Showing posts with label Green Roof. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Green Roof. Show all posts

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. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Green Roof Update - Late Summer 2016

  It's high time for a Project Happy Life green roof update.  And, while going through the pictures I've taken this season, I found a bunch of good ones that I'd like to share.  So, in chronological order, here's what has been going on in this, the 4th growing season of our Brooklyn green roof.

Spring always brings a blanket of flowers to the green roof, although which species of sedum blossoms the most has changed over the years.  This year, we hardly had any of the tall blue-green sedum plants blossom.  They would make buds, and then it looked like the ants would get them.  Here, however, is a shot of the shorter sedum in bloom along with a couple of sage volunteers that seeded themselves in that spot last year.  I wish I liked using the sage as much as it likes to grow.

Here's some of that happy sage parent plant.  I love the color of those blossoms!

The strawberries in the Woolly Pocket are still doing well.  And, because we've had fewer squirrels on the roof so far this year, we've gotten to eat a lot more of what we're growing.  But all is not well, as you'll see later on...

A wide shot for you.  I've tried a couple of times to get peas to grow up the railing from those copper planters above the strawberries, but they never make it.  I think the soil is too poor and the railing gets too hot.  Next year, I'm going to fix that soil up (I've been composting like crazy, which is another story for another day) and give them some string to climb on.

For the first time, last year I planted some flowers on the green roof, and the bachelor buttons have been re-seeding themselves and spouting in some spectacular colors (last year, we just had blue and white).

I also experimented with planting a purple coneflower (echinacea) last year, and it came back really well this year.  There are even some seedlings starting in a couple of other spots on the roof now!

I had the opportunity to try my hand at stone carving when I was in school this past Spring semester.  I made a little addition for the green roof that we see as we're coming out of the hatch.

The berry production was prolific this year.  We had red strawberries, alpine strawberries, blueberries, and black raspberries.  For a while, our breakfasts could not have been beaten by the finest restaurants in the world.

Blueberry glamour shot.

We have had some spectacular skies over Brooklyn this year too.  We have had two double rainbows.

Some incredibly colorful sunsets:

Beautiful cloud formations:

And even a night when we could see the full moon in one direction,

And a lightning storm in the other direction.

As the summer has worn on, a lot of the bachelor buttons have dried out.  I can already see the next generation sprouting, though.  One neat thing I hadn't expected when I made the redwood planters last year was how many things would grow out of the sides of the planters.  In this shot, you can see some of the bachelor buttons even did it!

Two days ago, I even found a mushroom growing out of the side of one of the planters!

While I'll steer clear of eating that mushroom, we've had some nice harvests this year.  Our summer crops have consisted mainly of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and carrots.

But I also planted some of the little "Rich Sweetness 132" melons from seed I saved last year.  They've been doing well.  I like how they echo the cucumbers strips in a different color palate.

I'm growing my first crop of onions, and they appear to be doing well.  I started these from some little green onions that my neighbors put in their compost, because they were a little wilted.  I stuck them in water, and they sprouted roots.  So I transplanted them to the roof in the early spring.  I saw a youtube video that recommended cutting the tops back to encourage bulb formations, so that's why they've been lopped off.

I'm also experimenting with growing crops right in the sedum.  I've got a couple of collards and cabbage plants in there.  There used to be four of each, but I'm having a problem...

Doves, mockingbirds, or robins are digging up the sedum!  They're practically mowing it down - ripping up big clumps and tossing the clumps into the drainage rock.  In the process, I've lost some of the collards and cabbage seedlings.  I'm not quite sure what to do about it; I assume they're eating some grubs or something.  But they sure do make a mess!!  There's a walking path buried under the sedum clippings the birds have made in this shot.

I've noticed that our mint blossoms are being visited by a bunch of black and orange wasps that I've never seen before.  They don't linger, so I couldn't get a great picture of them, so here's an excellent picture from  They're called "blue-winged wasps" or scolia dubia, a wasp that preys on Japanese beetle grubs.  I'm guessing these wasps' presence supports my grub theory about those birds. 

No matter what the reason is the birds are tearing up the sedum, at least it'll make it easier to plant more crops on the main "lawn" of the green roof next year!  It's always so hard to think of pulling up the sedum to make room for other things when it's covered in little flowers in the spring.

Anyway, in case there's any doubt, the green roof continues to be my favorite place to be.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Planter Project - Part 2

When last I wrote about the redwood planters (Planter Project - Part 1), I hadn't yet filled them with soil and plants.  I ended up making 19 of them in total, and I can't remember for sure how many bags of potting soil I carried up to the roof.  I think it was 4 bags per planter, but I've brought up some compost and stuff since then as well.  Just to button things up, here's a little photo-journal of the rest of the story.

Once I had all the planters built, I decided I should level them so the water in the bottom tank portion of the planters would be the same distance from the filter fabric along the full length of the planter.  If they were left to rest evenly on the parapet wall, the water would have filled up to the fabric on one end, and barely made it into the net cup on the other end.

I got the first shimmed and leveled, and then I could fine-tune the shimming and leveling of the subsequent planters down the line.  The were then screwed to each other.

I have a 1/2" drip irrigation line running around the perimeter of the roof, and I have one 1/4" line branching off for each planter (in addition to the other lines branching off for pots and such).

The line runs up, between the pond liner and the redwood, then it pokes up through the filter fabric, before arching back down, and poking through the filter fabric into the inside of the pond liner tank.

Shimming and plumbing my way down the line.  It's too bad I cut the parapet capstone profiles into the bottoms of both ends of the planters.  I ended up having to fill them with scrap pieces on the down-slope ends.

Rooftop storm glamour shot.

I had some seedlings from the farmer's market waiting in this planter.

Once all the planters were shimmed and plumbed, I cut the top horns off.

I know it doesn't have much to do with the planters, but I bought some blueberry plants last year, and I was very impressed that they actually made blueberries!  On the roof!  And they are producing even more this year!

These planters really allowed me to increase our crops last year.  This is from May, 2015. 

And here's how things looked in July, 2015.  The drip irrigation system turns on for 20 minutes, 3 times/week.  It waters all the potted plants, and it fills all the reservoirs in the planters.  Some day, if I ever make a second generation of these planters, I'm going to work out a float valve system that will allow the reservoirs to stay full all the time.  But, for now, it's working well enough.

It's fun to go back now (May, 2016) and see these pictures of how the roof had gotten even woolier by August of 2015.  I'm planning to make a special redwood planter for a small crab apple tree this year.  And I'm going to try planting tall plants on the short side and short plants on the tall side.  Project Happy Spring!