Apartment Re-roof in Seattle, A Cautionary Tale
About This Project
Owners of apartment complexes in Seattle, a city that’s well known for its heavy clouds and its rain, deal consistently with moisture intrusion in their buildings. In fact, leaks are the most common and costly problem in the Pacific Northwest’s roofing industry. There are even laws in place in Washington State which ensure building owners protect their property against this with the appropriate materials, design, and quality installation of their roofs.
The building owner of a large apartment building complex contacted us and expressed deep concern. Although his roof system was newly installed, it had severe leaks that were occuring throughout the entire roof. After the owner’s call, one of our inspectors conducted a visit for further discussion and an investigation.
According to the owner, the building had a long history of roof leaks that were both severe and widespread. This wasn’t just expressed verbally; the owner also had documentation of these leaks, and showed our inspector a log that described repairs made over the years.
The Initial Disclosure
The building owner explained that not only did he own this large apartment complex, he was also acting as his own general contractor. As the general contractor, he had hired a roofing contractor, who installed a new roof during the summer of 2018.
We were shown the proposal the roofing contractor had drafted, which required the removal of both the original roof and any insulation that was within the existing roof system. Then, the new insulation and a new roof system was applied for a cost of about $129,000.
Given how much the owner had paid for this process, he asked to enlist our investigation services and discover why there were still issues of moisture intrusion despite a brand-new roof system.
The Roof Inspection
Through our investigation of the apartment complex, we discovered roof flashing details that were improperly installed. These details included:
- Gutter flashing that mistakenly ended up allowing water to wick back underneath the new roof
- Parapet wall flashing that was improperly installed and allowed water to infiltrate the roof and the walls
- Improper roof-to-wall flashing that relied only on caulking (which is insufficient) in order to keep the building watertight
To fix these issues was a somewhat intrusive repair as all of these details needed to be removed and reinstalled in a proper manner.
During our investigations, however, we discovered an even more troublesome problem. The roof indeed leaked every time it rained (which unfortunately in Seattle, can be daily depending on the time of year). However, even when it did not rain, there was moisture intrusion, and the main culprit of this was the new insulation that had been improperly installed.
The insulation that had been used was not appropriate to the needs and environment of the building. It was causing a significant amount of condensation to appear between the bottom of the single ply roof membrane, and the top of the insulation board, all throughout the roof. Every day, in the evening as the warm interior air (the air that contained a high level of moisture) would come into contact with the underside of the single ply membrane, which was cool from the outside temperature, and condensation would form daily.
The continual occurrence of this condensation caused the Oriented Strand Board (OSB) sheathing (the roof substrate), to become overly saturated. Because it happened daily, this saturation became an ongoing condition, which resulted in the OSB being constantly wet. This caused delamination, and weakened the roof substrate significantly.
Our investigation concluded that the occurrence of condensation and failed OSB could not be repaired, unless the roof system and OSB were completely removed and replaced. This is what was causing those severe, widespread leaks that the building owner was rightly concerned about.
Unfortunately, while a complete replacement was necessary, this is not exactly what the owner wished to hear. Our estimate for the budget to complete the repair was $525,000, which would have included:
- Creation of bidding documents (scope of work, specifications and detail drawings)
- Removing the roof system
- Removing the failed sheathing
- Installing new plywood sheathing
- Installing a new roof insulation board
- Installing a new roof system, with proper detailing of roof-to-wall conditions, gutters, etc.
Initially, the cost to replace his roof in the summer of 2018 was $129,000. If the building owner had enlisted the services of a professional roof designer for this initial roof replacement, the estimated cost for a roof system that would have been designed to meet all applicable building code and which came with a twenty-year warranted roof system for about $280,000.
Because the building owner already spent $129,000 to replace the roof initially, he was unable to afford conducting a replacement for a second time, let alone at a much higher cost. Currently, no repairs have yet been performed.
Due to this, the building owner and his insurance company are filing suit against the general contractor (who is also the owner) and the general contractor’s insurance company. You read that right; he is suing himself! The owner and both insurance companies are all currently filing suit against the roofing contractor who was hired for the installation during the summer of 2018. That roofing contractor has now gone out of business.
A Cautionary Tale
Sadly, this story is not unique. People often find themselves spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a roofing or building envelope replacement that not only is unable to fix the issue, but complicates the issue even further. Receiving an unbiased, professional roof assessment from an expert third party inspector can ensure that you are getting your money’s worth and are receiving only what your roof needs. This can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.
Protecting your roof system, which is the system that protects your asset, is always worth the effort, money, and time you invest. You get what you pay for.