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

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