As a voting member of a small condo association, I’m occasionally presented with an option to replace a section of our roof. (The building is made of several sections, each with its own roof, and most are connected to the adjacent ones.) Whenever someone gets a leak or gets water in their apartment, roofers come out to give estimates on the work. And none of them ever suggests putting tar paper and tar down over the existing roof. They all want to replace the roofs at exorbitant prices. The claim that recovering the roof with tar paper (or whatever is the latest technique) is useless is usually promoted by roofing companies. How do we get a fair evaluation of what our options are? Asking a roofing contractor for advice on this seems like asking a fox for advice on guarding the hens.
Your insurance company may be able to provide an unbiased inspector or at least a company that they have fewer problems with.
Once a roof or window starts to leak it can be very difficult to find the source of the water. A small flaw can let in water that then runs along a rafter beam and exhibits itself in a location far away from the point that needs patching.
Trying to patch a leaking roof will often leave both the customer and the contractor frustrated. The roofing company may ask for a waiver of liability to patch a roof that may have unknown and unseen damage below the roofing. And they probably will not offer the guarantee you would get with a new job. Maybe no guarantee at all
If it were for your personal dwelling you could decide to risk a patch job but since it is a condo assn. you are responsible to the members and should take the risk into account.
As a former general manager of a small window, door and roofing company, I used to hate these jobs because no one is going to be happy in the end. I will have to send the guys back several times to address the issue and lose all profit in the job. If I DO manage to fix the leak you might later develop dry rot from the water that is already in there and blame my company. In the end your repair job could end up being a black mark against my company and you will tell all your friends that my name is mud.
If I were still in the business I would also recommend roof replacement or a warranty free patch job with written waivers, or I might recommend you call my competitor.
Just a little food for thought from the roofer’s point of view.
I am assuming that these are flat roofs since you did not mention shingles. I was on the board of a co-op in the nineties and we had problems with the roof. I would suggest that you reach out to other condo associations in the area of a similar age. One thing I will say is that problems with the masonry in the crown of a building often create problems that look like they come from the roof. This can get expensive.
The roofing companies are right. If a flat or low-pitch roof leaks, the best plan is to strip it all off down to the roof decking and start new.
As mentioned above, it’s about the only way anyone will guarantee the job, and there is a limit to how many layers of roofing you can have. Tar, gravel and paper is heavy. Two layers of tar, gravel and paper are really heavy, and if you get sizeable snowfall in your area, two layers of roofing plus a lot of snow may be heavy enough to cause structural damage or collapse.
Also, leaks in flat roofs are an all-out nightmare to find. When you have a mish-mosh of patches, IME, the patches do not bond 100% to the lower layers, and water can travel horizontally between the layers for considerable distances.
My dad was a career roofer and owned his own business for over a decade, and I worked for him… so here’s my 2 cents…
Repairs are very difficult depending on the roof and what kind of leak you have. If a roofer is recommending an entire re-roof then they probably aren’t trying to rip you off. A lot of the times, the only way repair work is profitable is if they do it with absolutely no guarantee that the roof won’t continue to leak, which is obviously not good for you who have paid to get a leak fixed.
So, it’s probably not a scam, and yes it sucks. You probably can find a roofer willing to repair it though, with no guarantee of course, and save yourself a few dollars. Maybe it will fix the leak for 5 years or maybe for 5 minutes but you get what you pay for.