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.
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.