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Top 5 Causes of Commercial Roof Leaks [That Aren't Actually Roof Leaks]

Top 5 Causes of Commercial Roof Leaks [That Aren't Actually Roof Leaks]

A leaking roof can wreak havoc on a commercial building in Colorado. But, not all roof leaks area created equal. In fact, not all leaks are actual roof leaks! Problems can crop up in the life of your commercial facility that may appear to be something they are not. By understanding the most basic building envelope issues associated with maintenance and architecture, commercial property owners and facility managers can gain insights on how to prevent moisture from getting into your building and addressing them should they present themselves.

Depending on the architectural design of your facility there may be certain details of your structure that is constructed above your roofline. If not properly weatherproofed, these errors may be the true source of moisture entering your building while appearing as a roof leak. So, how the heck do you find a leak in a commercial roof?

Top 5 Causes of Commercial Roof Leaks [That Aren’t Actually Roof Leaks]

1. Wall Coping - Also known as a wall cap, the coping is the protective detail on top of your parapet wall. It is put there to shed water inwards toward the roofs drainage system. Over time, sealants can begin to breakdown, opening the door for moisture to access through the seams, joints, and other areas of the coping. Environmental stressors are also a threat, especially for commercial roofs here in Colorado. Elements like wind, temperatures, and moisture can deform various types of coping metal. A secondary barrier should be installed on top of the wall underneath all parapet wall copings. This keeps a simple maintenance item from turning into an expensive repair job. If leaks in the wall coping persist, there is a good chance that they’ll cause decay to the structure below it. These leaks can develop wood rot and impact the performance of a perfectly good roof.

Wood rot in a parapet wall.
Wood rot in a parapet wall.

2. Siding Defects - Most siding problems are due to improper installation. With that said, cracks, break, and holes can occur from mechanical damage, alterations to the structure, or just wearing-out from old age. More brittle products, like vinyl siding, can begin to fail from constant UV exposure. If not addressed, wind, rain, and snow will penetrate your structure, even if the roof is brand-new.

Improper siding installation.
Improper siding installations lead to roof leaks.

3. Flashing - Flashing is typically made of metal strips that are attached to seams, edges, and terminations. The flashing on your commercial building is important because it protects the most vulnerable parts of your facility. When the flashing is cracked, bent, or faulty, moisture is allowed to access your facility and cause a leak to form. These leaks are particularly annoying because, more often than not, they create damage away from the leak's origin. It is important to hire an experienced commercial roofing contractor near you to arrange a proper commercial roof inspection.

Aging commercial roof flashing.
Aging commercial roof flashings can lead to roof leaks.

4. Doors & Windows - Many commercial roofs have windows above the roofline and doors to access it; all of which are prone to leaking with age and can lead to major property damage if not repaired correctly. With the extreme weather conditions that we experience in Colorado, its important to include these items in your semi-annual roof inspection. Windows, such as skylights, have built-in water drainage systems called "weep holes." These weep holes are engineered for proper drainage of moisture out from inside the track of the window assembly. Unfortunately, they often risk the chance of moisture (and air) to find its' way into your building. If you have door access to your commercial roof, the most common leak-prone areas around a door are the corners. Proper contact with the weatherstrip is important to keeping moisture out. Also, gaps between your door panel and door jamb can occur as your building shifts and settles over time.

Leaky commercial roof skylight.
Commercial roof skylight that was leaking.

5. Mechanical Units - Mechanical units, such as the HVAC system, sit on top of the roof of most commercial buildings. These units sit on top of curb that, if not properly flashed, can become a major source of roof leaks. Not just that, these units can wear-out, too. Gaskets, seams, and seals can degrade over time, causing leaks through the unit and bypassing the roof entirely. While it should be the responsibility of all professionals working on your rooftop equipment to check for proper installation and degradation, this is not always the case. In fact, we have seen more roof damage caused by HVAC technicians than by Mother Nature. A good rule of thumb: Invite your commercial roofing contractor to inspect your roof after any work needed to be done by another profession.

Commercial roof mechanical leaks.
Newly installed commercial roof grease duct.

How Do You Find A Leak In  A Commercial Roof?

You know that you have a pesky water leak in your commercial building but you just can't seem where to find it. Well, pinpointing the exact location might be easier said than done, but here some interior signs that can help you zero-in on them!

[Side Note - If you're tired of paying an employee to chase leaks around your building, give us a call! Our trained and experienced commercial roofing contractors love a good mystery.]

  • Ceiling & Wall Damage - Mold or mildew will not come around in the absence of moisture. So, if you begin to see discoloration on walls walls or ceilings of your commercial building, something is not right. Before your go and repaint those spots, document their locations by taking pictures of them and the date you noticed the change. More often than not, signs of a leak on the inside of the building do not always directly correlate with its entry point. But, its much easier to work your way inside out.
  • Electrical Shortages - The electrical outlets and wiring in your commercial facility prefer to be dry and left alone. If your boxes and breakers begin to short-out, there's a good chance moisture is finding its way inside your building and getting your electrical circuit wet, somewhere. If the loss of power isn't enticing enough for you to start looking for a leak remember this: Long term leaks can lead to corrosion on wire/outlets and if wires continue to experience shortages they can begin to throw sparks. Alas, you may have a leak but you're playing with fire.
  • Moisture On The Ground - At first occurrence it might not be noticeable. A damp floor in your commercial building can be from a lot of things: floor mopping, a tipped drink, or maybe Karen spilled a little water while she was watering her Peace Lily. But, like my granddaddy used to say, "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." If you notice the same spot on the ground is moisture saturated more than once, it's time to investigate. These spots are typically found along the base of a wall and appearing to originate from underneath the wall baseboard.

When a leak presents itself inside your commercial facility, its perfectly normal to automatically assume your roof is leaking. Nonetheless, even when water is coming from the top part of your building it's not always a roof leak. In order to properly identify a commercial roof leak, it is important to work your way inside-out and consider all point of entry options as you do.

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