How to Estimate a Flat Roof Insurance Claim

On the surface, flat roofs seem more simple than your average sloped roofs. But, with several different types of flat roofs and three different ways to install them, flat roofs are far from simple. Many adjusters don’t understand the intricacies of flat roofs and will often select the cheapest materials in Xactimate (ie. Roll Roofing) – which often isn’t the correct material.

Because adjusters don’t have in-depth knowledge when it comes to flat roofs, the burden of proof falls heavily on you as the contractor. For example, if the adjuster doesn’t include enough modified bitumen, because he/she doesn’t understand how it is installed or ordered, you need to submit supporting documents – measurements, code requirements, core samples, invoices, etc. – that prove these funds and additional materials are needed.

So, what do you need to do to correctly perform a flat roof inspection?

1. Inspection Checklist & Measurements.  At Elite, we require a filled out inspection checklist for all flat roof jobs. Why? We need to know what types of products are currently on the roof and how they are applied. We also need to know what type of penetrations the roof has. For example, the number of drains, pipe jacks, exhaust vents, etc. 

Measurements are super important when it comes to ordering the correct amount of materials, and for proving to adjusters why you need that amount. For flat roofs, the wall height is especially important to determine how much material to install. The wall could be anywhere between 1 and 6 feet high and is often overlooked by inexperienced inspectors.

Download our Roof Inspection Checklist.

Flat roof measurements

2. Photos from the photo checklist. As always, you will need photos to prove your case. Damage photos, flashing photos, photos showing access issues, core sample photos, etc. will be necessary to show why you need what you’re asking for.

Download our Photo Checklists

3. Roof Core Sample. We recommend taking a core sample to give us a better indication of what lies beneath the top layer. A roof core sample is a process in which you bore or drill out a two-inch diameter hole in the flat roof, from the top layer to the deck, in order to see how many layers of roofing material and insulation exist. Core samples are critical to establish how much labor and debris charges should be included on the Xactimate estimate and, when documented correctly, the facts speak for themselves.

Core samples are typically taken with a tool known as a core cutter, roof core sample tool, or a roof core sampler.  Roof core sample tools can be manually operated or attached as a drill bit and range in price from $50 to $200.

Example of manually operated core sample tool.
Example of power drill core sample tool.

Remember to take pictures showing you completed a core sample and to prove the number of layers present!

Taking a core sample
Measuring core sample
Thermal image of a flat roof
The red across the roof shows areas where moisture has penetrated the membrane.

4. Thermal Imaging. There are a couple different ways to detect a leak, but we recommend using thermal imaging. When moisture penetrates the membrane, it causes the area to hold heat. So, if there are red areas on the thermal image, it means water is underneath the cap sheet/flat roofing system. If the image is as red as the image below, code will require the roof to be replaced.

There are plenty of services out there that you can use to have thermal images taken for you. You can also ask your local supplier if they have a thermal imaging camera for purchase.

For more information about flat roof supplementing, check out our Flat Roof Supplementing page.

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