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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Roofing; My Ass

It has rained most every second since I finished re-roofing the desolation that the non-hurricane Irene visited on my roof. It’s as if Divine Providence wished me to know that my mad-scramble efforts weren’t in vain. Or maybe is was just water falling out of clouds. I’m not sure which.

I’m wearing my best trapeze outfit.There’s a buncha straps that go here and there and hither and yon and constrict and befoul your motions and efforts and the end result is a kind of safety. You’re too exhausted from donning the stuff to climb the ladder and do anything, and so are protected from harm. In the first picture you can see the big metal ring on the middle of your back that you attach via a lanyard to a the rope you see trailing down over the plank. The lanyard has a kind of removable brake/ clamp on the end that slides up and down the rope if you squeeze it, but brakes hard if you yank on it, like you would if you heard the noontime whistle and forgot where you were for a minute. It works like a more elaborate version of the retention mechanism in your seatbelts. There’s a problem with this contraption, which I’ll get to in a minute.

That’s our “before” picture, of course. It was plenty difficult to reach, and I had to do a good portion of it while hanging upside-down like a vampire bat or a congressman. The lump you see there in the “after” picture below is either the spot where I just yanked out the roof jacks, which are flimsy metal plates you nail to the roof to lay a 7-1/4″ wide plank atop and then tell other people to go ahead and work on it, or maybe it’s a squirrel, I don’t remember. The jacks have angled slots on them and hang on three spikes you pound into the roof. When the sun hits it full, the shingles heat up and get as flexible as a crooked judge, and they lie down real flat of their own accord, just like the roofer does.

Here’s another “before” picture. My house is one, big before picture.

And the result. Only cost me a couple hundred dollars in materials, and four years off my life. I would have felt stupid, lying in a bed, dying of nothing anyway. Now someday I can have a doctor look at my vital signs while I eat a puzzle my grandchildren just brought me in the rest home, and he’ll say, “You used to roof, didn’t you. You’re a goner.”

There’s the problem with your fall protection system, right there. That big, iron ring. It’s attached to the roof deck on a big metal plate that’s attached with dozens of big screws. Someone has to climb up there and install it in the first place. The phonebook says I’m “someone.” This is known in the trade as “your ass in the breeze.” You can generally remove the rings when you’re done, but I leave them for fixing the other 493 things wrong up there in the future. Eventually there’ll be so many of these things here and there that my house will look like it’s wearing chainmail armor and hurricanes won’t bother it.

Roofing shingles cost exactly double what they did a little more than a year ago. They are just little slabs of petroleum emulsions with aquarium pebbles stuck on them, and since our government thinks we don’t need any of that sort of gooey black stuff any more except to put into bulletproof limousines and corporate jets, we’ll have to economize elsewhere. Before you go all Tea Party on the government on my behalf, I suppose I should admit that we probably would have wasted the money anyway, on food for our children or something equally dumb. Maybe a luxurious 9-1/4″ wide board for me to stand on instead of the 7-1/4″. Or Faberge eggs or something.

Roofing is one of those barbarian arts I know about but don’t care for. It highlights an essential truth about a woodframed house, at least a traditional one that’s not all plastic. The proper way to make a house weatherproof was described to me by a man that looked exactly like the carpenters you see in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. He even wore a fedora while he worked in overalls pulled over his street clothes — hence their name, even though no one wears them like that anymore that I’ve seen.

Anyhoo, he told me to picture myself as a drop of water, falling on the highest point on a house. Now picture how I’d get all the way to the ground without getting in. Now make every piece of the house overlap the piece just below it to make sure it happens. When you roof, like most everything on the house, you just assemble it all correctly, backwards.

I never could have managed it by myself. The heir fetched and carried quite a bit, and he took this picture of me with a little Star Trek remake lens flare for effect. I probably shouldn’t wear a red shirt if Star Trek is involved, huh?

It was 75 degrees while I roofed, so the temperature on the roof was about 1500 degrees Kelvin. That’s an estimate; it might be low. But I’m glad we hung in there long enough to finish 3/8ths of the turret roof before it rained. By any measure, the job must be deemed a success. Don’t get me wrong, the roof still leaks; it just leaks somewhere else now.

18 Responses

  1. Yes, the red shirt was definitely a dangerous choice for this project. I'm glad to see it went well, though. What a difference!

  2. Nothing better than having those "chores" done. Well done!
    I am having a bit of trouble working up some sympathy for your 78 degree work though….

  3. Good to see how the Pros do it. Is that the worst of the projects? I hope so.

    I like that you kept the ring in place. I have always thought a house should have strategically placed eyebolts and such for maintenance purposes.

  4. :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

    well done Sir.

    Four cups of coffee when your done so you can't figure out if the shakes are from the caffeine, or the nerves.

  5. " I have always thought a house should have strategically placed eyebolts and such for maintenance purposes."

    Actually a house needs to have strategically placed pots of gold for maintenance purposes.

  6. Gerard!- Preach it, brother.

    Hi Dadofhomeschoolers- I told you already, I pulled the shakes off the walls.

    Hi John- Is that the worst of the projects? Not hardly. Just the most immediate right now.

    This house has big ol' eyebolts screwed through the soffits into the rafter tails here and there. They were put there for what's called swing-staging. Think primitive window washer rig. I wouldn't trust them for all the iPods in China.

    Hi Sam L.- And Kirk gets all the babes.

    Hi Leslie- A roof is a different animal. 75 degrees in the air in direct sun often yields surfaces that will give you burns if you touch them. A cloudy 90 degree day would have been better.

    Hi Johnny- I believe the correct term is: Like a boss.

    Julie- Fetching new picture!

  7. yea, I read that post. I would have been interested in the decision making process behind the thought that cedar shakes make good wallpaper.

  8. I think you need to post a photo of your hands. If your roofing was like my roofing, you'll have a purple thumb and the back of your fingers will look as though you ran them across a cheese grater.

  9. Another skill that I had to relearn after moving to Israel – roofs are either flat or red-tiled. No slates (thank G-d) or shingles.

    But the fiberglass insulation and vapor barriers are usually Made In USA. Yea!

  10. Weak of character that I am I would be the subject of much ridicule and the odd beating if I attempted to wear any safety device while roofing so I don't….if I fall I'll send the kids to you.Roofing jacks are an unknown quantity here but I do like the sound of them and may make a trans atlantic investement….easily available?

  11. Hi Jess- I long ago learned to work clean and my hands always look about the same no matter what I'm doing. There was a hole in the knuckle of my glove though, and it looks like i took a drill to right index finger. Roofing is nasty, as you say.

    Hi Ben David- Thanks for reading and commenting. I've never done a tile roof. My favorite roof is cedar shingles, but I can only roof with the least expensive thing I can get right now. My house with patterned cedar shingles would have been epic.

    Hi Thud, my brother from another mother –
    You use a lot of scaffolding, IIRC. That's a very safe way to work, and I'd prefer to use that, but it's strictly guerrilla warfare up on my roof. I've only recently purchased a harness. I did half of my back roof without one, almost fifty feet up on a twelve-pitch and nothing but a little board and roof jacks nailed into rotten rafters between me and eternity, and I got religion.

    Roof jacks for three-tab asphalt roofs only cost about 25 bucks a pair, or less if you buy a box of them.

  12. Laughing here — I love the funnies in the midst of your writing —

    "while hanging upside-down like a vampire bat or a congressman"


    "Only cost me a couple hundred dollars in materials, and four years off my life. I would have felt stupid, lying in a bed, dying of nothing anyway. Now someday I can have a doctor look at my vital signs while I eat a puzzle my grandchildren just brought me in the rest home"


    I grew up in a one-story house — but for some reason, I remember getting on the roof all the time — fetching balls? cleaning gutters? observing stars?… After propping a ladder on the side of the house, we'd climb up there like monkeys … I'd don't remember my parents even being concerned.


    Of course, it wasn't your roof, but it was dangerous — it had a good slope.

    Love this blog — it's always a lesson, some kind of one, taught with humor.


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