A building’s roof serves as the first line of defense against whatever the skies throw at its inhabitants—wind, rain and blazing sun, even snow and ice in some climates—so it’s crucial for that roof to be sound and well maintained. All it takes is one small crack or hole for the rainwater to get in and, poof! There go thousands of dollars in repair and potential insurance claims (not to mention the damage it can cause to residents' possessions and property). Knowing how to maintain and repair what's on top of your buildings can ultimately protect your bottom line.
What's Up There?
According to James R. Kirby, AIA, the director of technical services for the national Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA), the most common types of roofs in dense urban areas are 'low-slope' or flat roofs. “The roof types include asphalt-based roof systems, called built-up and modified bitumen, and single-ply roof systems,” he says.
“The building designer most commonly determines if a rooftop is steep-slope (pitched) or low-slope (flat),” says Kirby. “Most tall buildings have low-slope roofs because the roof is not a visible architectural element. Low-slope roof systems include a roof deck (which in this context is the base layer upon which the other roofing materials sit—not a recreational common area), a vapor barrier if needed, at least two layers of insulation, a cover board, a membrane, and some type of surfacing.”
Along with urban high-rises, New England also has many suburban condominium communities featuring townhouses or garden-style buildings that are topped with sloped, shingle roofs. Shingles are most often asphalt, slate, wood, tile or metal and most common is probably asphalt shingles.
How long a roof lasts will depend on what it’s made of and how it’s maintained. “It used to be that shingles were good for 25 or 30 years. Now, they have ‘lifetime’ shingles,” says Mike McDuffee, project manager at Corolla Roofing in Winthrop, Massachusetts. That, he says, translates to about a 40-year lifespan for the currently-popular architectural style shingles.