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How a Sagging Roof was Unsagged

The 22-unit walk-up at 1264 Amsterdam Avenue (121st Street) is more than a century old, and the roof, while not quite as ancient, was sagging and leaking. “The technical term for sagging is deflection,” says Noah Manny of Cowley Engineering. “A certain amount of deflection is allowed, even desirable, but their roof deflected more than allowable.” There were also cracks in the brick parapets and exterior stucco walls, which were causing additional leaks.

“We had leaks here and there, but we used to be able to make some repairs,” says Robert Kruckeberg, the co-op board’s treasurer who also manages the property. “Finally, when the leaks became more and more frequent, we decided the roof was old enough and we should do the repairs. We had planned to do this for several years.” Because the small co-op’s board knew it was facing a capital project, it had set aside the money. “We had recently refinanced the building’s underlying mortgage,” Kruckeberg says. “We were able to put money into our reserve fund. Then, it was just a matter of finding and identifying the right engineer to do the job.”

The board hired Cowley. The first task was mandatory asbestos testing. “Some of the materials on the roof and on the parapet contained asbestos, and we had to remove it before the project could start,” says Manny, who served as project engineer.

When the roof work finally began, things got worse instead of better. The contractor had put up scaffolding so workers could replace the parapet wall that rims the roof. “That scaffolding put some extra pressure on the roof and caused a number of leaks in several areas,” says Kruckeberg. “They had to make adjustments to relieve that pressure in certain spots, and they had to put up extra temporary waterproofing in those areas.”

When crews removed the old roof membrane, they learned that the decking was badly deteriorated. The decking was stripped away so workers could get access to the beams that support the roof. “We then did some structural enhancement,” Manny says. “We put two light steel beams on each side of the beams and bolted them into the old beams. Those steel beams made the roof more rigid.”

While the roof was being dismantled and replaced, not a drop of water entered the apartments. The contractor worked in sections and always covered the exposed section at the end of each working day. “It’s kind of counterintuitive,” Kruckeberg says, “but once they were able to control the process, replacing it and waterproofing it as they went, there were no leaks whatsoever.” No work was done on rainy days.

The last hiccup occurred when some minor stucco work had to be done on an exterior wall that was accessible only from the roof of the building next door. “All we needed was to get a ladder on their property to get access to that portion [of stucco],” says Manny. “It was literally one day’s worth of work, but it became a huge headache.”

The headache began when the neighboring building insisted on a formal access agreement. Lawyers got involved, insurance had to be in place, and a document was drafted. “Attorneys charged $400 an hour, which is exorbitant because it was really just a little document,” says Kruckeberg. “It was excessive, but the work had to get done before the winter. They charged us more than they needed to, but there was nothing we could do, because we were stuck. We had to get it done.”

The roof replacement was finished by the end of November at a total cost of about $300,000, including those legal fees. Despite the hiccups, Kruckeberg says the job went relatively smoothly, and for this he credits Cowley Engineering. “We were afraid the apartments below would have damage to their ceilings,” he says, “but only minor problems occurred, a little crack here or there. It was just cosmetic stuff.”

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