copyright © 2002 by Nina and Tom Stine
When we bought our house at auction in 1994, one of the requirements from the bank was to have an appraisal done. That was no small feat with only ten days from the time we learned of the auction to the day it occurred, but things came together nicely, and we were able to start our lifelong project. One sentence in that appraisal stood out like a sore thumb: "The roof may become a problem and need to be replaced, this will be a major job as entire roof surface will need to be torn off, new plywood and shingles put down." There was no doubt about it, the roof was bad. The original roof was skip sheeting with wood shingles, and then covered with multiple layers of asphalt shingles, the last being put on in the late fifties or early sixties. The thirty-five or so years since they were put on had taken their toll on these fifteen year, three tab shingles. Most of the granular surface was long gone, and they were curled and cracked, but there were no leaks, thanks to all the layers underneath.
Through the years we talked about the roof a lot, mostly when there was a big rainstorm or a lot of snow piled on it, but there were no leaks. We talked about the material to use, the color, the cost, how we could find time to do it, how long we could put it off, but there were no leaks.
Finally in April, 2001, the gigantic hailstorm ripped through east-central Missouri, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Vinyl siding and gutters were ripped to shreds, making us glad that we stripped and painted our original clapboards. No damage here! Insurance adjusters were working overtime, roofing and siding contractors had more business than they could do, and everywhere you looked there was activity. We talked about the roof, but there were no leaks. It seemed like everyday we would pick up pieces of shingles out of the yard as they blew off and fluttered to earth like the leaves off trees in the fall. We watched as roofs were repaired and replaced around town, knowing we had to do something, and being concerned that this old roof might not survive another winter, but there were no leaks.
Over time, we had done some roof repairs on the flat roof of the mansard addition at the rear of the house. It would leak, we would tar it, it would leak, and we would tar it again, but it would start leaking again. When we finished the bathrooms in this addition, we were debating whether to paper or paint the ceiling when it started leaking again, and ruined the drywall job we just completed. The little porch roof (which had been closed in, and contained a bathroom and laundry) had the same problem. We finally gave up and decided to put a metal roof over this rear portion of the house. The plan evolved to the point that we had decided to build a sleeping porch over the old porch to make that new metal roof tie in to the main house, and take care of the leak problems.
The trucking industry has been hard hit by the economic downturn that actually started early in 2000, and really escalated with the rise in fuel prices later that year. Because we own a truck we were forced to make some adjustments, which meant a trip to the bank. Again. Although the trucking industry was getting clobbered, it was a good time to refinance. Our banker listened to our problems and came up with what seemed like a good solution -- consolidate. That meant a new appraisal, so all the arrangements were made, and when it was finished we were surprised to find out how much our hard work had paid off. The house is worth four times what we paid for it, but it would be worth a lot more with a new roof, and the finish work we had left to do. We could borrow enough to consolidate, and do the roof, as the work we have left to do would make a dollar-for-dollar return on our investment, so we took the plunge and signed the papers.
Now we were forced to make our final decisions. Wooden shingles would be the most appropriate solution since they were the original material, but we have watched some weather on a few housing and commercial developments which had been put on in the past six years or so, and were just not impressed. They have cupped and split and when some needed to be replaced the patch looks awful. When we talked to a roofer doing some work on a neighbor's house a few years ago, he said he would not do wooden shingles and the final decision came by way of our insurance agent. All the neighbors were filing claims and getting new roofs, and we kept hearing, "Turn in a claim, you might get something", so we finally called our agent. When he came to look at the roof, he knew it was in bad shape before the storm, but said they would help out with some of the cost. One of the comments he made while talking with us was "I hope you are not planning on using wood shingles, I don't know if I can insure them." One option was gone.
We drove around some towns that have a lot of historic homes looking at roofs, and kept seeing the same thing. Three tab shingles looked out of place on old homes, one of the most disappointing being an 1890s mansion with mansard roof and a tower. The brown three tab shingles ruined the historic look trying to be recreated. I wonder what some people are thinking when they do things like that? Dark colored architectural shingles seem to be the in thing on historic homes being re-roofed right now, but somehow that doesn't look right either. Metal roofs were common in our area, but we thought it wouldn't look quite right, and it would have been a big problem making the roof on the bow front look right. Slate was used on some of the houses in towns around our area, but was not as common as other materials; it was most likely too costly for rural Missouri in the 1800s, but it was the warm, rich look we wanted.
We thought the answer came to us on This Old House when they roofed Dick Silva's house with rubber slates. That had to be the perfect solution! We went to the web site and found a distributor in our area, called him, and after hearing the price per square, knew that wasn't our solution. The roof would cost more than the house did. Somewhere in the back of my mind I recalled seeing a new home built to look like a Victorian in one of the magazines we have, so with some digging and searching we finally came across the story. Just as I remembered, it had a Victorian patterned roof, using Certanteed Grand Manor, and Carriage House shingles. Off we went to the roofing supply house. We looked at all the samples, from all the companies, but came back to the Carriage House and Grand Manor shingles. They are expensive, but have a lifetime guarantee, are top-of-the-line shingles, put on the same as standard shingles, have hip and ridge shingles, and come in a variety of colors. The only drawback seemed to be that they were special order, needed to be paid for with the order, couldn't be returned, and they didn't know how long it would take to get them. Even with those problems we decided that this was the way to go. The salesman told us where there were a couple projects done with Carriage House shingles, and I noticed two houses in a small town about thirty miles from us that have Grand Manor shingles. By looking at these examples we came up with the color we wanted, and from the magazine article we chose the pattern.
Now we needed a contractor. We knew that this was too big of a job to tackle on our own, and most of the roofers and contractors were extremely busy, and since we've done all the work up to this point ourselves, we didn't really know where to start. First we looked at the work being done, and eliminated some roofers after seeing their work. We got names from our insurance agent and friends, and started calling some. A few didn't even return calls, and some would only do standard roofs, the way new houses are built. Finally we talked to Gleeson Enterprises from Hermann, only about twenty miles away. We showed Mark the pictures, explained what we wanted, and got the answer we were looking for, "I'll do whatever you want done". We looked at some of their work and made the decision to give them the job. We ordered the material, and he supplied the sheeting, which we specked as half-inch plywood as opposed to three-eighths or half inch o.s.b. that everyone else seems to use. It is a lifetime job and in my opinion plywood is a more sound material and will hold nails better, so the extra cost was worthwhile.
The last problem was the box gutters on the front of the house. They were rotten, had been leaking, and, to make things worse, the former owners patched over the soffet boards holding the water in so it could run into the open wall cavities. We explained that the porch roof couldn't be roofed until the gutters were rebuilt because we would have to work off of it. No problem, we'll come back later to do the porch was the reply we got. Everything was coming together, we ordered the supplies, and had the contractor lined up, so we began preparing while we waited. We took off the lightning rods and weather vane, so we could refinish them, removed the antenna and moved it to the shop roof burying the cable underground (a big antenna is an eyesore on a Victorian roof), tore off the box gutter and put up the new board that we would build the new gutter on, and started on the sleeping porch.
The sleeping porch was not really on our list to do right away, but to finish the roof it would at least need to be framed so the roof extension that wraps around it could be shingled. That's another story for another day, but we got it ready.
The roofing material arrived at the supply store, and after about six weeks the contractor was ready to start. Four men showed up early on a Tuesday morning and began tearing off the old roof. About mid-morning the truck delivered the plywood, and by mid-afternoon the roof was stripped to the rafters as the piles of debris grew. By noon Wednesday the roof was sheeted and we were waiting for the roofing supply truck, which didn't make it until about four o'clock. As is usually the case in a small town, a group of people gathered on our neighbor's porch across the street to watch, and you could hear a collective gasp when the man stacking the bundles on the roof slipped, but the shingles were on the roof that evening ready to start bright and early Thursday. We used Weatherlock rubberized underlayment on the peaks, hips, valleys, and around the perimeter to prevent ice damming and blowing rain on the gable ends, and thirty pound felt to cover the entire roof. The roof progressed fairly well that day. The shingles cover more area than a standard shingle, but are much heavier and harder to cut, so at the end of the day about half of the rear was left to do.
What we dreaded most happened that night. An unexpected storm blew in, and as always happens, the rain found a seam it could get through in the exposed felt. A couple containers in the attic took care of that little problem, and the next day the main roof was finished. The weekend was cleanup time as we had to walk over the debris piles to get to the doors, so with wheelbarrows, rakes, forks, and shovels the piles shrank as the dumpster filled. We cleaned the east side of the house so two of the doors were now usable, and the appearance began to improve.
The next week started with the mansard addition being stripped while one of the crew began shingling the new sleeping porch. A couple days took care of that little project, stripping and sheeting the porch roof, and cleaning up the mess, after which they put the scaffolding back up on the porch roof for us to use for the gutters. He said he didn't need that scaffolding right away, so it wouldn't be missed, and it was a huge help to us. The gutters slowly took shape, but that is another story too.
After the gutters were finished, two of the crew returned to finish the porch roof and the little bay window on the side. The finishing touch was the copper flashing on the porch and bay. We had purchased a couple sheets of copper flashing material a few years ago at an auction, not knowing when we would use it, but knowing that it would be used sooner or later. We cut it to size on the table saw, and used an old press brake that a friend has in his shop to make the flashing, then attached it with stainless steel screws. It will last a lifetime, and after a few years when it turns green will look like it has always been here.
Throughout the project we have had cars slow down and look at what was going on, and a few stopped in the street to get a better look. We had many people ask what we used, how much it cost, who did the work, how we found it, and many other questions, so we knew we had the look we wanted. We've had many comments about the roof in the past weeks since it's been finished, but one of the most important came from a close friend. During the process she wondered why we were going to all the trouble to rebuild the box gutters, thinking no one would really notice standard aluminum gutters, but when it was finished she said the roof makes the house stand out, and the box gutter profile finishes it off.
The little details are so very important: The lightning rods and weather vane, copper flashing, box gutters, sleeping porch, and the choice of materials. Any one could be changed, and maybe no one would notice, but the overall effect would change. Those little things are what we think make the look we want: understated elegance.
Now if we could just find the time to refinish the shutters .