13 October, 2008

Bugger the Roofing Contractors

We decided to hold off on getting a new roof until we can sell one of the other properties. Twelve to sixteen grand is more than we're willing to pay this year. This crappy housing market has us in a holding pattern. The rental income keeps us from hemorrhaging on the condo, and when we rent out Mom's house that will take care of expenses there, but none of us are willing to do major work on The Box House if there's a possibility of putting it off.

We had a few lower-end estimates for some simple patch work, but after investigating that further, it turns out all they were going to do is stuff cement in a few holes or add an extra patch of bitumen. And nobody was willing to guarantee the work. It didn't seem worth spending $800 for a temporary fix that might not even work. The contractors weren't all that excited about such a small job, anyway, and when I called one back to try to schedule him again after the heavy rains we've had, he didn't even remember who I was or what house I meant. Arggh.

So we read up on what would be necessary to fix our type of roof, and decided to do it ourselves. Really, it's already leaking, what can we possibly do to screw it up more?

We have a low slope, built up roof. I found an excellent article on Old House Web about low-pitched roofs. It's not cheery news, overall:

Built-up roofs are composed of several layers of roofing felt lapped and cemented together with bituminous material and protected by a thin layer of gravel or crushed stone. Built-up roofs vary greatly in life span, but those used in residential buildings usually last about 20 years, depending on their quality, exposure, number of plies, and the adequacy of their drainage. Because built-up roofs are composed of several layers,they can contain moisture in the form of water or water vapor between layers. Moisture not only accelerates deterioration, it can also leak into a building. Look for cracking, blistering, alligatoring, and wrinkling, all of which may indicate the need for roof replacement or repair.

Yeah, our whole roof is alligatored. And it has more wrinkles than I (thankfully) have. Although mine are laugh lines.

The roof of The Box House is built of a deck, felt, bitumin, some kind of coating, and a silver coating on top. Where the previous owners failed at some point is when they took the roof membrane all the way up and over the back of the parapet wall. You can see previous repairs that look like someone just dabbled cement on with their fingers.

It's not really adhered to the wall, so it forms a big air pocket behind it, and a place to catch water. A few more tears developed since we spotted this one, and one of the roofing contractors created a big ol' hole when he ripped out a chunk to get a closer look behind the curtain. Grrr.

We went to Lowes for a little consultation and advice on what to do. What we came home with was roof fabric and three cans of Black Jack Roof Patch:



A roll of Peel and Seal Self-Stick Aluminum Faced tape:

A Roofcoate Three Knot Brush:


And aluminum roof coating, similar to what's pictured:

The area we were most concerned with was around the chimney. It was just to the right of the chimney that water was leaking into the tenants' unit below. None of the roofing contractors could say with certainty how it was getting in, but planned to patch all the way around it. So that's what we did.

Ted put down a layer of roof patch cement, and then reinforced it with strips of patch fabric. He then did another layer of cement on top of that. At the top, he used aluminum tape and cemented around the edges.

It wasn't leaking on the opposite side of the roof, but there was a spot on the plaster ceiling below that was soft, as if it had taken on water in the past. Water had been getting in through slits in the membrane, so we patched those up with aluminum tape as well. This stuff is amazing--very thick, very durable, very sticky.

Some of the strips we used were long, about two feet.

Afterwards, Ted cemented the entire area above the soft spot, and around each of the strips of aluminum.


We left the cement to dry overnight. In the morning, we found pools of water on top of the patches on the parapet side of the roof. (Sorry, no photo.) The water had washed away some of the patch material.

We assume that there is still some moisture trapped behind the membrane, working its way out. Ted soaked up the water with paper towel and I started silvering the roof with the waterproof aluminum coating, starting from the top of the slope.


Yeah, I thought the picture of me throwing sticks at hornets' nests looked awkward; this isn't any better. Notice I'm wearing my good (okay, better) shoes, which are now flecked with silver.

The smell of the roof coating was very reminiscent of the tar my dad once had to apply to our asphalt driveway. This job was fun for about the first 15 minutes, until the heat started zapping me. Eighty degrees and unrelenting sun. But the silver-colored coating does fill in all of the alligatoring nicely. With luck, it will help get us through another winter or two.

I had hoped to silver coat the patches near the parapet today, where the water had pooled, but there was more water working its way out through the cracks this morning, in pretty much the same area as yesterday. Again, it was just enough to wash away some of the patching compound. It's going to rain tonight, so there's not much else we can do for the moment. However, now that the big tears in the parapet are covered, and much of the rest of the area is patched and silvered, I can't imagine much more water will get to the felt underneath--touch wood. Our theory du jour is that with all the patches we've put on the roof, we're channeling what moisture is left so it's all coming up in one spot. We'll see.

So, for less than two hundred dollars, we patched a wider area of the roof than any of the contractors bid for, and silvered (or plan to silver) a great deal of the roof surface, when the contractors didn't plan on doing that at all. So what if it's taken us two full days so far, at least it's not costing us more.

We'll see how our patches will hold. (At least we'll guarantee the work, and fix it for free if it leaks again.) Cross your fingers, everyone, that this does the trick until we can take on the full expense of a new roof.

50 comments:

iloveupstate.com said...

I had a couple of leaks a few years ago and my local handy man silver-d the heck out of my roof, no leaks since. It looks like silver plastic to me. Good luck!

Green Fairy said...

That's so good to hear! I hope we have the same luck.

Amalie said...

A little elbow grease goes a long way. I log into my online banking every day to see if they've cut off my HELOC, and continue to sock away money just in case. Then I look at my 401k and laugh and cry and laugh and cry.

Argh. This election needs to get here fast.

Jenni said...

Good Luck. I am sure it will last the winter.

lorenzo said...
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Karen Anne said...

Okay, why is a roofing company asking your advice. Does this not seem strange?

Joanne said...

Karen Anne --

Thanks for the head's up. I only recently installed a "recent comments" feature on the blog because of comments like that from people trying to get backlinks to their own sites (increasing their own page rank). I still have to go through the site and delete the ones that got through.

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