We know we should change the oil regularly in our cars, but too often it doesn't get done until engine trouble develops. We know we should floss our teeth every day, but for many, it takes a dentist's scolding about gum disease to take action. In the world of school facilities, that kind of procrastination and inattention comes under the heading of deferred maintenance. Facility managers know that carrying out simple steps can prevent major problems, but their failure to take those steps has left many a building ailing and operating poorly.

It's easier to ignore a potential problem if we aren't confronted with it every day. So when time is short and maintenance staffs are shorthanded, one of the easiest spots to forgo maintenance checks is on the roof of a school. Patrons and board members will let you know when a window is cracked or a faucet is dripping, but they aren't likely to haul themselves onto a roof to see if the surface is holding up to wear and tear.

But that doesn't change this fact: Regular inspections of roofs can help schools and universities identify troublesome conditions early and prevent minor flaws and damage from becoming expensive and destructive headaches. Maintenance staffs should have a goal of checking the roofs on their campuses at least twice a year — in the spring and in the fall.

Inspectors should looks for signs of deterioration on the roofing surface — cracks, blisters, gaps, loose flashings, cracked caulking and “alligatoring” — when a surface dried out from sun and heat begins to resemble an alligator's skin. The inspectors should look especially closely at the places where different surfaces meet — the roof and a wall or parapet, or where mechanical equipment or a skylight may be situated.

Schools and universities that opt for more extensive inspections may seek out an infrared inspection, which can detect moisture inside a roofing system and enable workers to identify leaks that might not be found in a visual inspection.

Maintenance departments should keep thorough records of their inspections and the conditions of each roof, so that inspectors can pay close attention to areas where problems may be developing.

In addition to checking the roofing surface itself, inspectors should look for other situations that can lead to problems on the roof.

Blocked downspouts and clogged gutters can stop rainwater from draining properly and leave a roof with standing water. If left unattended, moisture can seep into the building below and create mold that can threaten the health of building occupants. In addition, standing water from rain or melting snow can weaken a roof that was not designed for the excess weight.

It's usually easy to remove leaves, trash and other debris, and prevent water from ponding on a roof surface, but unless maintenance staff is checking roofs regularly, they won't discover the problem.

An inspection in the autumn after leaves have fallen from trees enables maintenance workers to clear roofs of twigs and leaves and other items. On a spring inspection, workers can look for problems that may have developed during harsh winter conditions.

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  • Read more on "Roof inspection tips" from the Ohio Department of Health's School Environmental Health and Safety Inspection Manual