building’s roof is as vital as it is vulnerable. When leaks, visible damage, rising energy bills and/or the structure’s age begin to show, it’s time to consider replacing, repairing or re-covering your building’s roof.
With an average life expectancy of 10-40 years—depending on the materials used, installation process, and environmental elements that it’s exposed to—flat commercial roofs cost anywhere from $5-$10 per square foot (e.g. $25,000-$50,000 for a 5,000-square-foot facility) to replace, according to the Flat Roof Replacement Cost Calculator. That cost includes materials, labor, dump fees, permits, and other project fees.
There’s also a more economical, long-lasting solution to roof replacement, however, that many companies don’t consider. “Most of the time, the implied 'law' of replacement (leaks, age, warranty), triggers organizations to remove their existing roofs and replace them,” says Thomas Cummings, executive vice president at Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance in Beachwood, Ohio. “Because of this, a lot of roofs unnecessarily wind up in landfills.”
A lot of roofs are sent to landfills prematurely, says Cummings, who has worked with many building owners who assume that when the clock runs out on their warranties and/or roof lifespans, it’s time to completely replace those structures. “In reality, many roofs were designed, built, and are able to perform for 25-30 years and then this restoration process can be done and they can get even more time out of them,” says Cummings.
That’s just one more reason why defaulting to the law of roof replacement isn’t the most economical or environmentally friendly choice. In fact, Cummings says, roof replacement should be a last resort, and not a knee-jerk solution when a roof outlives its useful age or starts to leak.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean building owners can afford to leave the condition and reliability of their roofs up to fate. “A lot of companies take the traditional ‘run to failure’ approach up until the point where patching and repairing the structure no longer suffices,” says Cummings. “Because they have warranties on their roofs, they assume that they’re completely protected and able to eke extra life out of those structures.”
Restore Vs. Replace
Here are five more reasons to restore your commercial building’s roof instead of replacing it:
- Restoration is an “upgrade” that can extend the life of the structure by decades. The most common mistake made in the marketplace is when somebody hears the term restoration or rehabilitation, they think, “I'm going to get a patch, a paint job, or something that's going to last for a very short period of time and then I'm going to have to do it over again.” Those are misconceptions, according to Cummings. “The restoration itself is actually an upgrade; it’s not just sustaining what’s already in place,” he points out. During the process, roof restoration contractors use acrylics or silicone (at the low end), basic urethanes, or full, liquid-applied urethane systems that contain reinforcing fabrics (at the high end)—the latter of which can add 20+ years to the life of a commercial roof.
- You'll be solving the root cause of the problem. When a leak rears its head and is patched, the odds that another one is right on its heels are pretty good. “Repairing leaks doesn’t establish and address the root cause of the problem; it’s basically just doing what it takes to fix the leak and getting it back to a dry situation,” Cummings notes. Overlooking the root cause can create real problems down the road. A leak that’s not properly addressed, for example, can result in 30-40% of the building’s insulation getting wet and creating a climate for mold to thrive in. “At that point,” says Cummings, “the owner is in a situation where he or she has no other option but to replace the roof.” By restoring the roof, on the other hand, the building owner can avoid these issues entirely while adding 10-20 years of life to the structure.
- Restoring costs 33%-50% less than a full replacement. Once building owners are educated on the benefits of restoring a roof—and once they understand that it’s not just a patch, repair or paint job—they usually can’t believe that their roofing contractors didn’t tell them about the option sooner. “They’re usually open to restoration because it costs anywhere from 33%-50% less than replacing a roof,” Cummings says. Other benefits include a warranty similar to that of a full replacement and the fact that restoration provides an upgrade to the existing structure (i.e. waterproofing, durability or thickness).
- Your building won’t be opened up to the elements. One of the biggest pain points of any roof replacement project is having to open the building and its contents up to the elements. Even if that happens in phases, at some point all of the structure’s equipment, supplies, products and people will either be exposed or have to be temporarily relocated. “Replacing a roof can be a long, drawn out ordeal that interrupts manufacturing, distribution, healthcare or other processes,” says Cummings. “That creates a lot of distraction and potential risks that companies just don’t have to worry about when they decide to restore their roofs.”
- Original building codes will apply. When a building’s roof is restored, it only has to comply with the codes that were in place when it was originally built. Any escalation in code requirements regarding R-value (the capacity of insulating material to resist heat flow; the higher the R-value, the greater the roof’s insulating power), for example, won’t apply. “When you tear a roof off, you have to bring the new one and all of its components up to code,” says Cummings. “When you restore a roof, you are grandfathered in and allowed to keep what you have.”
To companies that are ready to explore their roof restoration options, Cummings says the best first step is to shop around and look for a vendor who will truly “partner” with you, versus just give you the lowest price point. Leverage that partner’s expertise, ask questions and collaborate to solve problems. “If you have a partnering relationship,” says Cummings, “you’ll be much better off than the company that just seeks out the cheapest restoration contractor.”