The new FM’s guide to roof management
roofing for beginners

Facilities managers are often charged with becoming overnight experts on many topics, including roofing. It’s crucial for new and veteran facilities managers to familiarize themselves with the roof. The health of your roof impacts the interior of your building – and the valuable work that happens inside it – so it deserves your attention.

Two Types of Roofs: Steep-Slope and Low-Slope

Steep-slope roofs are steeper than 3:12 and are designed to shed water to gutters and other drainage conveyances. Although much more popular for residential applications, you can find them on some commercial and institutional buildings that are designed with a hospitable feel, such as houses of worship. Mark Graham, vice president of technical services for the National Roofing Contractors Association, says typical steep-slope roof material types include:

  • Asphalt shingles
  • Lay-in concrete tile
  • Slate
  • Wood shakes and shingles
  • Metal panels

Low-slope roofs are common in commercial buildings, particularly for their cost-effectiveness for large buildings. Putting a steep-slope roof on a large hospital or office tower would be difficult, impractical and expensive. Low-slope roofs also lend themselves to supporting rooftop equipment such as solar panels and HVAC equipment, which conserves space within the building. Any roof that’s less steep than 3:12 qualifies as low slope. They’re sometimes referred to as flat roofs, though they can’t actually be flat because some slope is required for drainage.

The odds are good that at least some (if not all) of your portfolio will use low-slope roofs, so this primer will focus on those.

Common Roof Material Types

Depending on how big your portfolio is, you might have a mix of roof material types. All types usually include weatherproofing, reinforcement and surfacing components, although some roof systems incorporate materials that can cover multiple tasks. Your portfolio could contain any of these common roof material types:

Single ply membranes: An alphabet soup of membrane types that are usually referred to by acronyms for their chemical makeup, such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer). "Depending on which particular membrane you’re using, you have different degrees of chemical resistance," Graham explains. "Single plies have the ability to be just about any color and could give you reflectivity."

Roofing Materials at a Glance

roofing materials at a glance

Modified bitumen: These roofing materials combine a bitumen (usually asphalt) with a polymer modifier and a reinforcement layer. They sometimes come with granules or foil laminates on the surface to provide extra protection.

Built-up roofing: Often abbreviated as BUR, built-up roofs are created by alternating layers of bitumen (most commonly, asphalt or coal tar) and reinforcing fabric. "Built-ups and modifieds are generally more durable because there are more layers to them," says Graham. "If you have a lot of foot traffic on a roof, that could be the best way to go."

Metal panel systems: Architectural metal panels are used for residential roofing, but commercial buildings are more likely to use a structural metal panel roof system. They’re strong and can be crafted in nearly any color, Graham notes. It’s also relatively easy to install solar panels without penetrations, adds Vince Sagan, senior staff engineer for the Metal Building Manufacturers Association. If you’re thinking about rooftop PV, metal might be a good option for future roof replacement projects.

Spray polyurethane foam: This roof material type combines spray polyurethane foam with a spray-applied elastomeric coating or membrane. The coating protects the foam from damage. "This has a relatively small market share," explains Graham. "Spray foam is typically used in retrofitting existing roofs."

Getting to Know Your Existing Roof

There’s no better way to get acquainted with your new roofing responsibilities than by experiencing it hands-on. "Try to get into the preventive maintenance mode of the roof," Graham advises. "Find small problems and address them before things get away from you and get to be larger issues."

At a bare minimum, Graham recommends walking your roof at least twice a year, preferably in the spring and fall. Your first inspection will create a baseline of the roof’s condition against which you’ll compare all future inspections, Graham says. Take pictures and build a roofing file if you don’t have one already. "When you do the next inspection, if something looks out of the ordinary or different from last time, go back to the previous inspection file and say, ‘Something’s going on here,’" Graham says. "That’s typically the time to call a contractor and get some professional help."

Find out which roof material types are in your portfolio, then make a goal to become skilled in maintaining them and making minor repairs. This could mean using our Roof Resources (see page 27) or reaching out to the original manufacturer for supplemental training on how to patch the roof material.

"It’s important that at least one person on staff be updated on how to make small repairs on all the different roof system types on the facility or campus," suggests Mike Clark, president of RCI, Inc., a professional association of roofing, waterproofing and exterior wall consultants. "It’s also important that the right materials be used to make temporary repairs. For example, you wouldn’t use hot asphalt or asphalt-based flashing cement to try to make a repair on a thermoplastic single ply membrane. They’re chemically not compatible, and it would do more harm than good."

Any time there’s a new roofing installation in your portfolio, Clark recommends requesting training on short-term, temporary repairs from the manufacturer. Stock up on tapes and patching materials that are compatible with your roof so that when a rainy day comes, you aren’t left empty-handed. It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with what a leak looks like, though Sagan cautions that the telltale isolated staining still warrants further investigation before you start patching.

"The challenge is that the leak may not be directly above the stain. It also may not be water leakage at all – it may be a condensation issue," Sagan explains. "There may be a breach in the vapor or air barrier, so you’re getting hot, moist air coming into contact with a colder roof surface and creating condensation."

Roof Re-cover vs. Roof Replacement

At some point, you may need to oversee a roof re-cover or replacement. A re-cover involves installing a new layer on top of your existing roof (typically using the original roof material type) and is less expensive than a full replacement.

A roof replacement, on the other hand, is an entirely new roof. It’s an expensive proposition, but it’s also a chance to correct any mistakes that were made when the original roof was specified, especially if the previous owner picked a material that isn’t the best choice for your area.

"Depending on where you are located in the country, you want to make sure that the new roof you’re planning to install is climate appropriate," Clark says. "In the Deep South where I’m located, we use a lot of white and highly reflective roofs, either membranes or metal roofing, because the biggest energy cost is trying to air condition the building. In other parts of the country where facilities managers don’t have as much of an air conditioning load and are primarily concerned about heating the building, they would want to make sure their roof system would survive a more severe winter climate."

The use of your building is another key consideration, Graham says. A facility with a commercial kitchen needs a roof system that can handle kitchen exhaust, which contains animal fats and greases that can quickly destroy some roofing products. You’ll also want to consider:

  • Your staff’s skill in working on certain roof system types
  • Whether the owner is pursuing a green building certification
  • Any attempts to standardize the type of roofing that’s used across a portfolio or campus
  • Preferences of the owner
  • Construction materials and other building qualities that can impact the roof

Your roof will eventually need a level of care that exceeds your abilities. Knowing when it’s time to call in an expert instead of taking the DIY approach is an important part of getting up to speed on roofing.

roof resources

Roof Resources

Need to refresh your memory on roofing maintenance or get up to speed fast? Try these educational resources.

National Roofing Contractors Association ( This professional organization is for contractors, but it has much to offer facilities managers. Check out Elements of Roofing: A Guide for Building Owners, SPRI/NRCA Manual of Roof Inspection, Maintenance and Emergency Repair for Existing Single-Ply Roofing Systems or Manual for the Inspection and Maintenance of Built-Up and Polymer-Modified Bitumen Roof Systems.

RCI, Inc. ( RCI is a professional association of building envelope and enclosure consultants with plenty of information for facilities professionals. Check out their education catalog to find a roofing course or skim the technical articles.

Industry groups: Reach out to the original manufacturer of your roof or industry groups that represent manufacturers of that roof type, such as the Metal Building Manufacturers Association ( or the EPDM Roofing Association (

BUILDINGS ( out our roofing coverage or explore the roofing section of BUILDINGS Education, where you’ll find roofing webinars to help you grow as a professional. Most offer continuing education credits as well.

Tips to Find the Right Professional

Clark recommends starting with an unbiased consultant who is familiar with multiple roof material types. "A consultant can look at the existing roof and help you determine whether that was the correct roof system choice when it was installed," Clark says. "Roof consultants are skilled in looking at roof drainage, higher thermal resistance, wind uplift and other technical aspects of roof system selection and design."

Next, choose a contractor who will install your roof replacement. Clark recommends that any contractor doing work on your roof meet these conditions:

  1. Experience in installing the type of roof you’re using. You want a qualified and experienced contractor doing that kind of work.
  2. Approval from the roof system manufacturer.Most major manufacturers certify contractors who have been trained to install their products.
  3. A good record. Your contractor should be well-established in your community, pre-qualified, properly licensed in your state, and able to show references for past jobs that are similar to yours. Additionally, they should carry an adequate amount of insurance.

The contractor also should be willing to submit to a third-party inspection during and after installation, Clark recommends. The inspection serves as an additional check on the contractor to ensure proper installation. Some manufacturers have in-house inspection programs and will send out a technician to look at the roof; you also can hire an independent consultant.

With the right background knowledge and a good team behind you, you’ll be able to maintain your portfolio’s roofs for years to come. Invest the time in getting to know your roof – the headaches you’ll avoid are well worth the effort.

Janelle Penny  is a senior writer for BUILDINGS.

Download "Build Your Roofing File Checklist" online at:


For 25+ years, JRC continues to be a superior national commercial roofing and exterior renovations contractor with its licenses in 48 of the 50 states.  Based out of Greenbrier, TN, JRC works for some of the leading new construction, property management, assisted living, retail and hotel companies in the world. With our own fleet of planes, and team of experienced pilots / surveyors, JRC can get to your property quickly - whether its an immediate need or planning for the future. With JRC's Accomplished Team of Estimators, Superintendents, and Installers to handle your commercial roofing projects, let us show you the superior customer service and project management our clients trust and love.

Choose High Performance, Choose JRC.