Up on the Rooftop Out of Sight--Not Out of Mind

Everyone needs a good roof over their head. And when you run a condo or co-op community, you're responsible for dozens or perhaps hundreds of people having one. With so many people to please and the increased complexity of roofing an entire community as opposed to just one house, HOAs have their work cut out for them.

Unlike a lawn, which needs care on a weekly basis, a roof is easy to forget about. They're generally not visible, and since a good one can last for 30 years or more, it's easy to forget about them.

Residents only worry about a roof when it rains or there is a problem, according to Dave Zanolli of Centimark Corporation, a roofing contractor based in Roselle. With the exception of high-rise apartment complexes where roofs are generally flat, most buildings, however, have pitched or sloped roofs, and unique engineering challenges. The first step to determining what state your roof is in, however, is to have an expert climb up and check things out.

Getting Ready for Inspection

According to Edward Frank of Arthur Edwards Inc.—a property management firm in Westwood—determining the need for a new roof is often a matter of deduction and analysis. "We track all our service issues and requests throughout the year, and at the end, we tally them up and look to see what the common repairs are. We do a cost-benefit analysis and say, 'look; we did 'x' number of dollars in skylight leak repairs,' and determine if it would be to our benefit to replace the skylights or replace the roof. We also do semi-annual inspections of our roof where we send competent roofers up with digital cameras and have them document any areas of concern. We then share that information with our boards, we compare it to our reserve schedule, and then make a determination as to whether to replace the roof."

According to Bob Martin, owner of Roof Maintenance, a registered roofing consultant firm in Farmingdale, the best time to have those inspections done is after the summer.

"During the summer it's too hot to walk the roofs; they could get damaged. The best bet is coming out of the summer going into the fall before the winter months come. You want to see if you've lost any shingles or done any damage to the roof that needs repair before the snow and ice hits."

Getting an extra inspection done now might be a worthwhile investment, too. This past winter could have been worse when it came to snowfall, but long stretches of freezing temperatures resulted in snow and ice not melting. The large amounts of snow and ice that sat on roofs for weeks and could very well have resulted in extensive damage. The rough winter, in fact, has some companies offering free inspections.

"When you've had extreme weather, it would always be good to conduct an extra inspection, because the ice can crack off shingles," Martin says. "It could cause some damage that you don't normally see. Even in the spring or summer, if there's been an extremely tough winter, you'd want someone to walk the complex and look for fallen shingles."

Paying For It

If upon inspection it's clear that your problems go beyond a few loose shingles or misdirected drainage, you may have to bite the bullet and replace the roof—an expensive proposition.

But, says Frank, roof replacement need not break the bank of a well-prepared association. "By properly reserving—hopefully from the very beginning—and through periodic inspections and service and maintenance history reports telling them that there are problems coming up, a board can plan [for replacement]."

"Most associations don't have enough money in reserve," Frank continues, "so when we start to see the tell-tale signs of these deficiencies, it's a wake-up call that allows us to start forcing the issue and say, 'come on, guys—we need to plan for this. We can mark $5,000 into our budget this year to go out there and put some spit and glue on the roof to hold the thing together, but at the same time, let's crank up the reserves and put our resources where they need to be.'"

Getting Good Help

Of course, the decisions don't stop with how you'd most like your finished roof to look. Developing a relationship with a roofer is also an important part of the process. Working with the same roofer (as opposed to bidding out contracts for every single minor roof-related project) has advantages, because the roofer will know what kind of roof a building has as well as its history. High quality work is obviously essential, but you also need to know that the roofer is available.

"Get a company that will help you," Martin says. "One that will do your annual inspections and also be there for emergencies. People tend to call when there's a leak—they don't call to say, 'Everything's fine, but come on out, maybe you'll see something.' They wait for an emergency—and if [your roofer] can't make it to the property quickly, you'll have to wait for the next rain to be sure what you've got. You don't want to pay a guy to come back three times [trying to fix the same leak] when he could have done it once by seeing it in the rain."

Also, hiring a local roofer is your best bet at getting someone who will be able to show up on site quickly. Someone an hour away may be cheaper and do fine work, but the chances of him or her showing up the day an emergency arises is less likely than with someone who is 20 minutes away.

On the other hand, according to Zanolli, "Roofing is a $20 billion industry, but it's a very fragmented market, and you have some questionable people that enter and exit [the industry] very frequently. I guess you could say 'buyer beware.'"

Your Manager's Role

While there are better business bureaus and other organizations that may be able to help you find a competent and reliable roofer, your managing agent should also have a good idea of where to start in the process of bidding out a big repair or replacement job.

According to Frank, "[You and your agent] should choose a professional based on…expertise, experience, manufacturer-authorized installers, and promptness of service."

As for the manager's role before, during, and after the bulk of the project is finished, Frank says, "Your managing agent will assist in preparing the bid specification material and criteria, procuring the bids, and tabulating bids. He or she can also do contract administration. Once the bid is accepted and the contracts negotiated, [the agent will] check the contractor's schedules and references, and assist the community while the work is being performed."

Most managing agents would agree that it depends on the complexity of the project as to whether or not there's a need for external supervision, such as an engineer. A simple shingled roof job is one thing, but, as Frank says, "When we start getting involved with big, flat roofing systems that have very sophisticated details, we'd recommend that an engineer get involved."

Your managing agent can also run interference between board members, owners, and contractors to ensure maximum productivity with minimum disturbance to association members' quality of life.

"Education about the process is the key element to any successful project," according to Frank. "From the very beginning, when you have to start funding for it, to the bid process, to the actual start dates, and the hand-holding that starts at that point—it's all about notices, notices, notices, and board meetings. Lots of board meetings. And newsletters. Even after you start, there will still be people who come to meetings and say they never heard about it, but at least you've held up your end and communicated with them. Communication is essential in a project like this."

The Roof's the Thing

A roof may look like a relatively simple arrangement of boards, beams, and shingles, but there's much, much more to it than that. Various materials, membranes, and methods can be pressed into service to make a weather-tight, waterproof seal over your head.

"You might want to use an ice and water shield throughout the roof as an added protection against leakage," Martin says, but adds that it's the roof itself that will offer the most protection.

"There are always new and different developments," he says. "When I started in this business, there were one or two types of shingles, now there are dozens of them. There were six types of roofing systems; now there are around 280. Metal roofing has come to the forefront over the last five years," he says. Copper roofing, flashing, gutters and downspouts are also quite popular elements for use in the roofing trade, according to the Copper Development Association (CDA). Standing seam copper roofing, for example, is rated by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards for resistance to high winds, according to CDA.

Centimark notes that there are eight major types of roofing systems: namely, steep slope (which includes shingle, tile, shakes, etc), built up roofs (inclusive of asphalt and coal tar), modified bitumen roofs; metal roofs (standing seam, architectural, and pre-engineered), coatings (acrylic, silicone, ceramic, etc), sprayed in place foam roofs, thermoplastic single ply membranes, such as polyvinylchloride (PVC) and thermalset single ply membrane roofs.

Each of these roof systems has its place in the market and its own distinct advantages. A critical factor to a successful roofing project is using a contractor who is both familiar and capable of installing each type of roof system, Centimark says.

Everyone always wants a bargain and aesthetics can be important to residents. But the roof of your home or building is simply too important to just go with the cheapest price or what looks prettiest. Even if you have the budget to be extravagant, the costliest option my still not be the wisest solution for your particular problem. Your roof is probably your home's single most important feature. Its proper care and maintenance are vital to the structural and financial integrity of your community, to the comfort of your residents, and the security of the investment their home represents. Ignoring what's up there, says Zanolli, "Is kind of like driving your car and never checking the oil."

Anthony Stoeckert is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.

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