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New law affects entire roofing industry in city.

New York City Chief Fire Marshall Louis Garcia (Bureau of Fire Investigation) issued a directive that became effective last June regarding what he described as "the reckless and illegal practice of using propane torches in installing modified roofing material on combustible (wood deck) roofs, and establishing guidelines for the arrest and prosecution of individuals and companies responsible for this reckless behavior."

More than 70 percent of all co-ops with flat roofs in New York have wood decks and are affected by this little publicized law. The city council was advised that a study showed that between 1994 and 1998, there was an average of 35 roof fires per year. During that time, a well-publicized roof fire burned down an entire shopping center in the Midwest. Finally, on May 10, 1999, a disaster led to the immediate adoption and implementation of these rules. Roofers were using propane torches to install modified roofing started a 3-alarm fire that destroyed 30 apartments at 327 West 30th Street in Manhattan, leaving those residents homeless. The operator of the torch and the owner of the roofing company were arrested for reckless endangerment of property.

The penalty for violating these rules, built into the rules themselves, became arrest for reckless endangerment of property. Further, anyone sanctioning the illegal use of propane on roofs, including board members, engineers, or architects, attorneys who draw up contracts, managing agents and roofing companies, can all be subject to arrest!

The development and popular use of torching down modified roofing began in the early 1980's. Torching rolls of modified bitumen resulted in instant adherence of this waterproof membrane layer, so that installation became quick and easy. In a sudden rain, the section of the opened roof could be torched closed and then sealed with flashing cement. The ease of this process led to scored of new companies jumping into the roofing business. This competition led to very low pricing for either repairs, overlays or entire roof replacements. Hundreds of buildings hired inexperienced contractors based on the low prices, and the fact that modified roofs work, without realizing the potential risk.

Under the newly adopted Local Law 10, building owners, boards and their managing agents have to develop and distribute to every resident, every year, a seven-page fire safety plan for all buildings covered by this law. The first page of the plan must state very clearly, for all residents to read, whether they live in a combustible or a non-combustible building. The date for distributing the safety plans is November 2000.

Now that this method of roof installation is illegal on combustible roofs, manufacturers are scrambling to keep their share of the market, and numerous, less qualified roofing companies will undoubtedly go out of business. Rubberized (elasometric) roof systems that have non-torch adhesives will increase in popularity. The manufacturers of modified bitumen roofing have started producing their own cold mop adhesives that have short drying times (about 45 minutes). Cold mopping of these adhesives will become the cheaper method, but hot mopping roof membranes, which has always been thought of as the best system, will come back in vogue.

In selecting a system for an entire roof replacement on a non-combustible building, the insulation board that is fastened beneath the membrane must not be composed of wood fibers (fiberboard), or plastic/polystyrene (EPS board) if the system calls for torching, because those boards are flammable. Many other installation boards are suitable, such as perlite boards (manufactured from volcanic materials combined with organic fibers and waterproofing binders), and a host of glass fiber boards, polyurethane foam and phenolic foam boards.

It is not hard to imagine a time in the near future that all torching with open flames on any roof will become illegal. In the meantime, boards, engineers and architects, co-op corporate attorneys, managing agents, and roofing companies themselves need to catch up on a law that is already one year old, and stop installing illegal and potentially hazardous torched-down roof materials on combustible wood deck apartment buildings.

An entire industry that is essential to preserving and waterproofing buildings is changing. Everyone related to the decision to maintain, repair, install an overlay or replace a roof must learn the new codes and change as well.

Specifically, the Administrative Code of the City of New York, Department of Buildings' Rules, Title 1, Chapter 25-07 (M), makes it illegal to operate, maintain, or use propane in conjunction with an open flame or torch on, the roof of any structure, unless the roof is of non-combustible constitution. A non-combustible roof means that the deck is either metal or poured concrete.

Further, the Rule in Chapter 25-07 (G) requires that to torch down roofing material on non-combustible roofs, you now must obtain a Certificate of Fitness issued by the New York Fire Department. Chapter 25-11, Item 8 severely restricts the weight of the propane containers in use or stored in any building.

It is also illegal to transport propane in any vehicle unless the vehicle and owner is specifically licensed for such transport. These licenses must be renewed continuously throughout each year. A roof contractor transporting propane tanks must have adequate auto insurance. If not, especially if not licensed to even transport propane, and there is an accident, the co-op faces enormous exposure from the lawsuits that would endue. A truck accident involving propane tanks can destroy entire city blocks.
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Title Annotation:dangers of propane torches
Author:Grant, Robert
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:May 17, 2000
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