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The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Rooftop Equipment Needs Planning

Posted by Art Valentz on January 20, 2021

While storing equipment on the rooftop is a simple way to save interior space, many facility managers fail to effectively plan the layout and functionality, leading to issues down the road. Your responsibility is to make informed design choices about the layout of roof equipment. Planning at the outset helps you create a layout that is more functional, aesthetically pleasing, and cost-efficient. Utilizing rooftop access systems will help you create a design that makes sense.

How Does Your Commercial Building Plan Maximize Rooftop Efficiency?

Planning the layout of your rooftop means navigating several constraints. The first constraint is weight. Your roof is only designed to bear a certain amount of weight, so concentrating your heavy equipment in a single area isn’t a great idea.

If your rooftop sits on a large single-story building, like a warehouse, manufacturing facility, or large retail store, then you may be hard-pressed to find an area with enough internal support to bear the weight of heavy equipment. You may need to position your equipment over internal support columns, or near the corners of the building. If this doesn’t solve the problem, you may need to reinforce your roof deck. Meanwhile, if you have limited space on your rooftop, then you will have to be very selective about the equipment you put up there.

Access is the second constraint. If there is equipment on your rooftop, then it must eventually be maintained. Your personnel need to be able to access the equipment in an efficient manner—getting to the equipment on the roof, performing their job, and then leaving as quickly as possible. Rooftops are dangerous, and any additional time spent on the roof is an opportunity for accidents to happen.

Your primary challenge will be balancing access with equipment density. Placing equipment close together means you’ll use the smallest amount of material—in terms of pipes, cable runs, ducts, and walkways—to tie them together. This also means you may have to account for weight problems. Spacing your equipment far apart eliminates this problem, but it also entails more material expense and less convenient access. How do you create a commercial building plan that navigates this dilemma?

Begin by Understanding the Building’s Purpose

Commercial, residential, and industrial buildings have different equipment needs—as well as tenants with different preferences. This can help you understand which rooftop equipment will be most important, and how to lay out this equipment with respect to efficiency and worker safety.

Imagine a large one-story retail building, for example. Their biggest concern might be making sure that their building remains at a comfortable temperature for their shoppers. They’ll have a large HVAC unit that they’ll use a lot, and it may need the most maintenance out of any of their building systems.

Therefore, your best move might be to place the HVAC unit so that it’s as close to the roof access stairway as possible, and at the corner of the roof where there’s the most support underneath. This means that the largest, most important, and more frequently maintained system is also the easiest system to access—and poses the smallest amount of danger to the roof membrane, roof deck, and other critical structural elements.

With regards to the design of the commercial building plan, the last thing to consider is what equipment might be added in the future. Returning to the example above, large low-slope roofs like those found on retail buildings are excellent candidates for solar panels. Even if the building isn’t constructed with solar panels from the beginning, there’s a chance that the building owner will want them in the future.

If you spread your rooftop equipment all over the roof, then there won’t be much space left to install solar—or installing solar will mean that you need to move existing equipment. It’s better to discuss whether solar will be needed eventually, what percent of the building’s energy needs would be handled by solar in a future installation, and how much of the building’s roof would be needed to handle the energy requirement. You can then leave that percentage of space empty for future expansion.

Rooftop Support Systems Enable Safe and Efficient Rooftop Spaces

At PHP Systems/Design, we pride ourselves on playing an active role when it comes to creating a rooftop space. When you work with us, you don’t just purchase our pipe supports and roof access walkways—you also purchase our knowledge and expertise. We work with every single one of our customers to create safe and efficient rooftop spaces that protect roofs, equipment, and workers in equal measure.

Topics: Installation Tips, Roof Architecture

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