How much leaking during roof repair is to be expected?
February 22, 2016 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Perspective/Reality check, please: We're having our building's roof repaired and so far there's been some substantial leaking into some apartments. How much leaking is to be expected in this kind of situation?

We live on the top floor of a sixteen unit, four story building. So far, during some extensive roof repair, four units have experienced water damage to their ceilings, three of them fairly extensively, which will require contractors to come in and remove and replace some fair size segments of dry wall.

Our unit has thus far been spared but I am concerned because we just put in new ceilings this summer. I'm also just feeling kind of uneasy about this on general principle, as a shareholder in the building.

I have spoken personally to the roofers and they keep assuring me and other shareholders that no further damage will occur. I was told that we have to expect there to be some cascading debris inside the walls, and maybe a little damage, and that they have to use a certain amount of force because they've had to use axes to get through the layers of material rather than their usual saws because of the build-up of roofing material. They have apologized and say they will reimburse shareholders for repairs. They also don't know why this leakage happened, apparently. They told another shareholder that the water leaking into several apartments during a light rain was probably trapped water and not fresh water. Even though it was raining and had been raining for hours, and even though the water was clear and not old looking or smelling, and even though the leaking had not been a problem before the rain. That seems....not entirely plausible?

So, how reasonable is it for us to be experiencing this kind of damage to our units during roof repair? What is reasonable for the roofing company to be doing to prevent damaging the units?
posted by TryTheTilapia to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: OK. I work in residential construction and construction management so I think I can shed a little light here. That said, my company is the sort that does mostly single-family houses rather than sixteen-story apartment complexes, so take all this with a pinch of salt.

It's not reasonable to expect a re-roofing job to cause water damage, though it's always a risk. At every step of the process, the interior of the building should remain protected. This is generally done by either doing the project in sections such that no part of the roof ever has to be left unprotected at the end of a work day, and/or by putting down temporary coverings to protect any areas that have to be left open. (Also the roofers should be doing their best to schedule their work around the weather, but it's not always possible to be perfect in that regard.) However things don't always go perfectly, people don't always plan perfectly, and problems do crop up from time to time.

It's a little hard to tell from your comment what actually happened and what the contractors know happened. It's possible that they're trying to gloss over some fuckup that caused the water to get into people's apartments, or it's possible that they really don't know what went wrong. It's possible that somebody knows what went wrong, but the guy who your neighbor talked to wasn't the guy who knows. It's possible that "trapped water" just means water that was able to get in under the sheathing or whatever temporary covering they were using and which then pooled somewhere for a while before leaking into an apartment. It's possible that "trapped water" means water which got in between a couple of old roofing layers, formed a bubble, and was trapped there for years but stayed mostly clear because it was just in between a couple of layers of plastic. It's possible that "trapped water" means "I don't want to admit that this was my fault, so I'm going to say something that sounds vaguely plausible and hope you don't call me on it." No way to know with the information in this question.

It doesn't really matter though, because it sounds like they're doing the right thing under the circumstances by offering to reimburse the repairs. They're probably as frustrated as anyone about the situation, as doing that reimbursement is going to absolutely destroy their profit margin on this job, but it's definitely the right thing to do—if you break something while you're in a client's house, you fix it or pay for it to be fixed. Sometimes things do break during a renovation. It sucks, but it happens. Don't worry so much about why it happened, just make sure that it gets fixed. You are definitely entitled to ask the contractors why they seem so sure that no further damage will occur—maybe the job has moved past the point where the roof is vulnerable, in which case you have nothing to worry about anymore.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:35 PM on February 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Have someone you trust come out and look at the job before the roof job goes any further or gets covered over. The answer to your question is: ZERO. Never seen this with a roofing job before, sorry.

I'd be really worried the demo has caused structural problems. Please have this assessed.

(I'm interested to know if others think this is normal, I've been involved with maybe 10 jobs similar, never seen it before, would totally get worried if it happened during any job I oversaw. I never did the actual work, tho...

As a customer, the answer is zero water should be leaking. So there ya go.)
posted by jbenben at 4:41 PM on February 22, 2016

Response by poster: I won't threadsit. Just chiming in to say, AOANLA, I have no idea what happened to cause the leak. All I know is we live on the top floor and it sounds like bombs are going off on the roof for 8 hours a day and I am concerned with the intensity of the pounding. That said, I appreciate and understand what you're saying and do realize that reimbursement is the best and probably only thing to be done in this situation at this point, that and doing their level best to avoid anymore leaks, which they say they're doing.

But, this being NYC and having just completed my own renovation, I want to have as much info I can in case there's either damage to our unit or our building, and in case there are issues in the long run with reimbursement.

Thank you for the answers so far, I do appreciate them.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 4:52 PM on February 22, 2016

None, is the answer. You should expect none. That there was some and enough to damage the top floor apartments is a bummer, that the contractor is willing to reimburse repairs is great. And proof they screwed up.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:13 PM on February 22, 2016

I design re-roofing projects, I don't think I've ever seen one where at least a little water didn't get in, but this sounds over the top.
Typically every Owner Contractor contract I see has the roofer responsible for any damage that happens. Unless it's Larry, Moe and Curley, you'd think they'd be doing their level best to not damage things they will have to pay for.
Having "someone" come out and look at it could be a problem, it's the Contractor's job site, so the Contractor or the Owner has to authorize any one that gets in that job site.
You say you are a shareholder, who in the organization signed the Contract?
If you do want to get a trained pair of eyes on it, I'd recommend looking in the membership directory of RCI Inc. - link is on the right side of the page, look for a RRC (Registered Roofing Consultant).

As far as the noise, it's really hard to form any opinion without knowing what they are tearing off and what the roof structure is. I've seen old bitumen (tar and felt) roofs removed with adzes. Some roof decks can act like a drum - metal deck for example.
posted by rudd135 at 7:26 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in a 12 story, 96 unit prewar building in NYC. They replaced our roof about 7 years ago. This entailed removing about 2 feet of old roof first. So yeah, jack hammers overhead for months on end. And every time it rained, there would be leaks in multiple rooms. We, and everyone on our floor had significant water damage in pretty much every room of our apartment. Then, there was the time that the roofers left a hose running that they had been using to try to keep down the dust as they were breaking up concrete that resulted in water pouring out of our living room and kitchen light fixtures. Good times. The city was ultimately involved, and there were lots of fines. All of our ceilings had to be replaced and every room repainted.
posted by kimdog at 6:21 AM on February 23, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. Kimdog, that sounds awful, and is precisely the scenario I aim to avoid.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:51 AM on February 23, 2016

I will say that homeowners (by which I mean people who live in buildings and are not part of the construction trade) often have no idea how noisy construction is, and demolition even moreso. It's an inherently loud and sometimes violent process. The sawing and hammering can get pretty intense (we've never had to resort to axes, but we go through a lot of sledgehammers) and there frequently is just no way to do it more gently or quietly. My own company takes great pains to be polite and to minimize disruption during renovations, but complaints about noise are probably the single most common type of complaint that we get from our clients.

Nobody likes having their living space turn into a construction site. The alternative is to just never do maintenance though, which in the long run is much worse. You will probably just have to grit your teeth and put up with the noise and the banging, I'm sorry to say. Be sure to let a supervisor know if they actually break your apartment (like if the vibrations cause cracks in your plaster) but otherwise I think that you have to accept that they're doing their best to get the noisy part over with quickly.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:07 PM on February 23, 2016

Response by poster: The noise is not an issue. We did renovation this summer; we understand full well, we really do. The issue is the leaking not the banging.

We are sympathetic. We are reasonable. In fact, the reason I bring up the noise is because it seemed to me that with noise like that, surely there was a likelihood that there would be some ancillary damage to the roof that might cause leaking, and I wanted to gauge a.)what the industry standard or best practice is for roofers when they leave a roof at the end of the day, exposed to the elements, after axing away at it for 8 hours, and b.) how much leaking to reasonably expect in spite of those practices. Turns out expectations range somewhere between "Absolutely NONE!" and "Living area resembling Lake Erie not uncommon."

FWIW, they assured us there would be no further leaks and there haven't been. So, that's reasonable and that's where we're going forward from at this moment in time.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:21 AM on February 24, 2016

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