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Better Roof Installation

Better Roof Installation

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media, January 2013

Roof evaluation, maintenance and replacement are some of the most troublesome aspects of managing a condominium association. In New England, it is especially challenging due to the demanding climate to which our roofs are subjected. Wind driven rain will often cause leaks in even the best roof systems.

Roofs are typically a large portion of the building surface. Unless you live in or manage a high-rise complex where the roof represents a small portion of the total surface of the building, the cost of replacing a roof can be quite significant. A roof is one of the most expensive components in a building to replace. This makes the decision to replace a roof a difficult one for building owners and managers. The temptation is to postpone the inevitable for one more year. A roof can be nursed along year after year, but this is likely to prove to be a false economy.

In the long-term it makes economic sense to replace a roof earlier rather than later. If the life of a roof is extended much beyond its useful life, maintenance costs are likely to increase beyond prorated replacement costs. There is also the danger that water penetration (some of which may not even be noticed) will cause damage to the underlying structure or other building components. The reduction in insulation value of wet insulation and the resulting increases in heating and cooling costs are other factors that contribute to making roof replacement a good economic decision. Finally, the liability of a major failure must be considered.

Roof problems are among the most frequent areas of concern for condo associations. Here are a few thoughts about roofs that may be helpful to your association:

Surface Materials Have Been Improved:

Shingles - these consist of a composite base (asphalt, fiberglass, etc.) and sand-wearing surface. They are relatively easy to install and moderately priced. The thickness (weight) generally defines the likely service life. In other words, a thicker shingle will last longer. The weight is given as pounds per square (l00 square-feet equals one square).

Membrane Roofs - these have become the primary way to cover flat roofs within the last 20 years. Membrane roofs are typically somewhat more expensive than the other alternatives for flat roofs. However, they generally last longer and have fewer maintenance problems.

Metal Roofs - metal roofs are becoming more common in northern New England. There are a variety of reasonably good products on the market. Metal roofs are used on sloped surfaces. A successful metal roof is very dependent on good workmanship. Unskilled hands installing a metal roof will almost always lead to problems.

Flashing - Flashing is at least as important as the surface. The roof is a system that includes the sheathing, underlayment, flashing and the roof surfacing. If you are having problems with your roof it is important to understand that there are several different components involved.

The roof flashing is often the cause of leaks as the roof surfacing. Repairing it requires skill. Caulking flashing leaks is not adequate. If there is a flashing problem, the only effective repair nsually requires installing new flashing. That work should be done by some one specifically trained and experienced with flashing work. 

Workmanship Makes the Difference

Roof problems are frequently the result of poor workmanship than material deficiencies.While there have been some defective roof materials, our experience inspecting thousands of buildings in New England has shown us that workmanship is more commonly the problem. When you select a roofer you should check their references.

Five Steps to a Better Installation

  1. When you evaluate your existing roof, make sure you have an independent consultant. If you ask a roofer to evaluate your roof, it is very likely that the conclusion will be that it needs to be replaced.
  2. When you decide to install a new roof, you should prepare a detailed set of construction documents. The documents should:
    • define exactly how you expect things to be done; what is the scope of the project, what materials are to be used, what is the intended schedule for completion.
    • be very specific about the materials to be used.
    • be very specific about how waste material is to be handled.
  3. Retain the services of a consultant to prepare the construction documents and to monitor the work while it is underway. As an association, you need someone knowledgeable about the construction industry who does not have any direct interest in your project other than serving your best interests.
  4. You should choose time proven materials. You should not experiment with untested products and/or installation techniques.
  5. You should make sure there is a three- to five-year guarantee against problems with both material deficiencies and workmanship backed with a bond.

Roofs are expensive and disruptive to install. Diagnosing problems objectively is difficult. You should always work with a good, independent consulting engineer or roofing consultant. That person can help evaluate problems, prepare construction documents for repair or replacement and monitor the work to be sure it is done well. Using a consultant also means that the officers of the association are less vulnerable to liability from the owners.