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Starting at the Top: Effective Bin Roof Maintenance
by Jack Kenney

As grain storage structures change, so do their safety and maintenance requirements. Today’s grain bins are larger, taller and more complex than ever before. Maintaining bin roofs to prevent water infiltration and grain damage is vital to the grain processing industry.

Facility owners must adapt to changing technologies and stay current with the latest roofing maintenance techniques, waterproofing materials and safety information.

Roofing Materials and Processes

There are many types of roof coverings and waterproofing materials used on grain storage bins:

  • Metal or tin roof coverings
  • Conventional built up roofs
  • Single-ply membranes (EPDM, TPO, Modified Bitumen, PVC, CSPE)
  • Coatings (acrylics, silicones, aluminum flake, polyurea, epoxy)
  • Polyurethane foam with coating
  • Coal tar pitch built up systems

Not all bin tops have the same structural decking. Metal decking, concrete plank, poured concrete and lightweight cellular concretes are used as decking substrates below the waterproofing material. The type of decking at a facility often determines the type of roofing material that should be used for repair or replacement.

Decking is much more costly to repair or replace than roofing. That’s why it’s so important to keep the elements away from a deck and stored product. No matter what type of sacrificial roof covering/waterproofing that may be in place, it’s crucial to maintain it.

Repair is defined as implementation of work to bring a condition or detail up to a performance level the same as the rest of roof system. If roofs are too deteriorated, repairs may not be cost effective and replacement should be planned.

Following are six typical conditions found on bin roofs and what is needed to repair or improve the performance:

1. Concrete Damage. Areas of coating can wear away and expose the concrete decking to the elements. A lack of maintenance can lead to spalling of the concrete and loss of the overhanging edge. The area should have the perimeter edge rebuilt and sealed. The deteriorated coating should be peeled back and new product installed to level and waterproof the roof area.

2. Loss of Coating. Left unattended or unrepaired, a roof that has lost its coating will lead to deterioration of the material below. Areas such as this should be cleaned and patched before moisture is allowed to travel between the membrane and the deck.

3. Single Ply Replacement. When roofs are beyond repair, one option is to adhere a lightweight thermoplastic membrane. The heat welded seams from this type of membrane outperform taped seams or built-up roof seams, The smoothness of the membrane does not allow vegetation to grow or other debris to build up on the surface. However, the surface can be slippery in wet or icy conditions, if employees have to work on it.

4. Liquid Applied Replacement. Not all bin tops can use a single-ply replacement, typically because of bolt mounted equipment. In this situation, a liquid applied polyester resin combined with a polyester fleece can be used to from a reinforced monolithic waterproofing and roofing membrane. The system also provides granular texture on the surface that reduces slip issues.

5. Difficult roof access. Facilities with difficult roof access still need regular maintenance to avoid costly internal problems. Dirt and sediment sitting on a roof at a high elevation indicates deflection or settling of the roof. If an area like this lets water into the bins, it should be immediately sealed before allowing free moisture under the felts. Moisture allowed to enter the system leads to adhesive loss, which can lead to premature failure and possible blow off.

6. Structural damage. Long-term moisture infiltration into a concrete-topped bin can lead to structural damage. When moisture becomes trapped under a roof waterproofing system, freeze-thaw cycles can be destructive. This type of damage can undermine the safety of the entire building.

If you are not sure what compatible products to use when repairing deteriorated waterproofing, a reliable roofing contractor can help you identify the best roofing solution. Roofing manufacturers can also assist in evaluating the current roof coverings and recommend a course of action and material that would be compatible and effective for repair.

Safety Considerations

Companies face direct and indirect costs whenever there is an accident on their property. While direct costs like workers compensation, OSHA fines and increased insurance premiums can be substantial, the indirect costs can be up to 10 times higher. Indirect costs include items such as loss of customer confidence, tarnished corporate image, property damage, production delays and time lost dealing with the accident.

When you are considering hiring a roofing contractor, be sure to look at these six safety factors:

1. Culture – Does the contractor just talk about safety, or do they incorporate safety into every part of their work process?
2. Management Commitment – Does your roofing contractor financially support their safety programs and enforce their safety policies?
3. Training – Are ongoing training programs provided to the contractor’s employees?
4. Proactive vs. Reactive – Does your contractor identify hazards or exposures before they happen? Or do they react only after a problem has occurred?
5. Risk Analysis Process – Are these three steps completed before work begins? Analyze the task or work to be performed. Identify hazards associated with the task. Develop countermeasures to prevent or reduce the risk of the hazards.
6. Safety Record – What is the contractor’s record when it comes to safety?

Extending Roof Life

One of the most common problems encountered when inspecting bin roof systems is neglect. This out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality is not just a phenomenon in the grain elevator and processing industry. Many building owners don’t consider the upkeep and maintenance of their roofs until they are faced with a problem or water leak.

Data is available correlating preventive roof maintenance with lower overall life cycle costs. Following are seven steps to take to implement an effective maintenance program:

1. Inspect your bin roofs at least two times per year and after any major weather events. Problems and anomalies found early can cost less to repair than those that are left unattended. Prevent major problems, such as:

  • Decking deterioration
  • Water infiltration into the building and onto stored product
  • Loss of flashings which can lead to blow-offs or other catastrophic events
  • Coating failures and other uneven wear

2. Identify competent people to perform the work; ensure they are trained, experienced, and safety conscious.
3. Gather and prepare information such as historical data (original roof date, repairs and additions, substrate materials, surface type, and drainage and warranty information) and roof activity (previous roof problems, roof traffic patterns, maintenance needs, and emissions or discharge onto the roof).
4. Conduct a rooftop inspection.

  • Inspect roof edges, exterior walls, interior walls, projection flashings, surface conditions and rooftop equipment
  • Clear and clean drains, scuppers and drain lines
  • Remove storm damage and organic matter that may restrict drainage
  • Repair minor problems before they become major
  • Report, in either verbal or written form, the activities completed, the existing conditions and suggested actions

5. Develop a comprehensive budget; look at yearly preventive maintenance expenses, yearly repair expenses, and end of roof life replacement costs.
6. Implement an ongoing preventive maintenance program. Decide who will do maintenance and determine frequency of the work, actions required and documentation needed.
7. Ensure you have a solid record keeping and tracking system. Capture information so it is not lost with employee turnover, and plan for current and future needs. This helps get management approvals, track roof performance and preventive maintenance, and document warranty compliance.

By developing a preventive maintenance program for your bin roofs you can minimize facility disruptions, maximize the life of your roof, comply with your warranty, and – most importantly – save you time and money.

Jack Kenney is a regional manager with D. C. Taylor Co., serving the Midwest Service Area. He has nearly 25 years experience in commercial and industrial roofing.

D. C. Taylor Co. is a commercial and industrial roofing contractor that installs new and replacement roofs, and provides preventive maintenance services to extend the life of roofing systems and reduce life-cycle costs for our customers. The company, with five locations, has been in operation since 1949 and has installed over 175 million square feet of roofing systems. Its safety record is one of the best – EMR is .58 and TIR is 4.24 – and it has been ranked among the nation’s largest contractors for over 20 years. Headquartered in Cedar Rapids, IA, D. C. Taylor Co. also has offices in Barrington, IL, Powder Springs, GA, Phoenix, AZ, and Concord, CA.

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