Rooftop Spaces Planning, Maintenance and Safety Tips

Winter in New Jersey can be brutal—piles of slushy gray snow to wade through and frigid winds that keep you inside. So you curl up with a good book, sip a cup of tea and watch the flurries through the window. As the flakes fall, you might find yourself daydreaming about spring and a spot where many Garden Staters go to be social—the rooftop.

Up on the Rooftop…

Roughly 35 percent of New York City rooftops have usable roof decks, and urban areas on this side of the Hudson are taking notice. They are standard for newly constructed housing developments, but for many building communities, these rooftop social spaces are added after initial construction. The uses for roof decks are various, but they are typically outfitted with an assortment of amenities that inspire relaxation: chairs, picnic tables, planters, even the occasional hot tub. “A rooftop deck five years ago was just a rooftop deck and some walls so you didn't have to see your neighbor. Now they've turned into grass lawns, terraces, and gas lines going to them for your grills. It's become much more of an outdoor living room,” says Steven Winter, president of Steven Winter Associates in Manhattan.

Many consider those luxuries well worth the investment. However, the purposes of rooftop spaces in existing buildings are something that must be taken into consideration during the planning phase. How will you use your recreational space? Grilling? Gardening? Community events? Enjoying the outdoors during the spring and summer months is the easy part, but ensuring your deck is safe and well-maintained is essential for its longevity.

“The price has exploded. Rooftop spaces doubled in value in Hoboken. The last building real estate developer Toll Brothers delivered in Hoboken, there were private rooftop terraces that you had the option to buy. You didn't have to, but you could have. Those who bought them have been getting unsolicited offers from people in the building who didn't buy one,” says Winter.

Rooftop Planning 101

Before board members and property managers begin to envision what their rooftop space will be, the first steps to be taken concern the actual roof. New Jersey laws governing rooftop decks vary with different local and municipal building codes. That's why it's particularly important to bring in experts who are familiar with what can and can't be done architecturally. “Anytime somebody's looking to add a roof deck, the first step is to hire an architect or consultant or engineer to evaluate those issues, to determine what can be placed or what needs to be modified so that it can be placed,” says Gene Ferrara, president of engineering consulting firm, JMA Consultants, in Englewood Cliffs.

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