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The High Cost of Waiting to Repair a Roof

Bendix Anderson in Bricks & Bucks

Morningside Heights

The High Cost of Waiting to Repair a Roof

This July, workers will finally began to replace the roof at 1264 Amsterdam Avenue, a six-story co-op in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood.
“They waited too long,” says Eric Cowley, a structural engineer and president of Cowley Engineering. And by waiting – in the hope of saving money – this co-op board wound up having to spend a lot more money.
The roof in the early-20th-century brick building is more than three decades old. The 21-unit building had been gut-renovated in 1987, when it was converted from a rental to a cooperative. Back then, the roof received a new waterproof membrane, layered on top of the existing roof membrane. The roof, with its sandwich of new and old membranes, was expected to have a useful life of 10 years.
In 1994, the co-op hired Rand Engineering & Architecture to assess the needs of building. The firm recommended a complete roof replacement. But the co-op board felt it could get more life out of its existing roof. “Engineering firms tend to be very conservative – the co-op board was not convinced,” says Robert Kruckeberg, who has served as treasurer of the co-op board for nearly a decade.
In 2006, the board began an expensive project to repair and replace loose brickwork on the north wall of the building, from the parapet wall down to the fifth story. “Bricks were starting to fall off the wall,” says Kruckeberg. Workers eventually replaced the entire parapet wall on the north side of the building. After the work was finished, to board decided to wait before turning its attention to the rest of the roof system.
That’s a problem, according to Cowley. “Water-proofing is actually a system,” he says, where each part of the system depends on the others. If water has penetrated the bricks at the base of the parapet wall, for example, it has probably already tunneled deeper into the building, traveling between the layers of older and newer roof membrane, or damaging the joists that hold up the roof.
A few years after work on the parapet wall was finished, the residents in the top-floor apartments began to report the first leaks. By the time residents can see water in their apartments, that water has probably already hurt other parts of the building, says Cowley. But the co-op board did not have the resources to pay for immediate repairs, and it was reluctant to raise the money through conventional means.
“It would have been a really difficult assessment for the shareholders,” says Kruckeberg, adding that it can be very difficult to convince shareholders to pay to fix a problem they cannot see. “We had to build up our reserves again to tackle the roof.”
In 2011, the co-op hired Cowley to assess the state of the building, and he, like the previous engineering firm, recommended replacing the roof and doing further repairs to the parapet walls. “They knew they had membrane problems,” says Cowley.
It was not until 2018 that the board was able to refinance the mortgage, which finally provided the funds to replace the roof. Before the re-fi, the board made piecemeal repairs. “Starting in 2016, we had to start calling in roofers to patch periodically,” Kruckeberg says. “If you patch the flashing, that’s kind of a Band-Aid.”
The patching did not prevent leaks, which led to another problem. Black mold grew inside the walls of at least one sixth-floor apartment. The people living in the unit could not see it, though they complained of bad air quality. When workers cut into the walls, they found that water from the leaky roof had soaked the drywall and blossomed into mold that cost $10,000 to fully remove. “That was very costly,” says Kruckeberg.

The cost of replacing the roof also grew as time passed. In 2010, the work would have cost $210,000, according to Cowley. By the time the work is finished later this year, the bill is likely to add up to $300,000. Most of that extra cost will pay to repair damage done over the years while the co-op waited to replace the roof. This board learned the hard way that trying to save money can get expensive.
Or as Cowley puts it: “Inaction has consequences.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ENGINEER: Cowley Engineering. CONTRACTOR: Romo Construction Corp.

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