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Creating Climate-Resilient Roofing Designs for Commercial Buildings

Posted by Art Valentz on July 15, 2020

The climate is indisputably changing. We notice it in things like hotter summers, more intense storms, and longer hurricane seasons. What we notice, your roof notices too. Depending on the location of your building, you’ll find that extreme weather will impact the design of your roof – and what’s more, extreme weather is likely to keep on getting more extreme. This means that in order to maximize the lifespan of your roof, you don’t just need to build: you need to overbuild, anticipating the ways in which climate will change in order to meet a moving target. How do you create resilient roofing in the wake of a changing climate?

Climate Concerns Make Resilient Roofing into a Challenge

Although winters may be getting milder overall, a warming planet leads to more moisture in the atmosphere – so when snow happens, you’ll see more intense blizzards. This has obvious implications for roofing – but some of the implications are less clear. For example, you might see occasional heavy blizzards in areas that were previously known for mild winters.

The same patterns are going to occur with other kinds of weather. Hurricanes, as we’ve seen, have become stronger and more frequent – and it appears that hurricane season itself is starting earlier. If you’re already in a zone that’s known for hurricane activity, then you probably want to build resilient roofs designed to resist more powerful hurricanes. If you don’t already live in a hurricane-prone area, you may still want to understand whether hurricanes will affect you in the future.

Lastly, as the climate changes, the definition of a resilient roof will change as well. What qualities should you seek out?

Basic Elements of a Resilient Roof

In order to have a resilient roof, you need to achieve the following factors:

  •   Strength: This may be self-explanatory Yes, a resilient roof has to be strong, but the factors that define strength are more complicated than simple load-bearing performance. Quality materials are a huge factor in strength, but the thickness of these materials will also be a factor. Thickness aside, you also need to select material for other kinds of strength – tensile strength, hail rating, UV resistance, and more.
  •   Wind Resistance: Uplift force is the amount of upward pressure generated when wind passes over your roof. Since different regions receive different amounts of wind, buildings are built to withstand different amounts of uplift depending on where they’re located. In order to be a truly resilient roof, however, you need to plan for the future. This means looking at the ASCE 7 wind maps and determining where wind is likely to get worse due to ongoing climate change.
  •   Waterproofing: Your roof needs to shed water in order to prevent pooling, leaks, rot, and other bad outcomes. The amount of waterproofing you need must be considered in conjunction with the amount of wind you’re likely to get – wind-driven rain can get in places that traditional waterproofing doesn’t consider.

Now that you understand what you need to plan ahead for, you should also understand what you need to accomplish a truly resilient roofing infrastructure that will withstand climate changes to come.

Factors that Contribute to Resilient Roofs

You can build a roof out of the strongest materials available, but if you fail to consider the climate, your roof still won’t last until its designed end of life.

Increased heat, for example, will inevitably break down strong materials unless you consider a resilient design – such as a white or reflective roof – that will shed heat and protect against UV breakdown. As a bonus, this will also help save on cooling costs.

Areas that will see increased hail or stronger hurricanes (leading to windblown debris) need to consider impact resistance. Using spray polyurethane foam (SPF) as your roof membrane can help by establishing a springy and protective upper coating that rebounds under the force of ice, tree branches, and whatever else nature flings at it.

Wind resistance requires extreme attention to detail throughout the entirety of the construction process – from design to assembly and from flashings to insulations. As such, building owners and facility managers should work with roofing consultants to ensure that roofing contractors comply with best practices and design intent.

One of the most important things you can do to protect against climate-related damage is to secure your rooftop equipment. Roof pipe supports, duct supports, platforms, and other rooftop support systems can help prevent damage that comes from roof systems that are not secure. Here at PHP Systems/Design, we specialize in creating climate-resistant rooftop supports that helps your roof stand the test of time. You can create a custom roof design that will withstand the power of nature, and we’re here to chat whenever you’re ready to get started.

Topics: Roof Architecture, How to

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