Roof Repair Don't Spare the Overhead

 You may have a roof over your head—but if that roof isn’t doing its job, you may as well be living on the cold, wet streets of New York  City.  

 Roofs serve as the first line of defense against whatever the skies throw at  your building, so it’s crucial for it to be sound and well maintained—leaky roofs can cost thousands of dollars in water damage, and boards and  management who ignore their roof problems run the risk of legal exposure,  should a shareholder’s possessions and property be damaged by leaks or collapses.  

 The Roof Truth

 Before you build, repair or maintain your roof, you’ll need to know what type of roof you’ve got. In a city where space is at a premium, most apartment buildings in New  York sport a flat roof.  

 That’s not its only perk of being peakless. Flat roofs are more accessible for the  fire department and for any repairmen. Plus, they’re more easily maintained than shingled, pitched roofs. Flat roofs aren't  completely flat, of course—they do have a slight slope to permit water to easily flow into drainage and  plumbing openings—but the angle isn’t drastic enough to make it difficult for people to walk on top.  

 All those advantages doesn't mean that a flat roof can work miracles. They still  have their issues.There are three big problems that can affect flat roofs:  Expansion and contraction, ultraviolet rays and moisture.  

 The roof is at its best when it’s brand new. As soon as it’s installed, a flat roof starts to degrade from the lack of expansion and  contraction, say roofing experts. You can even see the degradation in the form  of tiny cracks and blisters that make the roof porous. Investing in the best  quality materials whenever you hire a contractor to repair or replace your roof  will help with this problem, but regular inspections and maintenance can go a  long way toward increasing your roof’s useful life.  

 Fending Off Threats

 While a lot of things can damage a roof structure, it’s usually one of a handful of culprits that is to blame when things go wrong.  

 Ultraviolet rays are one such threat, but one that can be mitigated fairly  easily. They can make a roof age much faster, but you can curb the negative  effects of rays by applying or—having a roof technician—apply an ultraviolet chemical roof coating, which will make the roof reflect the  rays instead of absorbing them.  

 Moisture is another roof antagonist. There’s nothing you can do to deflect rain, snow and even dew, but you need to make  sure the roof is pitched properly to ensure that any water that hits the roof  surface never stays long. Have a roof specialist check out your roof to make  sure the pitch is slanted at the right angle and is doing its job.  

 “There’s usually a minimum pitch that goes to a drain,” says James Friedman, president of FixARoof, a Brooklyn roofing contractor. “If it’s not done properly, it leaks severely. The flat roof is one of the hardest  roofs to do without having a leak. A lot of people come in and try to be  roofing contractors, but they’re not, and they run into a problem and then they’re stuck.”  

 Once you make sure your roof is pitched properly, you need to make sure that  there’s nothing obstructing the drain. That sounds easy enough, but even snow can be a  major problem because it can turn into ice, which in turn can cover drains and  cause headaches. Roofing professionals stress that every time it snows, you  need to remove the snow from the roof immediately. “If the snow is very heavy, the roof could even collapse, and the drains can get  iced, and the water can penetrate and melt everywhere,” Friedman says.  

 Another deadly foe of flat roofs is penetration of the roof membrane, according  to John Shenone of Central Construction in Brooklyn. That means anything that  passes through the roof or causes a breach in the topmost layer—nails, bolts, railings, staircases, skylights, and the like.  

 While those are the biggest concerns with roofs, there are other roofing issues  that every condo board and condo owner should know about.  

 Dealing With Decks

 One of the growing challenges facing boards and contractors alike especially  with a flat roof is the rooftop deck. Airy rooftop social or leisure spaces can  add value to just about any building. After all, who doesn’t want to have their own little outdoor space with sunlight and sweeping views  of the bridges and skyline?  

 “As real estate becomes more and more precious, people are trying to maximize  their space as much as possible,” says Wayne Bellet, owner of Bellet Construction Co., Inc., based in Midtown  Manhattan. “I used to do a small percentage [of deck installations], but now it’s one or the largest things that we do. Even in a bad economy, I put up more  rooftop decks now than I have in my entire 32-year professional life.”  

 In addition to increasing value, roof decks can offer protection against  ultraviolet rays and protect the underlying roof membrane—but only if they're installed and drained properly, and are inspected regularly  for signs of deterioration.  

 The additional weight of roof decking poses a major threat to the membrane  underneath. “If the membrane isn’t properly prepared to accept the additional weight, that could cause great  harm,” he says. “Preparation is key.”  

 The pros all stress that simply throwing some nice outdoor furniture on top of  your building does not a roof deck make. “It’s common for a roof to be damaged by excessive foot traffic when people use it  as a patio without installing a proper decking system,” says Shenone.  

 To avoid major damage to your roof, a professional contractor must lift the deck  surface with steel or wooden rods so that it’s not touching the actual roof, says Nick Lefferts, director of operations for  Greene Roofing, Inc. in Brooklyn. If you put the deck directly on the roof, and  allow people to walk on it, you can also do a lot of damage. “Roofs weren’t made for that," he says. "They were made for keeping the water out of the  building. The roof isn’t made for foot traffic, and that can cut holes in it.”  

 The danger with foot traffic is leaks that could mean major expense. Some  buildings don’t realize there's a problem with their existing deck until it’s too late. Friedman recently had to remove an entire deck, rip off a roof and  rebuild the whole thing because someone put a small, decorative tree on the  deck. The roots slithered out of the pot, went through the roof, and penetrated  the membrane, causing severe leakage.  

 It’s not just rooftop decks that are doing damage, however. The same damage can be  done when servicemen or sunbathers take to the roof, according to Artur Freire,  a project manager with The Rosenwach Group in Long Island City. But  fortunately, there’s an easy solution. Many roofing contractors recommend putting down a walkway—(a protective pad on the roof)—that leads directly to a drain. This way, any repairman can use the walkway to  get to the bulkheads and mechanical equipment without touching the roof. If the  roof is being used for anything other than service work, those activities  should be limited to a designated spot with a raised deck. According to New  York City regulations, Freire notes that any rooftop space or deck should be  protected by a railing or a parapet wall at least 44 inches high.  

 Live Long and Prosper

 Once the rooftop deck or the walkway is in place, it’s perfectly safe to hang out on your roof, as long as you’ve met with a roofing inspector or an engineer to make sure it can carry the  extra weight.  

 The good news is that if you properly maintain your deck—and the roof itself—the pros say you can go decades, and possibly even an entire lifetime without  having to replace it. The most important part is the maintenance, says Freire.  

 Ideally, a serviceman should inspect the roof every three months, or when the  season changes, says Freire. A building maintenance person can do a quick  once-over for any glaring problems, but most pros feel that a trained eye is  almost always preferable when it comes to spotting any damage or deterioration  that may have surfaced since the previous inspection. “We look at the flashings, the masonry and parapet walls, we check for any open  seams, or deterioration around railings,” he says.  

 Drains should also be free from any debris or snow, and there shouldn’t be any spills or dirt on the roof that could soak in and have a negative  effect. If you have a rooftop water tank, Freire says to check it for leaks,  make sure all access doors are properly closed, and that unauthorized people  aren’t walking directly on the roof.  

 If you do see anything that could be a problem, you should call your roofing  professional for an official inspection. These inspections can range from free  to a few hundred dollars. Some inspectors, don’t charge their customers for a visit to make sure there’s nothing wrong. Others will charge up to $500 for the service call, so be sure  you ask your contractor what his or her policy is prior to having them come  out.  

 While the basic inspection can be done by anyone in the building, it’s best to leave major roof repairs and installation to the professionals, says  Freire. The biggest reason for this is because materials manufacturers  generally require that their products be inspected and serviced by a licensed  or certified professional, or else any warranty on them may be voided.  

 Once you have the warranty, the roof will usually be insured for 10 to 20 years—but if you try to fix a leaky roof or a cracked board yourself, you may be  wreaking more havoc than it’s worth.  

 “If the leak is under warranty, and you don’t have a certified roofer to do the repair, it would give them a reason to void  the warranty," says Lefferts.  

 Containing Leaks

 Spotting a roofing problem is sometimes difficult. Each roof leak is unique,  according to CentiMark Corporation, a national roofing contractor that provides  a variety of roof repair and replacement services. Certain damage may be  visible at the roof surface level while some water damage and will go  undetected by an untrained eye. A thorough assessment requires an experienced  roofing inspector to investigate and identify the extent and severity of damage  to your roof system. A trained roof inspector knows how to examine the critical  areas so proper roof repair or replacement can be performed. They can provide a comprehensive evaluation of your building’s roof at critical check-points on the roof system. A thorough roof inspection  report should contain: photographs; a detailed written assessment; a  cost-effective repair or replacement solution; and an estimate for insurance  damage claims.  

 If you follow the rules and do your inspections and maintain the roof properly,  the professionals agree that it should last well beyond its warranty.  

 With good installation, proper care, and regular maintenance, your building's  roof should keep the rain (and everything else) off your heads for many, many  years to come.   

 Danielle Braff is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to  The Cooperator.

 

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