Fighting climate change by preserving your building

Building owners increasingly realize that extending the life of building components creates financial savings, environmental benefits
Industrial mill
Finding a pinhole within an industrial roof gives a whole new meaning to “needle in a haystack.” (Photo credit: Laurent Koob)

Building owners and managers know that premature replacement of infrastructural elements comes at a financial cost. Less appreciated, however, is the considerable environmental impact of the construction and installation required to do so, when the existing elements could instead be preserved.

Manufacturing the insulation and other building materials that make up structures such as roofs consume enormous amounts of clean water, fossil fuels and tree pulp, in addition to emitting large volumes of carbon dioxide. For example, the construction industry accounts for 40 per cent of total water abstraction and only 60 per cent of that industrial wastewater gets treatment before being disposed back into the environment. Consider, also, the tonnes of toxic waste trucked to landfills as a result of such premature component replacements.  

What’s particularly troubling for Ernie Cecchetto, president of Ottawa-based Roof Maintenance Solutions, is that building owners across the city and beyond are replacing their roofs far more often than needed. If buildings are built to last upwards of 100 years, why are we replacing the roof every 15?

Roof Maintenance Solutions helps property owners and managers preserve and extend the life of one of their most important assets. RMS’s preventative maintenance packages save their clients money, reduce their environmental footprint, and maximize their overall return on infrastructural investment.

“All that carbon has already been emitted in the intial production of the building,” he says. “We want to leverage the environmental investment that’s already been made by these companies.”

Figures published by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario show that commercial and industrial buildings across the province were responsible for 13 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2014. Despite improvements in energy efficiency, there has been a 28 per cent increase in emissions from the buildings sector since 1990.

While emissions mostly come from the use of natural gas to heat a building and provide warm water, experts are increasingly looking at the full lifecycle – including construction, demolition and disposal – of building materials to calculate a structure’s overall environmental impact.

One of the challenges facing property owners and managers is that there is effectively only one key performance indicator for a roof: How many leaks does it have?

Leaks typically lead to an emergency repair job, which, in most cases, just patches over the problem rather than actually eliminating it. In addition to the cost of the work, leaks can result in damage to the building’s interior, inventory, office equipment affect the day-to-day running of the business, and reduce the insulative R-Value.

Yet, the biggest cost – both to the environment and building owner – remains the increased likelihood of a full replacement after a roof develops multiple leaks.

“The way the market works now, there is no sustainable incentive to preserve,” says Mr. Cecchetto. “The incentive is, for the most part, to unfortunately replace the roof.”

However, building owners are increasingly realizing that there are alternatives. Staff at Roof Maintenance Solutions use high-tech diagnostic equipment to find tiny holes and make repairs before they turn into leaks.

Clients of the firm typically see a 70-per-cent reduction in unplanned spending on their roof  – in addition to, of course, fewer leaks, and peace of mind.

As Roof Maintenance Solutions expands, it’s seeing particular interest from REITs and other large owners of retail and commercial space, whose primary assets are physical buildings. RMS has a keen understanding of the impact of preserving that investment to benefit their clients, and the environment.

“Our clients are making the investment because they know it makes financial sense, and it supports and highlights their environmental mandate” says Mr. Cecchetto.