Tag Archives: Construction

Ora’s House

When we pulled up to Ora’s house the first thing I noticed was the back porch was beginning to cave in. I’m a contractor so these are the kind of things I see first. As I took a walk around her house, there was deteriorated wood everywhere, and I could see immediately that the roof was leaking. I had envisioned, prior to my arrival here, particular tasks that I would be instructed to undertake, but that wouldn’t be the case with Ora’s house. To steal a phrase from a current television program, Ora’s house needed an “extreme makeover”. We certainly had the manpower and woman-power; there were twenty of us of all ages and backgrounds. I didn’t know any of my new family members yet, other than seeing them on Sundays at Old South Church, but I was about to learn that we were a family of angels, as Ora aptly named us.

Ora and her angels

Darrell, I quickly learned was a guy just like me, a contractor slash carpenter slash all around master of nothing but getting things done. I knew, even if he didn’t, that we would be Ora’s Michael and Raphael, leading the angelic assault on repairing her home. We made a quick assessment that the house needed a new roof, fascia and soffits, painting and caulking, and the back porch needed a complete overhaul. The stairs leading to the front of the house needed to be rebuilt and the back patio wall was in disrepair; oh and I almost forgot, Ora also needed a new water heater. There was relatively no material or equipment on site, except some ladders and 5 sheets of plywood, and we had already lost a day’s work due to our bus breaking down on the journey to Princeton, West Virginia.
Darrell made a stock list and set about dispatching some people to make a trip to the local lumber yard while I took Carrie and Karen under my wings to make roofers out of them. A new roof wouldn’t be possible given the time we had to complete the work; four days, so Carrie and Karen began installing metal and shingle flashing along the roof where it was obviously leaking and spread some asphalt around the chimneys. While some angels made their way to the lumber yard, Darrell and I agreed that the upper roof over the rear porch needed to be demolished. We cut up the roof and structure, dismantling it piece by piece, throwing each scrap on the ground and watching our winged soldiers: Paula, Donna and Kathy cart them away.
Meanwhile, the rest of our army attacked the other tasks. Fran and Richie worked on the front stairs, Bill and Linda stripped down the siding adjacent the chimney and replaced it with all new wood, then did the same with the fascias and soffits. Joanna, was our own personal nurse, caring for bee stings, cuts and bruises; that is, when she wasn’t leading the charge on painting and caulking with Darren, Charlie, Joe, Jillian, Christine and Jessica.
When more materials arrived our roofing crew, Carrie, Karen and Donna, installed a new roof on the rear porch section that was once a floor. The door was blocked off, the wall re-mortared and new support columns were installed. When all was said and done, the landscaping team consisting of everyone, chipped in and planted new shrubs for good measure. Oh yes, and the water heater was installed by everybody’s favorite angel, Brian. Brian provides the underlying strength of Ora’s little army of angels by keeping our bellies full.
On the fourth day when all the work was done, Ora and her army of angels cried tears of joy for they knew that God was smiling down on them. I will never forget all of our family of angels and I am comforted in knowing that Ora is now a part of it, forever.


Historic Winter

The panic continues. Yesterday, when I got home, I noticed my neighbor on the top of a ladder, that was too short, with a shovel that was too small, trying to knock some of the snow off his roof. I told him to stop before he killed himself. Our homes, typically have been constructed to take the weight of even a historic winter like the one we’re experiencing this year. There is no need to risk life and limb to shovel off the roof of your house.

The disconcerting part of all the reports of roof collapses,to me, is there are that many owners of buildings that have had alteration work done not in compliance with the codes for this area of the country. As of this morning, it has been reported that approximately 70 buildings have experienced some form of structural damage to their roofs. I would venture a guess that all have had some sort of alteration made to their building, probably since 1996, the last bad winter. These alterations more likely have not been completed correctly, have not been properly inspected for code compliance, and/ or have not been designed or approved by an architect or engineer.

Examples of this are multiple layers of roofing that has been installed. The rule of thumb in the roofing industry had always been that a third layer of roof is a no-no. Two layers maximum. This is still the code in most communities although I have noticed some communities, including Boston, are now allowing a third layer; bad idea. I personally don’t like putting on a second layer, and have always recommended that the old roofing be removed before installing a new roof.

I have also noticed a trend to install a sloped roof over a flat roof in recent years, because “flat roofs are always a problem”. Another bad idea. Large, sweeping sloped roof areas cannot drain off quickly enough, and buildings are not designed to take the weight of roof framing installed over flat roof framing. I believe this is the problem with the school in Georgetown, and the one in Hingham. Also, large metal buildings of the type that caved in at Plymouth Airport are a problem. They are not designed to take snow loads, in fact I question whether they should be allowed at all in this part of the country.

I watched WBZ last night interview Tom Silva from “This Old House”. He offered great advice. Ice dams are a major problem, and a very misunderstood problem, and a problem that cannot be solved during the winter. The best thing to do, is minimize any damage to the interior of your home (because of the water leaking in), by clearing the ice dam. Mr. Silva had some fantastic ideas for doing this by filling a paper bag, or panty hose with ice melt and throwing it, or placing it (if it can be done safely) in the area of the dam. The best part of that ingenious method is that you don’t have to get up on the roof to do it. I did disagree with Mr. Silva’s comments that the entire roof should be cleared off. In my experience, cutting channels through the dams, and spreading the ice melt will immediately alleviate the leaking caused from the ice dam. There is no need to shovel the entire roof. Will the ice dam re-occur? Yes, until it is permanently corrected, in the better weather, by adding ventilation. My opinion is that more harm than good will result in a roof being completely shoveled off, even by supposed professionals.

The good news is that no one has gotten seriously hurt because of a roof failure. What I expect to hear next are reports that people are getting hurt because they are trying to shovel off their roofs. Inexperienced people on the roof is trouble. Even professionals can get hurt. If you consider the weight that a crew of roofers puts on an already overloaded roof with altered framing members, then you can expect at some point that a roof has collapsed with roofers on it. And then of couse there will be those reports of homeowners feeling the need to hire anybody to clear there roof and getting ripped off.

Be safe, be smart, don’t panic. Spring is coming.

Roof Collapse Hysteria

Roofs don’t need to be shoveled off. Take it from someone who has been in the business for 35 years. The media is making it sound as if roofs are collapsing all over New England. I haven’t done a survey but there have been probably 10 partial roof collapses that I have seen reported by news outlets during this winter. All of them, I’m sure can be attributed to poor design or renovations that were completed incorrectly. Don’t get me wrong, if it makes you feel better, then by all means, pay someone to shovel it off. It will put roofers to work that may otherwise be out of work. As far as doing it yourself, or having someone without roofing experience do it, don’t, because it’s dangerous work.

Ice dams are a completely different problem and do not require the roof to be shoveled off. Ice dams can be complicated, and contrary to popular belief, are not a roof problem but a ventilation issue.

Shoveling the roof can do more harm than good. If you are worried about your roof, then hire a roofer to clear away the drainage paths of your roof. Typically, clear snow away from gutters, downspouts and most especially interior drains on flat roof surfaces and spread some ice melt material around them to enhance the melting.

I have never seen a typical residential home’s roof collapse, and in all the cases where a flat roof has collapsed, other factors have contributed to causing sections of these roofs to be over-loaded.