Keeping the Rain Off Maintaining the Roof Over Your Head

Keeping the Rain Off

 After the four walls of a given structure, the roof is sometimes referred to as  the “fifth plane”—and just like the walls that hold it up, the roof is an all-important structure  that can make or break a building’s performance. New Jersey’s changeable climate, which as we all know ranges from sweltering humid summer  heat to bone-chilling cold in the winter months, often exacerbates trouble  spots. If not properly maintained, even a minor roof problem can lead to costly  repairs. Any New Jersey resident who experienced Superstorm Sandy can tell you,  their roofs can be faced with unprecedented weather conditions.  

 The majority of residential roofs in New Jersey are either “flat” roofs or pitched roofs. “You're talking asphalt shingle in the 80 percent range, if not more. A lot of  contractors are using asphalt now, because they're so reliable,” says Barry Scymanski, general manager of Alpine Roofing in Sparta.  

 Historic areas can cause restrictions on what roof contractors have to build,  for the sake of a block or neighborhood's architectural continuity. “Sometimes you get a condo being built, sometimes they're being built in a  historical district, you're not going to see the asphalt shingle as much.  You're going to go to a historical product like slate, or metal,” says Scymanski.  

 Common Problems

 There can be a lot of variation in life span and performance of flat roofs,  depending on the quality of the original construction. Same goes for repairs. “When searching for a roofing company, it is really an apples-to-apples  comparison,” says Dennis Cohen, vice president of National Roofing Corporation in Long  Island City. Cohen’s company does work in Englewood. “Boards and managers have to do their homework and call references.”  

 Industry experts agree that the majority of problems with flat roofs usually  occur around the drains, pitch boxes, flashing and electrical piping. “Anything that can penetrate the membrane of the roof has to be watched and  inspected,” says Cohen.  

 You get a lot of snow and ice in gutters a lot the time, and they don't stay  secure,” says Scymanski.  

 Experts claim that the most problematic areas are where flashings meet walls, as  well as the waterproofing around roof penetrations through the roof such as  pipes and fans. “Penetrations, lack of maintenance, clogged drains--everybody feels, 'Oh, I got a  twenty-year warranty on the roof, I don't have to worry about it for twenty  years.' But your roofs have to be maintained. Drains have to be cleaned out.  With weather conditions, snow and ice can damage flashing. From the contraction  and expansion,” says Daniel McDermott, vice president at Rational Roofing in North Bergen.  

 Often regular maintenance and oversight can prevent massive and costly problems  from occurring. “Very rarely do you see a condo or co-op have a maintenance plan in effect. They  figure if there's a warranty then they don't have to do anything, and they're  done for that duration. But it all falls back to a maintenance program,” says McDermott.  

 Cohen says that oftentimes, even when a building is instructed to have its  maintenance personnel conduct monthly roof cleanings and inspections, the job  isn’t doesn’t right. “Someone needs to be held accountable. This keeps people on their toes because we  can come back and submit a report as to what was done and what wasn’t—every building needs a system of checks and balances especially when it comes to  the roof.”  

 Experts in the roofing industry recommend a seasonal inspection of the roof to  determine if any problems can be identified. You might be surprised what is  left after the Fourth of July or after Halloween, as well as the summer itself  as the extreme heat can harm the integrity of roofing materials. Another  problem is that unprotected areas of mostly flat roofs are used as terraces and  social areas subject to foot traffic and other obstacles like landscape  planters.  

 Aside from the minor removal of garbage and debris, McDermott says that staff  members should call a professional roofer if a serious problem is discovered.  If the wrong products are used on the roofing system, you can make it worse. “Take single-ply roofs. You can't mix anything of that kind with petroleum. But a  petroleum base is in a lot of roofing shingles,” says McDermott. It's important to know exactly what materials are in your roof.  “Flashing cement, you put that down on the single ply, and it will eat through  the rubber,” he says.  

 Cost & New Technologies

 In addition to a flat roof, other types of roofs common to New Jersey’s wind and rain-driven climate are pitched roofs, which typically will use  asphalt or wood shake shingles, tile, slate, steel, metal, copper or aluminum.  New shingle roofs are rated as high as 130 mph but metal roofs, experts say,  can sustain wind gusts up to 200 mph. Slate, tile and copper roofs are also  prevalent roofing types. Clay tile is suitable for a variety of home styles.  These tiles last a long time and are often outlive the home itself. They’re invulnerable to fire, rot, insects, mold and algae. Their only downfalls are  their weight and their cost. A clay tile roof can be so heavy that it requires  additional support for the roof. The price, while initially quite large, can  easily be justified by the expected life span of the roof.  

 Depending on a host of variables such as weather, materials, size and  maintenance, a new roof can last anywhere from 15 to 25 years. While most  roofing companies will do an inspection and assessment as part of their  proposal, those companies that do charge for a report charge from $0.07 to  $0.20 a square foot, depending on the size of the roof.  

 The use of infrared is an advancement in the industry allowing professionals to  discover moisture in areas not seen by the naked eye. “I am certified from the Academy of Infrared Training, which cost between $20,000  to $25,000, and I return for continuing education,” says Cohen. “Within a half hour I can see moisture in any area of the roof as well as in  bricks.” The average cost for this diagnostic service is $3,500. “This is a good investment because we can determine areas that might only need  replacing opposed to replacing the entire roof and that can represent a  significant savings.”  

 Several companies are well-versed in metal roof repair and replacement, flat  roof repair and replacement, hot and cold roof repair and replacement, tile  roof repair and replacement, white roof installation, green roof installation  and three-ply roof repair and replacement. “Roof prices fluctuate on a daily basis, because every time petroleum goes up,  roofing goes up. Mostly everything involved with roofing is made with  petroleum,” says McDermott.  

 When it comes to repairs, Cohen said one of the most common mistakes he sees is  a result of poor workmanship. “You have to keep in mind that caulking will only last a few years. And many  contractors don’t nail down the flashing properly; they might use two nails when four are  required because over the size of a large roof that saves them time and money.”  

 For cost-conscious boards, experts say to fight against a roof’s number one enemy, the sun, applying a highly reflective white ultraviolet  coating every five years will help to assist in slowing the roof’s aging process.  

 Sun isn't the only potential natural enemy of roofs. The wind, especially for  roofs built years ago, can pose major problems. “As a roof gets older, the bottom of a shingle will have a tar bed, so when the  wind comes it won't flap in the wind. What happens as the roof gets older, that  sealant, that tab that holds the shingle down will fail. Windy days will put it  to the test,” says Scymanski.  

 In certain parts of New Jersey such as Hoboken, where land is at a premium, many  residents use their roof as their backyard. Increasingly, contractors are  finding different ways to get a backyard feel, while protecting the roof. “A lot of people take their roof as their backyard. You could go with a roof  paver, or a wooden deck. As long as you put it down to the roof manufacturer’s specifications, you're okay,” says McDermott.  

 Experts also advise that having the proper insurance and worker’s compensation is also as important as hiring the right contractor. It’s not unheard of for a residential roofer to have exclusions in their coverage  when it comes to insurance.  

 In the end, Cohen said that hiring a company to do continual oversight is the  best option for boards and managing agents that might be otherwise spread too  thin. “Having a reputable company coming in once a month (or so) will keep everyone on  their toes. This type of membrane maintenance will save tons of money down the  line because you might discover a moisture issue before it escalates to a  serious problem that requires repairing a part of the roof as well as any  painting, spacing or mold remediation that might result.”  

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

 W.B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey  Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman and Editorial Assistant Tom Lisi  contributed to this article.


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