Showing posts with label roofing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label roofing. 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. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Arnold Cabin Project Part 2: Planning

Hi there!  Cindy and I are getting ready to fly to California for two weeks to work on the Arnold Cabin.   If you missed Part 1 of the Arnold Cabin Project, click the link to read all about it.

 Now, before all you mashers and thieves out there in Internet Land get excited about pilfering our television while we're out of town, settle down.  The upstairs tenants will still be home, and we have additional people cat sitting and looking after the green roof.

With the home front in good hands, I'm getting nerdy-excited about our trip.

Here's the plan:  We're going to fly into LAX, rent a car, drive up and spend a night visiting Cindy's twin sister, Jodi in Lancaster.  We can't wait to see the school where she teaches and the new house where she lives. The next day, we're going to drive a bit further up and spend the night visiting Daron and his wife Marianne in California City.  Daron is one of my three fathers, and if you don't know what I mean when I say that, check out this previous blog post: Three Fathers. One Me.  Cindy hasn't met Daron and Marianne yet, and I'm very excited to introduce them!  The following day, we'll head up to Carmel Valley and settle into our housing at Hastings Natural History Reservation.
The Barn at Hastings
I spent this past Thursday night, and all day Friday and Sunday researching metal roofing systems and suppliers for the cabin.  I think I found the right thing - corrugated sheet metal.  It'll stop the rain, last a long time, give the cabin a few more minutes of time if a wildfire comes through, and it'll be in keeping with the style of the cabin.  I have the heart of a loyal restorationist and preservationist, so I really thought hard before moving away from a shingled roof (which is what is currently on the cabin), but I've seen photos of other family cabins with sheet metal on them, so I think my ancestors would approve.

Another thing to consider is the delicate nature of the land and the fact that it's used for natural history research.  Most metal roofing systems these days, it seems, come either coated in paint or a polyvinyl fluoride stuff.  I didn't want to risk all that paint cracking off or the PVCF chemicals leeching or peeling off the roof and getting into the environment over time.  So I chose a product that's as safe and environmentally inert as I could find: 7/8" corrugated sheet metal coated in "galvalume".

From the manufacturer's web site:
The Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification program, administered by the International Living Future Institute, takes a broad view of sustainability and embraces the philosophy of a restorative future by looking at a building’s performance over time.  In fact, certification is not granted until the building has been occupied and its performance documented for one year.
The Institute’s Declare Label is an ingredients-based eco-label around the Red List of “chemicals of concern” that have human health and toxicity impacts.  Declare aims to provide transparency and open communication by allowing manufacturers to voluntarily share their product sources, materials and manufacturing locations.
Metal Sales™ is the first metal panel manufacturer to be included in the rigorous and exclusive Declare™ program. Metal Sales has fully disclosed all of the ingredients in the Acrylic Coated Galvalume® roof and wall panels through Declare, and they are designated as being Red List Free on the Declare Label. 
For more information, please visit
Are you still with me?  I know.  Corporate writing is snoozeville.  I could hardly get through that stuff myself, but I googled around, and it doesn't seem like greenwashing.  Here's hoping I'm making a good choice!
Since I've never built a metal roof, I had a lot of questions in my mind about how to deal with the corners, the roof ridge, the line along the roof where there's a change in slope (which I now know is called a "pitch break"), how the flashing and the roofing panels go together, how to deal with the little gaps under the corrugation, how to cut corrugated sheet metal... 
The internet is a marvel and a wealth of free education if you take the time to poke around and always verify things across multiple sources.  It seems us Americans cut sheet metal with power tools - nibblers and grinders.  In the Phillippines, Australia, and New Zealand, they just snip a nick in the panels and rip them by hand.  Since we won't have electricity (or water, for that matter) at the cabin, I'm excited to give the snip-and-rip method a try.
Well, the metal manufacturer had a bunch of installation diagrams and stuff on their web site, so I downloaded and read almost all of them.  If anyone ever wanted to prove that I'm not normal, they need only point out that I really loved spending three days reading about how metal roofs go together.  
But, before I could order the roofing materials, I had to know the pitch angles of the roof.  There are 3 roof sections on this cabin.  Clearly, the original 12'x21' cabin got too small for my two great-great-grand parents and their 5 children, so they added a section onto one side to make a 21' square cabin.  The new addition - let's call it the West wing - created a second pitch angle.  I took some rudimentary measurements of the cabin when we were out in July of 2013, but there were a couple of critical measurements I didn't think to take.  In order to find the slopes of the roof, I had to trace them off photographs I had taken.  But then I wanted to double check my tracings, so I ended up making a model of the cabin in SketchUp and matching some photos (taken on two different days) to my measurements.  If I did the photo-matching correctly, my measurements were pretty close.  If I didn't, I hope my metal order included more (rather than less) than I'll need - there's a week's lead time for orders, and we'll have to drive to Watsonville for the pickup! 
Arnold Cabin in SketchUp
Arnold Cabin in real life - July 2013
While I think the cabin is pretty square, it's clear from matching the model to the photos that the walls aren't perfectly plumb.  For a roof, square is pretty important so your eaves and gables - the parts that overhang the walls - aren't all crooked.  I'm hoping plumb won't mess me up too much, since I won't have time to starting fiddling with the cabin's foundation.  Someone else worked on that back in (I'm guessing) the '80's, around the last time the roof was replaced.  Want a picture of the foundation?  I'm sure you do:
Family lore has it that the boys slept down here - under the floor of the cabin.  The girls, I gather, slept up in the West wing.
And while I'm trying to impress you with this little cabin, here's a shot of the interior.  That's the front door on the left.  I'm guessing this would have been the living room:

Here's what the ceiling in that room looks like - just shingles on purlins on rafters.  Like my nifty new roofing lingo?  You can see the spot where the wood stove chimney used to be.

And last-but-not-least-ly, this is the West wing with the back door.
So, the plan is to strip off the shingles, sweep out the wood rat poop, nail tin over the rat and wood pecker holes, put the metal roofing system on the house, and replace the missing redwood batons and a couple of broken floorboards.  
Speaking of redwood, I found a guy who salvages old growth redwood logs down in Big Sur.  He's going to be our redwood supplier.  Here's his web site:
Oh, and if there's time, we'll replace the broken window panes and re-glaze the rest.  My Aunt Trish is flying in from Phoenix, my Aunt Lynda is coming down from San Francisco, and a handful of cousins will gather at Hastings for a little family reunion and visit to the cabin on our last weekend.  And for our last night, we'll be heading up to San Francisco to take Lynda home and have a nice visit with my cousin Robert.
I'm looking forward to a great trip.  New roof or bust!!