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Adding Value to Your Roof Coating Program

Friday, February 2, 2018

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By Steven F. James CSI CDT, Digital Facilities Corporation


If you’re a building owner, facility manager or service provider with an active roof coatings program, you have already determined that roof coatings add value to your commercial roofing systems. But, if you’re just researching some best practices for planning roof coatings, I hope the following will identify some important steps for preparing a roof coatings management plan.

The objective of this article is to review several best practices that building owners and service providers can use to plan roof coating projects and manage these important milestones to optimize the coating return on investment.

Images courtesy of Digital Facilities Corporation

Planning a coating project includes having access to the as-built facility information.

The ROI is also based on the design objective. For example, with a spray polyurethane foam roofing system, the objective may be maintenance after the original system installation. On uncoated roof systems with years of service, a roof coating objective is a new system layer for extending the service life, energy savings, visual aesthetics or increasing occupant comfort. Any combination of these objectives can be viewed as the design intent of the coating project, as well as the basis for a coatings management plan to ensure the coating objective is achieved.

The challenge is taking the objective and turning it into project details—planning, specifications, contracts, supervision of installations and quality control of workmanship. Missing one or more of the following critical steps can impact the roof coating ROI.



When you have the responsibility of planning for a roof coating project, the timing and priority of the installation are important. To identify appropriate roof coating candidates—that is, roof projects for which coating is an option—as-built information can help in the selection of roofing systems without obscuring issues that reduce roof coating service life and/or increase system preparation costs.

For building owners managing a large inventory of roofing areas, establishing a coatings management plan allows for rating and ranking roof sections as coating candidates. If you are managing more than 25 roof areas, consider using an organized digital format where the as-built data can be updated and managed.

In a roof coating management plan, you should:

  • List buildings;
  • List roofing systems and current service life remaining (inventory);
  • Track observed system defects;
  • Rate and rank roof coating candidates;
  • Formulate capital and expense planning to allocate funds;
  • Maintain master records to update as-built information as needed; and
  • Plan for the next inspection cycle.

All buildings age and deteriorate. It should come as no surprise that known problems add risk factors to a roof-coating installation. A good starting point is reviewing the as-built roof system data, defect histories, leak calls and maintenance histories. Additionally, identify any flaws in the existing roof design, original installation, drainage and termination details that are observed on the existing roofing system.

Check the roof system for hidden problems.

A significant risk factor comes from beginning to coat a roof without understanding the existing roofing system. An inspector without historical information and technical curiosity may make condition and compatibility assumptions based on the visible roofing system. Existing roof systems are assemblies, where problems can be hidden from inspectors on a single job walk. When good as-built records are not available, a more thorough examination could be warranted using core cuts and thermography.

If you’re rating and ranking a large inventory of roofing systems, a roofing database can be used to help plan work a few years out. Planning costs are low compared to fast-tracking coating projects on poor-performing roof systems. A coating can be a very expensive temporary roof when replacement may be the best option. If your coating program is being managed by a third party’s service team, review the roof sections’ service history and known problems and compare the ROI of a coating investment versus other options. Following is a list of information that should be collected in your roof coating management plan.

As-Built Data Collection

  • Roof Summary: roof type, year installed;
  • Roof System Construction: system construction;
  • Rooftop Details: flashings, terminations;
  • System Defects: outstanding;
  • Leak History: reported leaks by location;
  • Inspection History: inspector(s) and findings; and
  • Service History: records of work performed.


  • As-built details and specifications and
  • Warranty documents.

During the course of checking the roofing systems, the system’s type, defects and service history, consider out-of-spec items, such as loose attachment points, protruding fasteners and open seams. Each roofing system type will be unique in terms of observed defects and remediation that would be required prior to a coating installation.



In order to ensure the best match for your roofing system, don’t assume what you installed on another project is appropriate for another roofing section. Not all roof coatings are identical, or designed for every roof type. Roof coating performance is dependent on the correct coating formulation, surface and detail preparation, system construction, and roof system type.

The variety of roofing types is apparent in the partial listing of CSI Master-Format titles and numbers provided here. Don’t assume your service provider’s recommended coating is always the best fit for your roofing system. Once you have a recommendation, inspect what you expect and do some basic research to identify any known compatibility and performance issues.

CSI MasterFormat titles and numbers for roofing; not all roof types shown here.

If you have ever had surgery, and they went through the step of writing “Not This One” on your good knee, you know mistakes are made. Avoiding them saves time and money.

For building owners who maintain multiple roofing types and system constructions, the coating selection, material specification, and surface and/or system preparation specifications should be reviewed to confirm the manufacturer’s installation guidelines are compatible with the building location, roofing system type, system construction, details and terminations.

Another resource for checking materials specifications is ASTM D6083 Standard Specification for Liquid Applied Acrylic Coating Used in Roofing. This standard is a preferred reference for the minimum standards for physical properties. For asphalt coatings, you can refer to ASTM D4479/D4479M Standard Specification for Asphalt Roof Coatings—Asbestos-Free. Roofing trade organizations and coating manufacturers are also great sources for installation specifications, recommendations and material properties.



If your roof coatings objective is based on increasing the service life, then your best roof coating candidates should have a sound existing roof with proper attachment of all system components, flashings and trim. If you select roof areas with existing defects in construction, detailing and terminations, you must correct deficiencies prior to installation of a new coating system. In insulated assemblies, the insulation should be dry, without a history of leaks and presence of trapped moisture. Verify roof areas have a 1⁄4-inch or more slope for drainage. Note any dead-flat areas that pond water. Even when the coating may be tolerant of standing water, ponded areas collect debris and silt that increase heat cycling and can shorten the coating service life.

It’s not easy to compare coating suppliers. Building owners may consider hiring a consultant with coating expertise and experience to help make the selection. Facility managers without a third-party professional can, at minimum, consider suppliers based on the criteria most important to the project. Ask how the supplier manufactures and performs quality assurance on their materials; if they provide applicator training or oversee project installation; and, depending on your location, if they have experience with VOC-compliant formulations, applications on newer materials (EPDM/TPO) or curing in wetter climates.

Note observed defects in existing system.

There can be significant differences between a vertically integrated manufacturer and a reseller of materials. By knowing the project, materials system type and project requirements, as well as noting special requirements based on the design intent and gaps in materials, services can be weighted along with the cost per square foot.

Selecting the right installer may be an important step to extending service life. Since coatings are field-applied, preparation and workmanship are critical. If your selection process is based on installation over roof systems that have performance issues, most reputable firms will proactively decline to install their systems over serious observed defects.

Request the selected coating supplier’s technical representative to confirm roof system compatibility, surface preparation and application rates. If there was a job walk for the preparation of the existing roof surfaces, defect and detailing corrections, make sure their recommendations are in the bidding documents.

Choose the installer that is proven and capable for your type of project and roofing system and committed to the preparation requirements.

When faced with system alternatives, the facility manager should verify the scope of work is similar, as well as that materials specifications, preparation steps, application rates and detailing will maintain the anticipated service life. A price reduction with a service-life reduction can increase the annual costs per year.

When asked, facility managers can defend a coating project from a lower-cost alternative with documentation from the roof coating selection process. Unfortunately, without the project documents to show the comparison, coating suppliers and bids look very similar to a buyer. The following example gives a quick comparison of how a lower-cost alternative can increase your annual cost.

A simple calculation for the annual cost for roof recoating is to add the cost to purchase (capital) and ongoing maintenance (expense) until the coating reaches the end of its service life.

As an example:

  • Coating Roof Section: 17,000 square feet.
  • Capital Purchase: $24,000 + lifetime expenses $4,000.
  • Final Lifetime Cost: $28,000.
  • Service life for 14 years is $2,000 per year.

Existing defects require repair prior to coating application.

If you take a lower bid of $21,000, when lifetime expenses remain at $4,000 and the alternate service life is reduced to 10 years, your annual cost increases to $2,500. This calculation excludes the cost of capital, tax benefits and other business considerations.



After you have selected the roof coating system, supplier and planned schedules for completion, don’t assume the installation can be turned over without some oversight. Building owners should plan to confirm the progress of the project and confirm the specifications are being followed. Depending on the project, coating system and system supplier, on-site maintenance personnel, the manufacturer’s technical representative or an independent observer should document the installation.

To ensure the project guidance is followed, several important steps can be taken: verify the materials on site, weather conditions and surface preparation and application steps. Confirming these basic details are within the specification helps to ensure the delivery of a roof coating that will meet or exceed the intended service life.

The observer can use the project documents to check the lot numbers and quantities of the materials on site; if surface preparation recommendations were followed and the surface is ready to receive the coating; material mixing times, if applicable; and checking the actual application rate. Observers may check gallons used per square foot, coverage thickness in wet mils using a notched gauge and, when fully cured, dry sampling to verify coverages are within specifications.

For example: Observers can anticipate a cured coating with 50 percent solids content to cure to half of the original uncured or wet thickness. The manufacturer data sheets typically publish these rates. However, due to the variation of coating types and formulations, your observations should be to confirm the specification and recommendations from the manufacturer were followed. If daily observations are preferred or the observation duty is not appropriate for the facility management personnel, the building owner may want to budget to hire a registered roof observer to prepare daily observation reports and findings.



After the project is completed, maintain as-built roofing histories and include any punch list documents to assist service providers for routine maintenance and future roof recoating recommendations.

Observation of installation helps ensure specifications are followed.

Observation reports should be assembled in the roofing database for future reference. If a warranty is issued, the warranty documents can be attached with any warranty compliance plans added to future maintenance schedules. The ongoing maintenance and activity records, noting any performance issues, are good references for planning maintenance and assist in developing future specifications for upcoming coating projects.



In closing, you can add value to your roof coating program by following a roof coatings management plan, documenting the as-built roof information, researching the materials and system specifications before the manufacturer selection process, then concluding with quality assurance during the installation to confirm the roof coating was completed to the specification. Use your as-built information to plan service and improve future projects.

Tracking the progression of milestones can help ensure the system will perform as anticipated.



Steven James has been in the industry for over 30 years, having started with structural waterproofing, masonry flashing and single-ply roofing, before working with thermoplastic polyolefin. For the past 15 years, he has been a principle at Digital Facilities Corporation, a technology business out of Boston, developing Building Envelope and Roof Asset Management software.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Building Envelope; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Roof coatings; Roof coatings; Roofing contractors; Roofing materials

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