Ensuring that a property’s roof condition is maintained and monitored is vital, especially for social housing where budgets need to be carefully managed and disruption to tenants minimised. Dean Wincott of Langley Waterproofing Systems explains the benefits of implementing a full roof asset management plan
When budgets for repair, maintenance and improvement of social housing properties are limited, focus is often given on the most visible areas. For this reason, a full assessment of the overall condition of a flat roof is often only considered when an issue arises. However, roofs will very rarely fail without warning. Often the problem has been evolving over a long period of time and with intervention, could have been addressed before it reached a critical stage. For example, a typical modern flat roofing system is made up of a layer of insulation with additional membranes below and above. If the waterproofing layer fails, water can become trapped in the internal layers and begin leaking into the building.
When degradation of the roof system becomes obvious and it begins to leak, repairs are often made reactively with an immediate, low cost fix. While these emergency repairs will resolve the immediate symptoms, they are unlikely to have addressed the underlying cause, risking the reoccurrence of further problems. These repeated fixes are not only potentially disruptive for tenants but can prove costly in the long run, especially if the failure causes unexpected additional damage to the interior that needs to be repaired.
As with all areas of the building it is more cost effective to carry out checks and planned preventative maintenance (PPM) rather than frequent reactive repairs. This approach is increasingly being embraced by local authorities and housing associations, with several creating new PPM teams funded by the savings made from avoiding unnecessary repairs. To manage roofs strategically they must be considered assets and approached in the same way as any other asset the organisation owns. At its most basic, asset management is the process of introducing, operating, maintaining and upgrading an asset.
However, to manage flat roofs in this way in the long term, housing providers need a clear understanding of the condition of each roof. While a basic check and visual inspection by a maintenance team can help to identify the obvious signs of degradation such as visible blistering, cracking and vegetation growth, it will not show what is under the surface. A more thorough examination is required to uncover evidence of deeper system degradation and any existing water ingress.
A professional site condition survey, carried out by a technical specialist, will assess each roof area using core samples, moisture readings and photography to create a comprehensive overview of the condition. Although this type of in-depth appraisal will prove valuable for any building with a flat roof, the benefits are even greater for housing providers that need to manage a large number of sites across a wide area all of differing ages and condition. The survey will provide details of the systems that have been used, their current condition, all previous repairs and any urgent concerns. By analysing these reports, a roofing system specialist will be able to predict the expected life of each roof area by looking at the type of system, its age and exposure to the elements. For example, greater exposure to UV rays will contribute to the degradation of the roof, as will proximity to trees due to an increased risk of physical damage from debris.
The roofing specialist can work in partnership with the housing provider and service provider to create a long-term maintenance and repair plan. These plans can exceed 20 years, providing a detailed view of what work is needed and when. The property management team will know what work is likely to be required during each financial year. This helps to manage budgets more effectively, providing cost certainty and minimising the risk of sudden or unexpected costs occurring.
Despite the obvious value of these long-term plans, they must be combined with annual inspections and regular planned maintenance. The predicted lifespan of the roofs is based on the assumption that a maintenance schedule will be adhered to. While it can be tempting to postpone or cancel regular maintenance to reduce costs, this can lead to increased expenditure later. If left unchecked a minor issue can worsen over time and accelerate the rate of degradation significantly. Often what started as a relatively simple, inexpensive repair can require substantial work to rectify. These inspections will also highlight issues that can be easily managed by an in-house team but would have serious implications if allowed to escalate. For example, blocked rainwater outlets can cause water to start ponding on the surface and increase the risk of water ingress. Finally, a key part of asset management is upgrade and improvement. Pro-active planned repair and roof refurbishment in advance provides the opportunity for managers to consider options and seek advice on how the performance of the roof or the building can be upgraded. One possibility is to improve on the original specification by investing in a longer lasting, more robust system. This will help extend the lifespan of the roof and reduce long term costs.
Furthermore, any refurbishment of the roof provides the opportunity to increase the standard of the insulation and improve the efficiency of the building. This can help reduce heating costs for the property and improve the comfort of tenants.
Managing flat roofs as assets can help ensure effective use of budgets, reduce unexpected costs, prevent disruption to tenants and extend the lifecycle of the roof system. This requires a comprehensive understanding of the current condition of the roof through a thorough site condition survey. A partnership with the right roofing partner gives local authorities and housing associations access to expert advice and provides peace of mind with the creation of a long-term plan and regular scheduled inspections and maintenance.
Dean Wincott is managing director at Langley Waterproofing Systems