When condo-dwellers think “catastrophe,” it’s usually something dramatic, like a fire or huge storm laying waste to their HOA. There’s another, far more insidious enemy of urban and suburban condo buildings, however: H2O. Water damage may not have the same photogenic impact of fire, but the havoc caused by it can be staggering, and can linger for years after the initial leak has been resolved.
Because of the potentially devastating effects of water-related headaches like mold, mildew, structural damage, and property loss, association administrators and staff should have a general understanding of the makeup, maintenance, and repair of their building’s waterproofing systems. Watchful eyes now can save many thousands, or even millions of dollars in repair costs later.
Every residential building has mechanisms that prevent water from seeping into the structure, but even when these systems are in top condition, they don’t make the building truly waterproof. Rather, they help to make the building resistant to water infiltration. The degree to which the systems keep the building dry depends upon how well they were installed, and how they are maintained.
The roof of a building is the linchpin of its waterproofing system, but the drainage system for the roof—be it the downspouts on small buildings or the larger internal roof drainage pipe known as a “leader” found in larger buildings—is also vital in keeping a building dry. Because the leader and downspouts take water off of a roof when it rains or snows, even a small blockage of that drainage system can back things up and quickly cause water damage to the building.
Essentially, roofs in urban and suburban HOAs come in one of two formats: flat, and pitched. Most urban roofs are of the flat variety, made up of several different types of material sandwiched together like the different layers of a person’s skin. Those materials usually include a substructure of steel under a concrete deck, topped with a “vapor barrier” like tarred paper. Over that goes a layer of insulation several inches thick, which is in turn topped by a waterproof membrane—and a decorative decking material, in some cases.