It’s the Installation, Stupid

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I was recently on the roof of a metal building, a hangar built 20 to 30 years earlier. We were doing some work on the hangar door system. I’d noticed, from below, numerous obvious roof leak issues. A typical R-Panel type roof, I set out to replace an old screw or two adding value to our service. I walked off the roof, found the noted locations and observed other areas of concern. It became apparent to me that this was another case of a good product, poorly served by a sloppy installation.

After decades of service, harsh Florida sunshine, hurricanes and frequent tropical cloudbursts, the galvalume metal roof panels were barely discolored, structurally sound and suffering no corrosion or noticeable degradation in general. Every notably defective condition I came across was entirely avoidable and had surely been an issue since the day the project was completed. That roof was done. I asked myself, just how long would a properly installed roof have lasted?

The notable defects were no surprise:

  • Misplaced fasteners- missing the structure completely or glancing off an edge.
  • Improperly installed fasteners- stripped, over tightened, squashed washers and/or failed threads.
  • Misaligned panel laps- improper fastener and sealant placement, gaps and excess overlap.
  • Missing closures and sealant- likely omitted intentionally, considered unnecessary and a waste of time by some.

None of theses things happened over time. They were not the result of wear and tear, not the remnants of a cataclysmic weather event nor any other unforeseen consequence. These are conditions that were left unacceptable at the time of installation, temporarily addressed with judicious blobs of caulking and mastic then slowly allowed to compromise the entire roof system over time.

Unfortunately, in the metal building/roofing industry, this is more common than not. Poorly installed roofs abound and give the metal roof system a bad name in general. A properly designed roof with a quality installation should be expected to last 50 years or more. If you are considering a metal building or metal roof purchase, don’t settle for an exceptional product with a second rate installation. Hire a reputable metal product specialist and do not compromise on the installer.

Make sure you are getting a suitable product, designed properly for your needs and that every step of the installation is done in a conscientious manner according to best practices. This is far easier said than done, and how to tell the difference is subject for an entire new document. Suffice it to say that you get what you pay for. Conscientious practices take time and there are innumerable opportunities in the course of metal roof and flashing installation to cut corners. A competent installer who truly takes pride in their work is the only chance the end user has of obtaining the full lasting value expected from a metal roof system.