Better Roofs Are Less Expensive in Columbus, Ohio
Article by Richard A. Boon, P.E., CCI
The ultimate question for roofing in Ohio is: “What is
the best roof?” The accountants will tell you that the
answer is simple: It is the roof that costs the least
over its life. It really does not matter what material
is used or how the roof is attached; the answer is the
same. If the roof fails, then the cost of a new roof is
added to the cost.
When most owners look at roofing, they look at the
materials and the systems, and the only part of the cost
they consider is the initial cost. But the cost to
install a roof is only a portion of the total cost of
owning a roof.
The practice of examining the cost of owning a roof over
its entire life is called life-cycle cost analysis. This
is the best way to truly compare the cost/value of
roofing systems. Something that is crucial is: How long
do you expect to own the building? If the answer is
indefinitely, then the analysis should be run for at
least 20 years. Some people will use 30 years. The
standard depreciation for roofing is 39 years. There are
very few systems that are functional at the end of this
In a basic life-cycle cost analysis, there are several
factors that need to be considered. The study period has
already been mentioned. The next consideration is the
changing value of a dollar over time. One common method
for relating future expenses to today's costs is to use
the t-bill rate, minus the inflation rate. A time value
of approximately 5 percent is a reasonable number for
use in our analysis.
There are costs associated with other
aspects of roofing, such as installation
inspections, semi-annual inspections, the cost of
leak-related repairs, costs associated with making the
warrantor live up to the warranty, and so on. There are
also routine maintenance expenses to consider, such as
cleaning the drains, recaulking the flashings and
performing general housekeeping.
With some systems, the costs of performing some of these
items are covered by the warrantor as a part of a
comprehensive service package. They can also be
purchased from some contractors or roofing consultants
for an annual service charge. All of these costs need to
be known or estimated for the term of the study period.
The last item that needs to be known is the relative
life expectancy of the roofs in question. There are
sources for this information. The most conservative
approach is to use the warranty life as the service
life. This is generally shorter than the real life,
except where there is no routine maintenance done. Then
the life may well be shorter than the warranty.
Life-cycle Cost Scenario
Let's create a simple scenario that illustrates how
these factors combine to produce a life-cycle cost:
The roof in question is bid using two different systems.
The first is a commodity-grade roof with a 15-year
warranty; the bid is $225,000. The second system is a
premium roof, and the bid is $300,000.
We are assuming that the owner is a public entity, so
that taxes can be ignored. We are using our 5 percent
for the time value of the funds.
The cost to maintain the commodity-grade roof is at
least $1,000 per year, to cover the costs of the
required inspections for warranty and the cost of a
consultant on the project during installation (many
consultants are considerably higher).
When that roof is replaced, in its 15th year, its
present value cost is $113,640, representing the initial
cost adjusted by the time value of the funds. When you
add the continuing cost of maintenance, the
total-ownership cost for the commodity roof becomes
With the second system, assuming that the premium roof
is replaced in its 24th year, the present value cost is
only $97,671. Since the system supplier provides the
required inspections as a free service, there are no
maintenance-related costs for the first 15 years of the
roof. Let's assume as much as $1,500 in annual
maintenance from years 15 through 23. Let's also assume
roof replacement in year 24, a conservative estimate for
a roof that was warranted for 20 years.
Even with these conservative estimates, the
total-ownership cost for the premium roof is $346,273.
As the federal interest rates drop, the difference in
total-ownership cost increases, making the premium roof
an even better buy.
Since the premium roof has a manufacturer's rep on site
during installation, installation-related problems and
add-on inspection costs are minimized. In addition,
on-site manufacturer observation provides the benefit of
single-source liability, should problems eventually
The figures used in this illustration are in accordance
with ASTM E-917, Standard Practice for Measuring
Life-Cycle Costs of Buildings and Building Systems,
which provides building owners with an excellent tool
for comparing roofing options on a sound financial
There are other factors that can be included in a model.
These include a simple energy cost savings as well as
the costs that are associated with any leaks in the
system. If a roof leaks, then the wet areas need to be
fixed, as does the damage done inside the building. The
additional energy lost can be considered as well.
There is also a cost associated with disrupting the
facility to put a new roof on. This should be added to
the cost of the roof. How much does it cost to clean up
after a leak? This too, must be added.
It has been reported that the return on an initial
investment of $10 to $12 can be justified through the
savings of a single dollar per year in maintenance.
So, which of these roofs saves the owner the most money?
Clearly, the higher up-front costs of premium roofing
systems can be fully justified through long-term
By looking at more than just the initial cost of the
roof, the owner is making a better financial decision.
This same analysis is useful for making a multitude of
construction-related purchasing decisions.
Are the published life expectancies of high-performance
roofing products truly achievable? There is no question
that if someone knowledgeable looks at the roof at least
once a year (industry recommendation is twice a year),
and the problem areas are corrected promptly, most
commercial roofs will last significantly longer than
their warranties. The exception is when defective
materials cause the roof to shrink excessively or to
Life-cycle cost analysis is the best way to discuss
making roofing decisions with financial people. The
one that makes the final decision is the one that signs
the checks. Roofing people are great at providing
technical information but poor at providing the
financial information that supports the right decision.
Improve the quality of your data. Examine your own roofs
or the roofs of others in your area and find out what is
working and what's not. This data can then be used to
better model the true life-cycle costs.
Roofing is often seen as a problem area in building
construction and maintenance. This perception is earned
in part by the people who most often complain about it.
The designers and facility managers that choose their
roofing systems and contractors based on an assumption
that the lowest bid for the least expensive roof is
going to provide satisfactory results. This assumption
is based on the idea that roofing specifications are
performance based and that all contractors are equally
qualified to install all systems. This assumption is
false. Unfortunately, it remains a basic tenant for some
in the industry.
About the Author: Richard A. Boon,
P.E., is an independent roofing consultant with
Construction Support Services, Inc. of Littleton,
Colorado. He is a past director of The Roofing Industry
Educational Institute and serves on Roofing Contractor’s
editorial advisory board.
If you are looking for Columbus roofing services, please call us today at 614-263-8899 or complete our online request form.
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