Roof Coatings Articles

Code Red for Leaky Medical Center Roof

Photos courtesy of Newton Roofing Services.

When you walk into the Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, you are greeted with a large amount of natural light coming through the two huge skylights in the atrium. Each skylight is an impressive 130 feet by 5 feet (39.6 m by 1.5 m), and after about 10 years, they both began leaking.

The hospital reached out to numerous service companies to repair the leaks to no avail. By the time Newton Roofing Services arrived onsite, the skylights had leaked for more than a year, and everyone involved was rightfully frustrated.

Good Work Pays Off

Newton Roofing Services is a family-owned and -operated roofing company in Des Moines, Iowa. They have more than 35 years of experience in the commercial marketplace, offering thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO), ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM), modified bitumen, shingle, and coating installations, service, and maintenance. This experience would come in handy on this project.

Nick Newton, project manager and second-generation family member at Newton Roofing Services, inspected the leak at the medical center. Rather than trying to determine exactly where the water was coming in, Newton recommended applying a coating to the entire perimeter of both skylights to cover the present leaks and prevent future ones.

He had recently used Inland Coatings products on another job and suggested they use their CR‑2100 rubber skylight coating for this project. The client agreed. A crew was dispatched and completed the repairs. Mission accomplished; the reports after the next rain and even after the following harsh Iowa winter confirmed that the leaks were fixed.

Fast forward a few years later. In 2022, the board of the medical center was putting together its annual budget and wanted a status report on the roof. It became apparent that the roof of the medical center needed to be replaced. Having full confidence in the solutions Newton Roofing Services had previously delivered, the board of directors turned to them for a proposal for this new challenge.

Once again, Newton went out to the site, bringing with him a representative from Inland Coatings to help consult and recommend materials and processes.

“There were two sections of roof about 15–20 years old in need of replacement,” Newton recalled. “The TPO installed on the first section was brittle and cracked. In some areas, the scrim was coming through the top of the membrane and would eventually leak. The second section was EPDM and was showing its wear as well. The flashing had started to delaminate, and the fasteners were starting to back out.”

They measured the project out at 17,765 square feet (1,650.4 m2) with the two sections combined. It was a multi-faceted job.

Full Steam Ahead

Newton and his team prepared and submitted two proposals to the medical center’s board of directors. The first was to remove the existing TPO and EPDM and install new roofs. The second option was to clean and prep the existing roof surfaces and to apply a roof coating over the top.

Knowing a decision could take a while to pass through the approval process, Newton sent a crew over to apply Inland Coatings’ RC-2250 as a patching compound in the areas most at risk for leaking.

Newton explained that he was unsure which option the board would approve. As he said, “Clients can get nervous using coatings in colder climates. We’ve had clients who had other contractors who didn’t follow the manufacturer’s specs, ensuring the right coating was applied to the right substrate, and then it failed. Before seeing our proposal, I don’t believe the board had even considered coating as an option.”

He was pleasantly surprised when the board informed him that they had approved the coating option.

“The fact that they had such a positive experience with the skylights and that the cost was less than half of what they had expected in comparison to full removal and replacement were contributing factors in their decision to move ahead with us and to use a coating,” Newton explained.

It also helped that Newton’s proposal included products from Inland Coatings, the manufacturer the client had already had success working with. The board members were pleased to hear that when applied to manufacturer specifications, Inland Coatings would include a 15-year warranty with 100% coverage on labor and materials for the entire span of the warranty.

“I’ve worked with roof coatings for a lot of years, and I’ve never seen anyone give a warranty like Inland Coatings does,” said Newton.

Safety, Prep, and Patching

Between waiting for the board’s decision and for the weather to warm up, it was almost a year from proposal submission to the crew’s arrival onsite.

The team wanted to be able to move about the roof as freely as possible while still working safely, so they opted to install warning lines around the perimeter of the roof. In the rare instances that work was required outside the warning lines, the crew donned harnesses and tied off.

Once it was safe to begin work, the initial task was to clean and prep the existing roof surfaces. One crew member operated a floor cleaner connected to a Honda pressure washer to loosen the dirt. A second crew member followed to wash off any stubborn leftover dirt with a brush, and a third used a squeegee to keep water moving toward and down the drains.

After the deck was clean, the crew began patching. This was the most labor-intensive part of the project. They had four crew members on this task, each with a 5-gallon (18.9 L) bucket of Inland Coatings RC-2250 rubber seam compound and a brush. They covered all seams and penetrations and covered a few deep voids in some of the seams with fabric.

In general, the patching moved along smoothly. With the sun out and the wind blowing, the patches were dry enough to walk on within about an hour after application; however, the Newton Roofing crew decided to wait 24 hours to ensure a full cure.

Rooftop Substrate Solutions

The crew arrived onsite the next day in spray suits, masks, and safety glasses, ready to begin the application of the basecoat.

Newton explained that they prefer to use Inland Coatings RC-2012 basecoat and RC-2018 topcoat, “because they are the only manufacturer (that I know of) that has a solvent base rather than acrylic. I’ve worked with acrylics most of my career, but a solvent base finishes nicer, sprays easier, and handles standing water better. It’s less work to apply because you don’t have to fabric the entire field and back-roll it in. That cuts my labor close to in half because the fabric is by far the slowest part.”

Another time-saving measure was their access strategy to the rooftop. A crane would have been tricky to allocate space around the hospital, requiring more labor and extensive safety precautions. They considered a telehandler, but they couldn’t find one that would reach high enough.

Instead, they brought all their materials and equipment up to the roof on a roller cart in the elevator. A full 55-gallon (208.2 L) drum proved too heavy to bring on the elevator, so they brought it up empty and went back on multiple trips to transfer the material in smaller 5‑gallon pails.

The basecoat application was then ready to install on the field and up the parapet walls. One crew member operated the sprayer, which was a GH 733ES gas hydraulic from Graco. A second crew member was there to manage the hose, keeping it out of the way of the sprayer. The third crew member monitored the drum of RC-2012. When it would get low, they emptied the coating from the pails into the drum so that the application could progress without interruption.

The application specifications for the base and top coats that the crew was using differed depending on the substrate. They applied an average of 1.25 gallons per roofing square (4.7 L/9.3 m2) of the basecoat on the TPO section. That was followed by one pass of the RC‑2018 topcoat at 1.5 gallons per roofing square (5.7 L/9.3 m2). The final thickness of the coating system over the TPO was 2.75 gallons per roofing square (10.4 L/9.3 m2).

Due to the EPDM’s thickness and the coating’s composition, that section of the roof required an initial flash coat of base at 0.75 gallons per roofing square (2.8 L/9.3 m2). To qualify for the 15-year warranty, they then needed two passes of the topcoat at 1 gallon per square (3.8 L/9.3 m2) each. The final thickness on the EPDM equaled the same 2.75 gallons per square as the TPO but with a slightly different application process.

Newton explained, “EPDM has a lot of chemicals that like to release, even as it gets older, so that initial flash coat is applied to cure out and sink into that EPDM as quickly as possible. Going in thin on that first layer before applying it thicker in the following passes is key.”

Newsworthy No News

The almost 18,000-square-foot (~1,672 m2) project was completed, mainly by a crew of three, in just one week! Being able to complete projects faster and with fewer crew members is an enormous win in today’s climate of labor shortages.

Newton largely attributes his team’s ability to do so because of the solvent-based product they used. It effectively reduced the amount of labor required in both the fabric and spraying application phases.

Upon reflection, Newton accredits winning this contract to the service provided on the leaking skylights years prior. The board of directors gained confidence in both his company and the products that provided the solution to their leaks, simplifying their decision to move forward with a larger-scale project.

Taking the time and providing the professional services needed to ensure a client is happy with a smaller, less profitable project had a significant benefit down the road.

Overall, according to Newton, the medical center was thrilled with the speed of the installation, the warranty, and the cost. He has been back to the project a few times to service other areas of the client’s roof and said that “it is holding up well and looks great. There have been no reports of leaks or any issues from the client, and we know that, in roofing, no news is good news!”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the January 2024 print issue of CoatingsPro Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

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