The average commercial roof represents about 10% of the cost of your building. Whether considering a new roof or a replacement roof, oftentimes the project is evaluated solely on initial cost. However, a more important consideration should be the life-cycle cost of your roofing system. Put simply, the initial cost is what you will pay now; the life-cycle costs are what you will pay, or save, over the entire life cycle of the roof. 

Different roof systems have different life-cycle factors. Here are five major components to evaluate when considering the long-term life cycle costs of a roofing system. 


Installation is the single largest factor in the life cycle of any roofing system. However, the installation has four component costs: 

  • The materials being used for the roof. Are the materials relatively expensive but more durable or cheaper but with shorter life spans? 
  • The labor costs of the system chosen. Some systems are labor and time intensive while others can be installed quickly and efficiently. 
  • The tear-off or demolition costs. Will the new system be installed directly over the existing system (when not in conflict with building code) or will installing the new system require opening the deck and the potential problems that could result? 
  • The cost of disruptions to your operation. Does the installation of the new roof require full or partial closure of your business, a rearrangement of operations, adversely impact your customers or present issues with noise or smell? Or does the roofing system chosen allow installation to proceed with minimal impact to your business. 


Some roof systems, for example, metal roofs, will last up to fifty years, while other roofing systems may have a lifespan of as few as a few years. Most commercial roof systems are designed to last twenty years or more, but once again, weather patterns in your area may contribute to shorter lifespans. Simple design considerations or the introduction of certain materials may add slight costs to the installation of the project, but radically improve the durability of your roof. 

Nothing is maintenance-free. Ignoring routine maintenance is one of the best ways to hasten (or conversely prolong) the life of your roof. Consider an annual maintenance program and have your roof professionally inspected at least once each year. 

Finally, regular roof cleanings are also important; the National Association of Roofing Contractors recommends the roof be cleaned every three years, if not more often. 


Repairs are another factor that should be considered when determining the life cycle cost of your roof. Repairs generally occur because of three different situations. 

  • Vendors are probably the number one source of damage to your roof. A roof should be treated with the same consideration as the interior of your building, yet too often an HVAC contractor may throw tools around, leave old and discarded equipment on the rough; or an electrician make holes into the roof to run wiring into the building without coordinating with the maintenance manager or the roofing contractor to address the penetration they made. 
  • Weather events can cause damage ranging from minor to major: hail, high winds, wind-blown debris are all potential sources of damage to your roof. Something as simple as debris that accumulates in corners of your roof and prevents proper water drainage can cause long-term damage. 
  • Vandalism is a third source of damage to roofs. Sometimes, the damage occurs from things thrown on a roof; sometimes the damage is more malicious and intentional. Damage that is ignored, or repairs that are delayed, usually mean that a small, inexpensive problem becomes a larger, much costlier problem that can impact the structural integrity of your roof, or create problems on the interior of your building. 

Energy Efficiency

Just as a new AC unit you buy today will be more energy-efficient than the one that was there when you bought your house, so a new roofing system will be more energy efficient than the original roof that was installed twenty years ago. 

Building codes increasingly call for higher insulation requirements with each new release. In our area, current building codes call for an R-25 or greater efficiency rating, which roughly translates to 4” of insulation above the roof. The choice of roofing system has a huge impact on energy savings: some systems absorb heat increasing the strain on your HVAC systems; other systems reflect UV rays and help extend the life of your HVAC units. 

Calculators are available which can show you the impact of one system versus the other over a long period of time. In many cases, the system chosen will pay for itself over the life of the roof. 


Every roof comes with a warranty, but not all warranties are created equal. A warranty from the roofing contractor is only as good as the financial stability of the company. 96% of all roofing companies are out of business within ten years. Worse still are those roofing companies that disappear after they collect the last installation check from you. 

Manufacturer’s warranties should be included for any new roof you install, but here again there are differences. A materials warranty guarantees against manufacturing defects, but even so, you might end up having to pay labor and other costs if your roof fails. An NDL workmanship warranty that covers both material defects and guarantees the workmanship of the contractor should be considered on every roof replacement. Typically, the manufacturer will send out a representative who inspects the quality of your contractor’s workmanship and requires corrections where needed. 

And even NDL warranties have exclusions for failure to properly maintain your roof, so consider an annual maintenance program with your contractor that will nip small problems in the bud. Sometimes, a maintenance program with a certified contractor will extend the manufacturer’s warranty because experience has shown them that a well-maintained roof has a significantly longer life span. 

The Bottom Line

Replacing your roof is not a one and done event. Making the right decisions now can lead to a more durable roof that will have a longer life span. Choosing the right system may result in energy savings that may pay for the cost of a new roof. Regular, systematic maintenance of your roof prevents small problems from becoming large problems. The right warranty can extend the life of your roof and reduce your life cycle costs. 

After all, are not all these the same factors you would consider when buying a new car, rather than just looking at the sticker price. 

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