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  • Bethany Lewis

Metal Roofing Repair and Maintenance: Problem Areas, and What to do When You Discover a Leak

Grandpa used to say, “As long as you’ve got a roof over your head” everything will be all right. Sometimes, however, that roof leaks, and things aren’t all right.

Commercial metal roofs last for decades. In fact, some Butler Manufacturing roofs are documented at over 50 years of in-place performance. For many reasons, they can and eventually will fail.

We’ll discuss:

  • Causes of Metal Roofing Leaks and Failure

  • Common Leak Points in Metal Roofing

  • Preventing Metal Roofing Failure

  • Repairing Metal Roof Leaks

Causes of Metal Roofing Leaks and Failure

Changes in Temperature and the Environment

The sun comes up, the sun goes down. Well, sometimes there’s an eclipse, but that’s beside the point. Temperature changes throughout the day and over the life of your roofing system have an unavoidable effect on it.

Temperature changes cause your metal roof to expand and contract naturally. In fact, Butler® engineers their roofing systems down to the types of bolts and clips used, like the industry-famous MR-24® roofing clip, to create a versatile roof that moves with the environment.

Another thermal expansion and contraction issue is the loosening of fasteners and screws that hold the metal roofing panels in place. This can create gaps and leaks.

Over time, repeated expansion and contraction combined with loosened fasteners and screws can cause the metal to fatigue, resulting in cracks, splits, and other types of damage. These weak spots in the roofing system can allow water to penetrate the roof, leading to leaks and other roofing failures.

Incorrect Installation or Use of Improper Materials

We hate telling an owner that their previous contractor did not install their roof correctly or used the wrong materials.

Experienced roofing contractors, like Cedar Falls Building Systems, Inc., understand the nuance and are specially trained and experienced with commercial metal roof systems. In fact, an inexperienced contractor often causes the next issue: improper materials.

One of the most common issues we see with the use of incorrect materials is the lack of compatibility. For example, if the contractor chooses the wrong type of fasteners, or if the sealant used to seal joints and seams is not appropriate for the specific type of metal, the roofing system may not be able to withstand the movement and stresses placed upon it over time.

Poor Drainage or Water Accumulation

You cannot stop water from getting into and moving around your commercial building. In fact, a large part of the design of your building includes systems and processes for moving water from place to place.

Your roof also has built-in water drainage systems.

Did you know flat roofs are a major cause of water drainage issues? It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Systems like gutters, downspouts, flashing, and a proper roof slope all work to keep your roof as dry as it can be. Improperly designed or failing systems can cause all sorts of issues.

Rust and corrosion are big concerns here. They weaken the metal and create openings, allowing water into your building. Structural damage is also caused by the weight of accumulated water on a roof and can work with rust and corrosion to lead to a complete roof failure.

In colder climates, as we experience in Menomonie, Wisconsin, ice and snow can easily destroy a metal roof. Things like ice dams and snow drifts can prevent proper drainage. From there, it can seep into gaps and seams in the roofing system, leading to leaks that can cause damage to the interior of the building.

Age-related wear and tear

Just like the back pain and indigestion you picked up in your 40s, things in life wear out and get old. Yes, a Butler metal roof can provide up to 50 years of in-place performance, but, eventually, even that roof will wear out.

Preparing for and accepting the inevitable demise of your trusty roofing system is the only tip we can give. That doesn’t mean you can ignore your roof!

 Common Leak Points in Metal Roofing

There are some consistent leak points we see in metal roofs:

  • Roof seams

  • Fasteners and screws

  • Flashing and edge details

  • Penetrations (such as vents and pipes)

Roof seams are the most common area for leaks. A seam is a point where two metal panels are joined together like in this video. To prevent leaks at seams, it is important to ensure that the panels are properly aligned and that the seams are sealed with the appropriate sealant.

Fasteners and screws are used to attach metal panels to the roofing structure, and if they become loose or damaged water can seep through the resulting gaps. To prevent leaks in fasteners and screws, it is important to ensure that they are properly tightened and that any damaged components are promptly replaced.

Flashing is used to direct water away from areas where the roof intersects with vertical surfaces such as walls or chimneys, and if it becomes damaged or improperly installed, water can seep through and cause leaks. Edge details, such as the perimeter of the roof, can also be vulnerable to leaks if they are not properly sealed or if water is allowed to accumulate in these areas.

Flashing “touches on” the last area we commonly see leaks in metal roof systems: roof penetrations. “Penetrations” are places your roof is penetrated for daylighting, a vent, or any other alteration or addition. These weak points need to be installed and sealed properly, and their flashing installed correctly as well.

 Preventing Metal Roofing Failure

Understanding where roofs leak will guide your efforts here. Preventing a metal roofing failure starts with hiring a qualified metal roofing contractor. A high-quality contractor with a great reputation will ensure that your project uses high-quality materials and fasteners.

After your roof is installed, there are a few routine points you should make sure to address. Regular cleaning and removal of debris that collects on your roof should be scheduled.  Just like cleaning your gutters at home, don’t forget your commercial building needs the same care.

A maintenance schedule should include regular inspections to identify and address potential issues before they become major problems. Check ventilation and drainage to ensure water or excess moisture isn’t accumulating. Also, check seams, flashing, and all the other points that you, thanks to our handy guide, are now aware of!

Negligence on proper maintenance and inspection will lead you to our next topic but remember general wear and tear will eventually require maintenance.

Repairing Metal Roof Leaks

Ok, you’ve got a leak. What do you do first? Identify where it’s coming from.  If you can’t find the leak, a trained, experienced contractor can locate it quickly.

Roof repairs can be simple seal and patch jobs, after thoroughly drying and assessing all your damage. Sometimes, though, we must replace entire sections of the roof. Or even install an entirely new roof.

Bear in mind, a thorough inspection is the only way to know the extent of your damage or to provide a quote. A qualified contractor is your best bet at this point.

Our Best Metal Roof Advice for Commercial Building Owners

So, our best advice is to

  • hire a great metal roofing contractor from the start

  • know where to inspect your commercial metal roof system

  • make sure you perform thorough and routine inspections

  • budget for expected and eventual costs for roof repair – nothing lasts forever.

Remember, a little maintenance goes a long way in keeping your metal roof leak-free for years to come. Keep an eye on those common leak points, and when you do end up with a leaky roof, don't panic! Cedar Falls Building Systems is here to help.

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