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Should I worry about buying a house with a flat roof? Add to ...

Questions: I have two questions about a preconstruction townhouse in Stouffville my wife and I are looking at. We are married with no children and live in a condo, but hoping to upsize as we expand our family size.

1) The preconstruction 18-foot width townhouse has a rooftop terrace. The rooftop terrace is something that I adore, and given that we will have no backyard, it seems like a great alternative. However, my wife is concerned about the potential upkeep of owning a rooftop terrace given the Great North's notoriously harsh winter. Compared to a traditional slanted shingled roof, what is the expected life of the rooftop terrace before issues from wear and tear creep up? How much extra should we expect to set aside each year compared to a traditional roof to fix any issue that could arise?

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2) With the staircase to the rooftop terrace, it took away some of the dimension from the master bedroom ensuite with a small walk in closet. The planned dimension of the master bedroom is 12- by 10-feet as a result. I personally have no problem with a smaller master bedroom, but there is a concern that it will be an issue when we come to sell the home down the road.

Answers: These are both excellent questions. It is great to see people like yourself considering such factors before making a purchase.

Part one of your question deals with the merits of having a flat roof. Flat rooftops, especially those with decks, definitely require more maintenance and consideration than traditional pitched roofs. They have come a long way in how they are constructed. I’m by no means an expert in construction techniques, but my experience in real estate has included many encounters with flat roofs.

The method of choice for constructing a flat roof used to be with gravel and tar. Basically, alternating layers of the two materials were laid down in order to create a weatherproof finish. Today, many builders and renovators have opted to use a Fibreglas or rubber-like membrane on top of flat roofs, which has proven far more effective than previous methods. One issue with Fibreglas roofs are, they are not typically one single sheet covering the surface. Instead several smaller pieces are bonded together for economical and transportation purposes. Care must be taken to ensure these pieces are strongly bonded together to resist weather and potential traffic.

Another consideration with a flat roof is to ensure it is not truly “flat”. There should be a slight pitch or slant to it, in order to divert water to the eavestrough or downspout. Pooling of water indicates potential problems down the road.

Despite advances in flat roof construction techniques, the truth is they simply do not have the same lifespan as a traditional pitched shingle roof. Traditional roofs typically last about 30 years in Canada’s climate, whereas a flat roof lasts about 10 years – about 1/3 of the lifespan.

A deck or terrace on a flat roof creates additional strain.

I’ve seen many decks physically attached to a roof via screws or nails. Sounds logical enough, but these holes could allow for penetration of the elements - again, additional maintenance may be needed to to ensure they are sealed.

Some people opt for a “floating” deck that is not permanently attached to the roof. This type of deck will sit on foam footers that will cushion the weight of the deck without creating any holes in the roof. The weight of the deck is typically enough to keep it in place during high winds and harsh winters. Heavy duty glues or adhesives can also be used to assist in securing it to the roof. Be sure to consult with a professional before making any decisions on your own.

Part two of your question isn’t as easy to answer. Purchasing a home is always about a little give and take. In your case, buyers down the road may be willing to sacrifice some space in the master bedroom in order to get an awesome outdoor space in the form of a rooftop patio. Of course, the opposite could hold true as well.

I always say, there is an eventual buyer for every home – so if you love the home and it works well for you, don’t get too caught up in looking down the road. Unless there are some glaring issues, enjoy your home today and worry about other issues (that may prove irrelevant) when it comes time to sell.

Ricky Chadha is a broker with Royal LePage Estate Realty in Toronto, and specializes in applying social media and other digital tools to the business of real estate. You can find Ricky on Twitter @your416 or at his website RickyChadha.com.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Real Estate Expert is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional real estate advice.

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