How to Prevent a Roof Collapse to Avoid Catastrophe

For commercial structures, roof safety is critical. The worst-case situation for a commercial roof is a roof collapse, which has far-reaching consequences. First, the roof isn’t just gone—debris from a collapsing roof pours into the building, damaging the walls and floors. This might make the entire structure inoperable. Any business operating within the structure must relocate or shut down. Any occupants could be seriously hurt or killed.

Second, any roof failure indicates that you, the facility owner, may have failed to perform your duties. You’ll have to show that you inspected your building regularly and that your inspections missed warning indicators of a building failure. If your roof collapses, you could face both civil and criminal fines.

A roof collapse, even in the best-case scenario, means that no one will be able to use your building until OSHA completes an investigation, which may take weeks or months. You’ll also be responsible for repairs (who knows how much insurance will cover), which will take time until the investigation is completed. How many of your tenants are likely to return?

Despite the grave dangers, approximately 3,000 roof collapses occur each year in the United States. Sometimes the building owner is extremely fortunate, and no one is injured. Occasionally, roof collapses are national tragedies. How can you assure roof safety and avoid a disaster like this?

Prevent Collapses by Inspecting and Maintaining Your Roof

One would think that detecting when a roof is in danger of collapsing would be simple. It’s bad enough if your roof is in horrible shape, but it’s even better if you can spot clear warning signs like multiple leaks, pooled water on the roof, visibly damaged membrane, cracks in the external walls, and other issues. If your roof is in this state, it’s time to evacuate your building and hire a roof repair company.

Most facilities managers would never allow a roof to deteriorate to this level. Only after a building has been abandoned for several years will you find a roof that is poised to collapse like this. The real threat comes from three directions:

Let’s imagine you’ve been on top of the game for years, inspecting every quarter and addressing any flaws. Unfortunately, your roof will eventually collapse. What went wrong, exactly?

It’s possible that your examinations were not thorough enough. You may have noticed and remedied obvious symptoms of damage while overlooking more subtle signs of leaks, moisture penetration, or weakened support members. It’s also possible that some portions of your roof were difficult to evaluate since they were cramped or out of the way. Drones and thermal imaging are two new technologies that might help you undertake more extensive roof inspections.

Alternatively, you may have added rooftop equipment that exceeds the building’s load capacity. The issue is that installing a piece of equipment like this won’t cause your roof to fall in one fell swoop. It could take months or years for heavy equipment to degrade structural parts to the point where obvious damage occurs, and by then it may be too late. Make sure you don’t guess—always know your roof’s structural requirements and whether additional equipment will necessitate reinforcing. Equipment platforms and supports can help distribute equipment weight and make inspections easier.

Where structural integrity, sound absorption, and aesthetics are important, rooftop acoustic wall panels are designed to function as both outside noise and view barriers.

Weather Extremes: The weather is deteriorating. Over time, your business roof is likely to be subjected to weather that it wasn’t built to survive. Extreme winds could physically blow your building’s roof off, or snow could force the structure to collapse. Heavy rain might expose your roof to loads it wasn’t built for overtime, especially if your roof isn’t well-drained.

Knowing what you’re up against is your best defense. Recognize how climate change is affecting the weather in your area and strengthen your roof accordingly. If you’re expecting a lot of rain, add more draining, and if you’re expecting a lot of wind or snow, add reinforcement.

Age: Every commercial roof will age beyond your ability to fix it at some point. The membrane will crack in too many places to be repaired, the insulation will lose its ability to retain heat, and the decking will disintegrate. You can slow down the aging process, but you won’t be able to stop it forever.

A regular inspection and maintenance routine is the best way to determine whether to replace a roof. This might help you understand when cumulative flows make replacing your roof more expensive than repairing it.

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