Common Repair in New England Architecture

 

Before.

One of the mainstays of quintessential New England architecture is the “Colonial” style home. We also see a terrific array of “Greek Revival” homes. Both of these styles may have some common architectural features, including cornice details. I suppose it may be prudent to start with a quick discussion about nomenclature. The “rake” line of a

Things are starting to pull away.

gable wall refers to the trim running up the angle of the roof. In this case, there is a rake overhang. The bottom portion of this particular rake overhang intersects with the fascia and soffit at the eave line and then “returns” back to the wall section away from the fascia and gutters at the eave line. This small and almost flat section is called a “rake return.”

After tucking the seamless lead flashing, we anchored the new frame in place.

The rake return is a detail that very commonly requires a little bit of TLC here in NE. Way back when, these details were often built using antique heart pine, exponentially denser and more stable than the garbage available today. It would have been painted in an

oil based paint that allows the wood to breathe and moisture to escape through the paint. Today’s latex paints don’t afford that luxury, but are much more environmentally friendly. Sometimes, they would cover the rake return with tin or even lead. This would usually last a century…not bad.

Ready for paint.

When Meticulous Remodeling is called upon to repair or rebuild a rake return on a historic home, such as the small roof sections here in Portsmouth, NH, there is generally a need to just rebuild it by the time we get there. If we rebuild it, we’ll always anchor the simple framing to the home and to the other framing members with screws, for greater holding power. There are 2 other very critical components to making sure

No more gaps, and with screws as fasteners, there shouldn’t be any in the future.

this project will be bulletproof for another century. First, we must use flashing that will seamlessly cover the entire surface. Second, we must make sure that this lead is seamlessly tucked up in behind the siding board at the house and tucked up in behind the rake soffit that comes down onto it.

For us, this is virtually impossible

Voila!

to do without removing the existing rake return structure to provide access for us to tuck this special order 16″ lead flashing in behind these adjacent planes without tearing it. Once the flashing is in, we’ll then slide the pre-built frame up underneath it and fasten it to the wall. Next, we add trim- in this case we used pvc trim boards. Finally, we might as well paint everything while we’re up there anyway.

Pigeons…enjoy!

Seeing Red

As you look at the roof, the right portion has been pressure washed already, but the right portion not. You can also see that the butt edges of the shakes that have already been washed will need a quick zip over them with the stiff bristle brush. We don’t want to be too aggressive spraying up at these butt edges. Also notice there are a few small shingles under the bottom of the skylight flashing that we’ll have to re-nail. Plan on a little bit of that.

I was recently contracted by a long time homeowner in Newcastle, NH to go through the exterior of his home and look for problems and areas needing attention in anticipation of putting the home on the market in the spring time. He only spent a moment with me, just long enough to mention that he wished he could get the cedar roof replaced for less than $30,000. Then, he left me to evaluate the home and report back.

This assignment threatens me with an anxiety attack every time (fortunately, I’m not prone to anxiety attacks). I never want to tell clients that they have unexpected problems. This home happens to be just a touch over twenty years old, not an era renowned for fine craftsmanship.

Good news: Nothing more than a handful of rotten trimboards, seal the chimney, clean the moss and lichen build-up off the roof, and we’re home-free. I delight in reporting that the home was very well built.

So, we took care of the rotten trim, sealed the massive chimney, and treated the moss build-up with ‘Wet and Forget’. The problem was that the moss build-up was so entrenched that I estimated that it would not just wash away over time after this treatment.

The homeowner was really concerned about the roof, and rightly so. I eased his concerns a bit by stating that the cedar roof is actually in great shape and has another decade of life ahead. Buh-hut, I also had to offer that roofs, windows, and heating systems are the 3 big ticket items that either turn away prospective buyers or take $ out of the seller’s pocket. He agreed 100% and asked what I could do about it. “Well, we could pressure wash the roof. It would tear off the old and dead skin cells, so to speak, and reveal the beauty underneath. Let’s exfoliate your shingles!” The reason we could pressure wash his shingles is because they are California- Hand – Splits. They’re about twice as thick- and irregularly shaped- as regular cedar shingles. He jumped on board, and then one-upped me, “Then, we could spray the ‘Wet and Forget’ on the roof to prevent future build-up.”

Sounds enough like a winning plan, now we just have to execute. When wet, the roof is like a ‘Slip and Slide’. We would have to use roofing harnesses and walk it with the pressure washing wand to clean it. We started a pool to see how many times I would slip and eat cedar shingles on day 1. Only twice, and they weren’t half bad. It was actually pretty rewarding to turn a client’s old roof into a new roof. But, it was mind-numbing work.  Not that the work I do is rocket science, but every now and then it’s nice to have a non-cerebral day. I only wish I had chosen a better last song. The last song I listened to in the truck was Def Leppard, now stuck in my head like the guy in the x-ray that didn’t see the javelin coming.

This back side of the garage roof took me about 5 hours to wash. This is after drying.

On day 1, it took me 5 hours to pressure wash a section of roof measuring approximately 30 feet wide by 16 feet up. It took an additional hour and a half to spray it with the “Wet and Forget” to keep moss and lichens from building up again. Remember to test out which tip to use with the sprayer so you don’t tear apart the soft cedar, and try not to spray uphill too much, this could cause leaks, obviously. Also, keep in mind that cedar turns gray in the sun, no matter what. So if you’re thinking it’s going to look like brandy spankin’ new forever, you may want to rethink that.

This is the front side of the garage after washing. We usually ask clients to at least shut their car doors before pressure washing above.

If you’re thinking about doing a project like this, please remember that a bit of pre-planning can go a long way. Don’t let Def Leppard pour sugar on you all day long! Enjoy.

 

By John Bradshaw

The Most Common Roof Error I See

Photo #1- This home in Portsmouth features an outside corner to the immediate left of the trash barrel that is exactly the scenario most likely to be done wrong. The inside corner that’s just a touch up the roofline is also a common culprit.

Photo #2- If you click on this image to enlarge it, you will see there is a gap between the copper step flashing going up the roof line and the horizontal copper apron flashing.

You may have learned by now that I’ve never been known for brevity. This blog post, however, should buck that trend a little bit. Why? Simple, because this common error is very easy to identify and resolve. So easy, in fact, that it doesn’t make much sense why these things are almost never done properly in the first place.

The scenario is this: Any time an out side wall corner or an inside wall corner comes down to intersect with a roof plane, assume it’s not flashed properly. Now, this does not mean that it leaks, necessarily. It may not leak due to a proper insurance layer of ice and water shield underneath the shingles. Conversely, the lack of water signs inside the corresponding portion of the home does not mean that it is not leaking. Wood, especially real wood as opposed to “particle board”, has the ability to absorb water, and then dry out. This can happen over and over again, as long as it can dry out. Or, The initial plywood and framing components that are coming in contact with the water that is infiltrating are sometimes not able to properly dry out, and thus rot. The components that lay below these “first absorbers” will get wet, but not necessarily beyond their saturation point. If the lower levels of wood are absorbing the water without exceeding their saturation point, the water may never make it to the drywall layer to display to the homeowner that damage is being done. This explains how a home can be taking on water without showing signs of it on the drywall, for instance.

Photo #3- Just a simple piece of lead flashing to transition between the planes.

What is the error at these corner/roof intersections that is causing these problems? Well, the lack of incorporating nice, wonderful, beautiful, malleable lead flashing into the mix. Am I in love with lead? Maybe just a trifle, but hey, what’s not to love? Standard aluminum step flashing runs up the abutting cheek wall that the roof shingles butt into. And aluminum can sometimes also be used to flash the siding down over the roofing at those wall planes that run parallel with the shingles. But what aluminum cannot ever do is to turn that corner seamlessly. Lead, however, has the ability to hit all these multiple planes seamlessly. Mmmmmmmmm.

Photo #4- This is a home in Hampton. Look how easy this stuff is to spot, yet home inspectors rarely pick up on it, even though this home has stained drywall in the garage underneath.

Photo #5- See the close-up of the hole there. Simple to identify a lack of lead.

It’s comical the things that I sometimes see. I will pull apart these layers to correct and end up seeing layer after layer after layer after layer of aluminum flashing. Each one torn right at the crux of the corner, every time. So, the predecessor’s solution for recognizing that the flashing was tearing: Keep throwing more layers at it. Awesome.

These are flaws that are easy to identify, simple to fix yourself if you’re comfortable on a roof, or inexpensive (unless there is widespread rot) to hire a professional to solve. It may only cost $200- $300 to un-weave some shingles, remove a corner board, install some lead flashing, install a new corner board, and weave the shingles back in. The most difficult challenge you may face might be finding the professional that knows how and when to incorporate lead flashing. Here’s a catchy little reminder when vetting a repair contractor: Find someone with a passion for flashin’. No. I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon.

I must leave you with one last tidbit of information. I mentioned that aluminum can usually be a good flashing choice for the planes that don’t need to wrap around a corner. When it’s not a suitable choice is when there is copper in the vicinity. Copper is ranked higher on the Galvanic Scale of Nobility and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, copper and water runoff from copper interact with aluminum and cause the aluminum to rot right out. That’s also why aluminum is no longer acceptable to use as a deck flashing, because pressure treated lumber is treated with copper. Now you’re prepared to go tackle this one, safely of course.

 

 

By John Bradshaw

 

 

Well, If You Must Patch a Roof…

fixing roof leaksWhile, unfortunately increasingly rare amongst tradesmen, I find it to be fundamentally sound to properly overlap all building materials so that gravity always carries the water out over the face of the building. There are, however, occasions when that is not practical. One of my regular customers in the historic waterfront district of South Portsmouth has a weather mast at the top of his roof. The weather mast collects data and sends it to a beautiful mahogany display that he fixing roof leaksfixing roof leaksfix roof leaksfixing roof leaksfixing roof leakscreated inside the home. The problem is that the rubber boot that seals around the base of the copper weather mast has dried out, cracked, and opened up to begin letting water in the building.

Strict adherence to the principle of properly overlapping building materials would dictate that the weather mast roof boot has to be replaced. We would have to install a new one to seal around the pipe and be overlapped in with the shingles. There is a problem in this case. Unlike a simple pvc vent pipe, we could not simply slide the new boot down over the pipe. So, should we cut the copper pipe and re-solder it after the boot has been installed? Well that’s not a practical solution either. The mast has lots of wiring running down inside of it. Alright, fine, I give up. Let’s just smear a bunch of roof tar over it and call it a day, right? WRONG!

Roof tar has decent adhesion properties, but it dries out and become brittle very quickly with uv exposure. In this case in particular, that would be a big problem. The weather mast moves a fair amount with the wind. The solution must be flexible enough to withstand this and still perform.

So what is the solution? We use a new breed of caulking. It is bad-posterior side. So, we just smear this bad-posterior caulking on the roof boot, right? Negative. The caulking has amazing adhesion, flexibility, and resistance to breaking down with uv exposure. But, it’s only as good as the substrate it’s bonding to. In this case, the substrate (roof boot) is cracked and brittle. The caulking alone would make this 100% better, but still not 100% good. The solution is to smear a layer of the caulking to the roof boot (time to get messy). Then, cut 2 strips of fiberglass mesh cloth to wrap around the boot and the base of the pipe. These cloth strips are well smeared down into the base of caulking, making sure to smear more caulking over the first cloth strip before overlapping the second cloth strip onto it. It is really critical to make sure to smear the cloth in to the caulking completely. Make sure that the caulking and cloth extend from the aluminum portion of the roof boot, over the rubber portion of the boot, and onto the copper pipe with excellent adhesion. Essentially, we’re looking to bridge over and re-inforce the rubber boot. The final steps are to spread a layer of Geocel brushable liquid caulking over the assembly. This can only be done in layers up to 1/32” thick. After a couple of days to allow the first layer to cure, we’ll add a second layer to provide maximum protection.

The time to complete this repair was one hour. The materials cost about $35. Because we’re relying on caulking, etc., we’ll recommend inspecting it every few years and touching up as necessary, but we feel very confident that we just added another life to this roof boot and saved the homeowner a bunch of dough.

 

By John Bradshaw

Simple Roof Upgrades to Stop Chronic Leaks

.

Not long ago I was asked to consult the realtor in charge of obtaining proposals for removing a steeple and re-roofing a church in Rochester. He had obtained many bids and there was quite a big price difference between the top and bottom. I looked the project over, took pictures, measured it, and analyzed what a winning game plan might be. Then, I looked at all the proposals. One of the proposals stood out for its outstanding warranty. It was from a roofing contractor that I know of to be very reputable and skilled. There was a common theme amongst all the proposals, though: They all included the bare minimum to meet code.

Fix leaky roof

This is the bottom of the troubled valley. It’s clearly been repaired, heat tape added for ice dam solution, and notice gutter right down onto the roof plane.

proper metal valley

This is the properly installed open metal (aluminum) valley. Notice we cut back the gutter to allow drainage.

Normally, that may not be a problem. In this case, my professional advice was that this approach was narrow-minded. As soon as you climbed on the roof, it was plain to see that they had chronic ice dam and water infiltration problems. The 2 valleys had been pulled apart and re-done, and the front one still had electric heat wire in it to mitigate ice damming. Furthermore, the gutter at the bottom of the valley butted right into the adjacent roof plane, preventing water from clearing under it. I determined that this roof required a small heaping of extra effort to ensure problem free performance for another generation.

finished roof

This is the finished roof project. You can see the construction storage trailer that we used throughout to keep the site super clean at the end of each day.

I suggested to the pastor that he choose the roofing contractor with the great reputation and warranty, but request some adjustments to the proposal. I suggested he ask for Certainteed architectural shingles instead of Iko. Iko shingles don’t hold up nor do they stand behind their warranty, in my experience. I recommended stipulating Grace brand ice and watershield or other non-granular surface product, and I also recommended extending the ice and water shield protection 9’ up the roof line instead of the minimum 6’. This will be absolutelynecessary during heavy snowfall years to avoid water damage from ice dams. Finally, I recommended installing 2 open metal valleys. This would convert the valley from a liability that promotes ice damming to an asset that helps clear ice dams. The open metal valleys really allow water to run and heat up and melt ice in subfreezing weather if the sun hits it.

The pastor said that all of those items were exactly in lock step with what one of his engineer parishioners had recommended. Because his confidence in me was high, he asked me if I would provide a number for the roof project. When I provided a detailed proposal that was $4,000 less than the nearest competitor it was a done deal. Take a look at the finished product.

 

By John Bradshaw