By Kathy Danforth / Published April 2018
Contributor: Ed Williams is President of Ed Williams Registered Roof Consultant. For more information, call (772) 335-5832 or visit www.EdWilliamsRegisteredRoofConsultant.com.
With a roof, as with many other facets of association life, if you pay more attention, you may be able to pay less money. Though no board member is saying, “Our roof is going to last forever without us doing anything,” its low visibility may enable a passive indifference until issues show that more has been happening up there than anyone wanted. At that point, options may have been reduced.
Ed Williams, president of Ed Williams Registered Roof Consultant, shares, “The main causes of premature failure are lack of maintenance, damage from contractors (often air conditioner workmen), and settling of buildings such that roof drains end up being the high point and don’t drain. To avoid failure, every roof needs an annual inspection just to see what needs to be done up there.” A roof is out of sight and thus out of mind, but the roof can be deteriorating unless someone looks and takes action before it has progressed too far.
“How far is too far?” is another issue with roofs—when does replacement make more economic sense than repair? “The time to replace is based on the frequency of leaks,” comments Williams. “Watch the budget and see if you’re spending more each year. Any new roof put on now should have at least a 20-year life. If the previous roof didn’t last that long, it may have been the wrong type of roof or it may not have had regular maintenance.
“There is no one type of roof that’s always best,” states Williams, though there are some shifts in products and use. “For most roofs that had asphalt and a gravel or granular surface, owners are coming in with a single-ply membrane because it’s cheaper. It depends on the situation. That’s where a consultant comes in.”
For roofs which are worn but in relatively good condition, coating can be an economical option. “Any roof that does not have a lot of leaks or a wet substrate is a candidate,” says Williams. “Sometimes a coating gives 15–25 years on the existing roof at a fraction of the cost.
“Any time a community doesn’t have expertise in roofing, a consultant is beneficial,” notes Williams. “Our cost is usually more than offset by the savings in the competitive bidding process. Without a consultant, it’s tough to make sure you’re comparing apples with apples. A contractor will sell what’s best for the contractor. When a consultant is preparing the specifications, contractors know they have to give their best bid. Another benefit of a consultant can be the insurance that he carries. Some consultants carry $1,000,000 in errors and omission insurance coverage, so that’s another layer of protection for the community,” according to Williams.
“The process of selecting a contractor can start with the Better Business Bureau,” says Williams. “Communities should call references for similar jobs. Also, contact the manufacturer’s representative to see how long the contractor has been installing that product. I can tell a lot about a contractor by seeing if he takes pride in keeping equipment clean and removing trash. If equipment is dirty, he may also not be attentive to the roof or his customers.”
Another factor to consider in choosing a contractor and material is the warranty requirements. “Watch for what is required to keep the warranty in force,” cautions Williams. “All warranties require some maintenance, but they vary so it’s necessary to read and know that information. If you don’t do the maintenance, you don’t have a 20-year warranty.”
New products provide more options for communities. “Single-ply systems get better and better,” reports Williams. “All the labor-intensive roofing is on its way out. Coal tar pitch roofing is gone as far as Florida is concerned—it has a high labor cost, a high materials cost, and a strong smell.”
Some of the potential problems that can occur during the course of a project are a failure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which a consultant will monitor, and exposure to rain if the old roof has to be torn off.
Williams shares the story of one roofing project below.
“About two years ago, we were contacted by a 30-year-old community of about 100 units on the ocean’s Space Coast. Three years prior to that, the commun-ity had installed a foam roof over an existing roof on their building. The building is a four-story structure with a flat roof. Problems developed with the foam roof, and they contacted their lawyer for assistance since the roofer had been unresponsive. The lawyer suggested that they contact a consultant to investigate the problem. They called a local engineering firm, and the engineer recommended us.
“When I asked how they selected this roof and the contractor, they responded that they had seen the ads for a ‘lifetime roof’ and started looking in the Yellow Pages for contractors. They took bids and selected the low bidder, whose office was more than an hour away from the project.
“We gave them a proposal for services, and it was accepted. We then had discussions with the lawyer and received copies of the contract and other pertinent paperwork. When we arrived at the site, we saw immediately that there were large blisters and poor detailing, all indicating poor workmanship. We continued with our investigation and prepared a report to the attorney detailing our findings. We also prepared the scope of work to remedy the existing problems.
“The coating manufacturer also declined to get involved because the problems appeared to be related to workmanship, not a failure of the coating. It should be noted here that most foam roofs are coated by different manufacturers. So, in effect, there is no warranty on the foam itself.
“After about a four-month process, the contractor agreed to perform the work outlined in our scope of work. The attorney fees remained the sticking point, and this was a considerable amount, as you can imagine, after four months of work by the attorney. Finally, a compromise was reached here, and the work began under our watchful eyes.
“The job went smoothly, and when it was completed, we signed off, and new warranties were issued by both the contractor and the coating manufacturer. Happy ending, right? While we were not privy to the negotiations between the attorneys, we heard a rumor that the settlement was in the low six figures, meaning the association had to come up with that money on top of what they paid for the roof originally.
“To recap, a lot of things went wrong on this project. To start with, we had a board with no experience in construction or roofing selecting a $400,000 roof to be installed by a contractor whom they knew nothing about. Was it the right roof? Was it the right contractor? Installing any roof on an oceanfront building is difficult at best. It is constantly windy, and humidity tends to be higher. These conditions tend to be more problematic with foam roofs. The distance from the contractor’s office meant less frequent oversight by the home office. It is fortunate that this was a satellite office for the contractor, and the contractor was large enough to absorb the cost of having to do the roof over again. Since there was no performance and payment bond, a smaller roofer could have gone broke, leaving the association stuck with the cost of remediating the roof.
“One of the board members pulled me aside after the project was completed and said, ‘If we had had somebody like you when we started this project, it would not be where we are today.’
“While we would like to be hired by everybody every time a roof is put on a building, we know that’s not going to happen. If you have someone on your board with expertise in the construction industry who is comfortable with selecting contractors and matching them up with an appropriate system that is best for your particular condominium, then it may be worth risking it. Require a performance and payment bond that ensures the contract if the roofer goes out of business. The cost of the bond will indicate how strong the contractor is financially. Financially strong contractors will have a rate close to one percent. If the rate starts to get to two percent or higher, the bonding company thinks that the contractors are higher risk.
“If your board does not have that expertise in house, then I think it is prudent that you hire outside help. Engineers, architects, and consultants all offer services for roofing projects—we just like to think that most good consultants have more practical knowledge about roofing than architects and engineers. I don’t mean to paint all architects and engineers as not being able to handle the roofing project; on the contrary, there are many out there that do an excellent job. We are often called by architects and engineers to handle or to advise them on roofing projects. The point is, if you don’t have the experience, get someone who does. It is not only prudent; you have a fiduciary responsibility to your owners to seek help when you need it.”