Commercial Flat Roofs: Identifying Damage and Consequences of Ignoring Repairs

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Commercial flat roofs are a popular choice for many commercial buildings, offering aesthetics and functionality. However, like any other roofing system, they are vulnerable to damage over time. Business owners and property managers must know the signs of wear and understand the potential consequences of not fixing them promptly.

Regarding common flat roof problems businesses experience in Tucson, our experienced team at Storm Damage Specialists has seen it all. Most flat roofs will experience damage at some point, so here we discuss the common causes of flat roof issues, how to identify damage, and why you shouldn’t wait to address these issues.

Causes of Damage to a Flat Roofing System

Commercial Flat Roof RepairWhile pitched roofs are often preferred for residential homes due to their low maintenance and ability to shed water efficiently, there are several compelling reasons why flat roofs are the clear choice for commercial buildings. Apart from the upfront cost savings, flat roofs provide additional space for equipment from air conditioning to solar power, offer easy and quick installation, and are ideally suited to modern commercial construction methods and materials.

However, if not correctly maintained, flat roofs can also be prone to problems. Here are some of the most common causes of flat roof problems:

  • Exposure: Constant exposure to the elements can cause damage to the roof surface over time, including sun damage, freezing, hail, and wind damage.
  • Ponding Water: Unlike a sloped roof, flat roofs do not drain as effectively, causing pooling water. If the roof’s drainage system is not optimal, this can cause the roof to sag and potentially leak.
  • Punctures/Splits/Tears: Storm damage or foot traffic can result in punctures or tears in a flat roof membrane.
  • Structural Movement: A flat roof expands and contracts with temperature changes, which can lead to cracks and splits in the roofing assembly.
  • Debris: Leaves, tree limbs, and other debris can collect on a flat roof and clog drainage systems.
  • Biological Growth: Standing water on a flat roof can encourage the growth of algae, fungi and bacteria, which can be a health hazard.
  • Shrinkage: Roofing material used in flat roofs, like EPDM, can shrink over time and cause seams to separate, leading to small openings in the roof’s surface.
  • Neglecting Maintenance: Failing to perform routine maintenance is the biggest cause of premature flat roof failure. Regular inspections and a maintenance plan are crucial for prevention.

Signs of Damage to a Commercial Roof Construction

Many issues with commercial roofing systems are easily visible inside or outside the building. Keep an eye out for these visible signs of common flat roof problems:

Ponding Water:

One of the most common issues with flat roofs on commercial buildings is ponding water due to poor drainage. When water accumulates for long durations, it can damage the roofing materials, leading to leaks, mold growth, and structural damage. However, it’s important to note that the leak’s location may not always align directly with the puddles on the building floors. While the presence of these pools confirms roof damage, a thorough inspection is essential to pinpoint the exact leak location.

Cracks or Blisters:

Commercial Flat Roof InstallationExcessive heat, freeze-thaw cycles, and age can cause cracks and blisters on flat roofs. This can allow water penetration, compromising the roof’s integrity and leading to interior leaks.

Damaged Flashing:

Flashing—the thin metal strip used to seal roof edges, corners, and penetrations—is critical in preventing water infiltration. Damaged or deteriorated flashing can lead to leaks, as it fails to provide the necessary barrier against water. Many commercial flat roofs have protective coatings to enhance their resistance to UV rays and the elements. If this coating starts to deteriorate or wear off, it reduces the overall protection of the roof, making it more susceptible to damage from water, hail, or wind.

Hail/wind Damage:

The combination of hail and high winds, as we often experience in Tucson, has created much damage across the city. Hail can create damage that is easy to spot, or it may be more subtle and require a professional inspection. The water penetrating the roof through the hail strikes will continue to expand the cracks in the roof coating, potentially leading to further damage and future leaks.

Water Spots:

Water stains on walls or ceilings inside your business space may indicate a leaky roof. Soft spots in walls and sagging ceilings can compromise your building’s structure and lead to future failures. Water damage causes financial harm, too. Visible damage from roof leaks can increase your property insurance rates.

Bubbling Roof Membranes:

The roofing membrane in a commercial flat roof is prone to blistering, which can cause significant damage if left unchecked. When heat is applied to a raised spot on the roof, trapped moisture inside gradually expands and attracts even more water, resulting in a bubble. Over time, this blister can worsen and eventually require extensive repairs or a complete roof replacement.

Mold Growth:

A musty odor in your building could be a sign of mold growth. Mold is often caused by water damage, which can occur due to a leaking roof. Mold thrives on moisture, so if you spot any unsightly growth in your commercial space, it means there’s a water issue lurking. Often, a leaky roof is to blame for the excess moisture. To ensure the mold won’t come back, you may need to hire a mold remediation company that can pinpoint the source and effectively eradicate the mold from your building.

Consequences of Ignoring Potential Damage

Commercial roofs generally have a lifespan of 15, 20, or sometimes even 30 years. However, this does not mean that the roof won’t need maintenance during that time. If a roof is not well-maintained, it will likely need to be replaced before the warranty period ends, and you as the owner will be responsible for the cost.

If left untreated, these subtle signs of damage will snowball into even more costly issues for your commercial building, such as:

Structural Damage:

Commercial Flat Roof Replacement beforeEven minor roof damage can progress into major structural issues when left unaddressed. Water leaks resulting from damaged flat roofs can lead to rotting wood, weakened insulation, and even pose a threat to the overall structure of the building.

Voiding Your Roof Warranty:

It is crucial for both you and the commercial roofing contractor to maintain detailed records and documentation of all maintenance activities carried out. In the event of a warranty claim, the material manufacturer will contact the roofing company responsible for the installation to verify if regular annual maintenance has been consistently performed.

Potential Legal Issues:

Failure to maintain a commercial property’s roof can lead to legal implications. Roofing failures resulting in leaks and subsequent damage to property or injury to occupants can result in lawsuits, potential financial liabilities, and damage to your business’s reputation.

Mold and Health Hazards:

Commercial Flat Roof ReplacementExcess moisture from water leaks can create a conducive environment for mold growth. Mold damages the building’s aesthetics and structural integrity and poses health risks for the occupants, leading to respiratory problems, allergies, and other health complications. Taking care of your roof ensures a safer and healthier environment. By preventing leaks and water infiltration, you reduce the risk of potential health hazards due to mold growth and structural damage.


While repairs incur initial costs, addressing damage promptly helps avoid more extensive repairs or even roof replacement down the line. Regular maintenance and addressing issues as they arise are often more cost-effective than waiting until the damage escalates. A damaged roof also compromises energy efficiency, increasing heating and cooling costs. Leaks in the roofing system can compromise the insulation, allowing heat transfer, making heating and cooling less energy efficient. Over time, this can significantly impact your utility bills.

Maintaining a Flat Roof

Maintaining your commercial flat roof is crucial to longevity and avoiding costly repairs. You can significantly extend the roof’s life expectancy by managing damage and maintaining the roof’s integrity. A robust and well-maintained commercial flat roof can last decades, saving you the expenses of frequent repairs or replacements.

Regular inspections by roofing experts like Storm Damage Specialists can help extend the life of your roof. Here are four maintenance tips to keep in mind:

Remove debris promptly:

Leaves, twigs, and debris can accumulate on your flat roof, especially after a major weather event like the ones we often experience in Tucson. It’s essential to routinely check for and promptly remove debris to prevent any potential issues and maximize the lifespan of your roof. Regularly cleaning your roof is essential. Leaves and trash are more likely to get caught on flat roofs, so regular cleanup can prevent damage. (See also our article: 8 Critical Checklist Items to Prepare Your Home or Business for the Arizona Monsoon Season.)

Trim nearby vegetation:

Trimming back overhanging trees and shrubs reduces the amount of organic debris that falls on your roof and improves airflow. This airflow helps prevent water from pooling on the roof after heavy rains, minimizing the risk of leakage. Leaves can block drains and gutters and attract pests, while strong winds can cause branches to puncture the roof. Trimming weak or dying branches beforehand is recommended, but hiring a professional is best to avoid causing additional damage to your roof.

Inspect water drainage:

Unlike gabled residential roofs, flat roofs do not have natural drainage. Ensure your drainage system lets water flow off the roof quickly to prevent puddling. Regularly check for any signs of poor drainage and clean out clogged drains to maintain optimal functionality. Keep your gutters clean to prevent water from sitting on your roof and causing damage to the materials underneath.

Fix leaks immediately:

All roofs eventually develop leaks, and flat roofs are particularly susceptible. Address leaks promptly to prevent additional damage and expenses. When you notice a leak, contact a roofing professional to minimize the impact and get the full lifespan out of your commercial flat roof. Successful flat roof maintenance involves regular inspections, consistent cleaning, and removal of hazards. If your roof is difficult to access or needs repairs, rely on the professionals at SDS. We specialize in high-quality flat roof installations and repairs for businesses in the Tuscon.

Choosing a Professional Roofing Contractor

To find a reliable and reputable commercial roofing company, look locally. Choosing roofing professionals with a strong reputation among other businesses like SDS in your community ensures that your new roof will be installed by a crew familiar with the specific needs of local businesses. Unlike out-of-state companies that may rush through the process, a local company has a reputation to uphold and will provide you with a high-quality roof that will last.

It’s crucial to check the credentials and licensing of any prospective contractors. At SDS, we are properly licensed and certified to give you peace of mind that we will get the job done right the first time.

Team up with the Top Tucson Roofers at Storm Damage Specialists

If you need commercial roof repair in Pima County, you won’t find higher quality and customer service than our team at SDS. But don’t take our word for it—look at our testimonials from our many satisfied clients.

If you see signs of roof damage or want to be proactive with commercial roof maintenance, we are happy to provide you with a free quote. Don’t wait until it’s too late—keep a solid roof over your head and contact us today!


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