Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fixing a very leaky roof - what worked!

Our roof was leaky for YEARS.  I bought the house in March of 2005, and although the roof had recently been replaced, there was water coming in the upstairs hallway and kitchen before the year was out.   Every time it happened, our tenant would let us know, and I would run up to the roof in the rain with a bucket of asphalt patching tar, smear it on to what I thought might be the source of the leak, and hope for the best.  Usually the patch would hold for a little while, and then the cycle would repeat itself. 

In September of 2006, the leaks in the upstairs kitchen had become essentially un-patchable.  I thought the problem was coming from where the chimney and the roof met - you can understand why when you see the condition of the chimney after a big piece of sheet copper was removed from the side of it:

And this is what it looked like when it was all buttoned back up.  You can see the solar vent fan I installed myself in the lower left (which has never leaked, by the way):

But, the kitchen leak and hall leaks kept coming back.

So, in 2007, I took out a loan and had the roof fully stripped and replaced.  In preparation for the green roof I already knew I wanted to install someday, I also had a couple of water-compromised rafters replaced and the roof access hatch moved from within the upstairs apartment closet to above the 2nd floor landing.

Here's a shot of the roof, stripped to the boards, with the hatch still in its original position (where our apple tree is these days)


A new layer of plywood was laid down over the existing planks, then a layer of insulation board, and finally a new rubber roof.  This photo was from a year or two later, but you get the idea.

That work solved the problems with the main roofing membrane, but problems continued to pop up with some of the myriad penetrations in the roof (we have 4 skylights, 3 plumbing vent stacks, a roof hatch, and the solar vent fan).

For example, there was STILL that leak above the upstairs kitchen. 

I'll smugly tell you that I myself finally figured out that issue and had the roofing company take care of it - the vent pipe had been blocked by something where it transitioned from 3" pipe to 2" pipe just above the kitchen ceiling,  That blockage had allowed water to get trapped, which froze and expanded, breaking the pipe about 12" below the roofline.  The roofing company cut a hole in the ceiling, sleeved in a new transition coupling and pipe, and sealed around the new pipe with a rubber boot on the roof.

Also, the skylight over the main staircase started leaking a few months after it had been re-installed (we had it raised up on a higher curb so it would clear our eventual green roof).  After a couple of failed patching attempts, we had a new one made and installed in 2011,


...only to discover a pinhole leak in the new skylight in the fall of 2012 (after the green roof went in.   The roofers came back, temporarily detached the skylight, and I added a dab of solder to the hole while they added more waterproofing to the curb.


Things seemed pretty stable after that.

...  But not really.

That damn kitchen vent pipe leaked again!  It turns out that the boot was too close to the parapet wall to make a perfect seal, so when it rained fast enough, water would pool in the drainage rock by the down-spout and pour in under the boot.  I fixed that (according to some advice from a roofer) with roofing tar and roofing fabric around the vent pipe rubber boot (so I'm sort of back to the temporary patch deal...):

With all the use the new roof hatch was getting, it was already wearing out, and it too somehow sprung a leak:

I called the original roofing company, but the new roof hatch was out of warrantee, so I hired a different company to replace it with a swanky (and much quieter and easier for Cindy to operate) new-new hatch.

The new-new hatch didn’t leak or squeak, but the roofers didn't insulate the sides, so it lost a lot of heat and developed condensation on the inside like crazy.  The tar on the curb never dried and was getting on the drainage rocks, my hands and my clothes.  So I solved both problems by insulating the sides of the hatch with foam boards and covered the insulation and the tar curb with sheet aluminum:



....Aaaand there was a leak in the upstairs living room, coming from between the side wall of my house and the side wall of the attached house next door:

The same roofers who replaced the hatch raised the parapet wall up a couple of courses of brick and installed a sheet metal flashing to cover the gap between the walls:

None of the leaks were due to the green roof system, which was a tremendous, face-saving relief.  All of them were serious bummers, which lead to another leak - fluid coming out of my eyes. 

BUT! It has been 3 years since the last of the repairs, and apart from a small leak in that same kitchen vent stack boot I mentioned above (which I fixed with more patching cement), the rain has stopped coming in the house.  Someday, maybe I'll move that vent pipe away from the parapet wall the proper amount, but since that leak isn't a mystery, I'll keep an eye on it and not get too fussed.

In 2015, with the roofing work finished, I employed a plasterer.  The walls in the house are true plaster (and lath), and as a preservationist, I'm only interested in replacing them with the same - no drywall.  It would be disrespectful to the house to do otherwise.  Proper plastering is an art form that takes years to master.  But I wanted to learn what I could, so when I hired the plasterer, it was with the understanding that I would be allowed to help and thereby to learn some of the tricks of the plastering trade.

Here's a shot of the repairs in the living room as they were ongoing.  It always gets worse before it gets better.

Here's the wall as it is today (it still needs some work, but we're focusing on fixing up some of the other rooms in the upstairs apartment first):

I used some of the techniques I learned from our nice plasterer to repair our bedroom wall myself, and I made a 2-part video about it for youtube.  Check it out and subscribe!  I'll be putting more videos up in the future.


Lastly, here's a picture of Buster.  He's pretty happy about the fact that we're getting this place fixed up.

Special thanks to Ian and his various roommates for putting up the roof problems in the upstairs apartment for all those years. 

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