Friday, March 6, 2009

Our roof issues

With the weather starting to warm (even if just temporarily), I've been thinking more about our outside work that we'd like to address this year. We have tons of broken panes of glass in our old windows (probably at least 20-30 pieces of glass need to be replaced), not to mention wood rot and general repair to the windows and frames, but we have two issues with our roof that need more immediate attention.

You can see in the following two pictures the first problem:

You can see where the two gables meet in the middle. In this area, the roofing material crosses over and creates a flat valley. I'm not even sure what the roofing material is, but we have huge icicles form here and all the wood work in the area is very damaged, to the point of starting to fall off.

Does anybody have any ideas of what we can do here to repair this? My gut tells me the gable ends should not be covered, but I'm wondering if it's just poor design of the roof line. We're going to be getting some quotes soon, as a lot of the roofers in the area seem to take the winter off.

The second area concerns the cantilevered sun porch on the west side of the house:

Aside of the fact that a broken window pane has provided a nest for some squirrels, and that pigeons like to hang out here (evidence is pretty obvious), if you look closely at the corner of the roof in the first picture, you'll notice the wood work and gutter hanging. This roof is metal (I haven't taken a good picture of it, but I will next time I think of it). and again, we get huge icicles hanging off the entire outside (lowest) edge of the roof. When the weather warms, we get puddles of water pouring through the top of the window frames. Again, we're not sure what needs to be done here. The downspouts (we think original) aren't attached anymore, so I'm not sure the gutter is very effective.

Here are some more random pictures of our roof. You will note the poor flashing job around the chimney, the various holes in the soffits (if you look closely you can see bird droppings beneath one of them), and the at least 2 layers of ashphalt shingles. Overall, the roof isn't that bad, but it's not perfect either. I'd like to find out what the original roofing material was. I'm thinking probably cedar shingles, but I do think that if we ever had the budget for it, a slate roof would look great.

Here's a picture of the roof from the late 1940's. I'm pretty sure those are ashphalt shingles on there, so probably we had cedar shingles to being with (slate would have lasted a lot longer than 30-40 years). Note the nice original windows that are have been replaced with vinyl on the front of the house.


  1. My inclination with your first issue is to think that perhaps there was a slight gap between the two gables, to allow for drainage. On the other hand, if the current setup is true to the original design, it would mean that the wood underneath would be more protected. I suspect that water is leaking through the flashing somewhere around where the two gables meet, and that is the cause of the damage to the wood.

    There's always the slight possibility that your house had a slate roof originally and that it was replaced by an unscrupulous contractor.

    I'd love to see a higher resolution version of the 1940s roof photograph. 30 years is at the shorter end of the life expectancy for cedar shingles today, and cedar shingles from 1915 would have been cut from old-growth lumber and lasted even longer. I've seen houses from the 20s where the original cedar shingles lasted almost 50 years.

  2. Couple of things to point out here.

    1. The large ice dams / icicles are typically formed due to lack of proper insulation in the attic combined with poor attic ventilation. Dormers and merging gable areas are famous for this issue.

    2.The best way to fix most of your roof problems will include several steps. You'll probably need new roofing along with flashing, drip edge and ice & water shield. You'll want to address any insulation deficiencies and you'll also need to look at your current ventilation.

    3. From the photos I see NO ridge vent and most likely not soffit vents. Attic ventilation is crucial to stopping these problems. I'd be sure to speak with roofing guys that have extensive experience and references working on these older homes with similar roofing geometry.

    Best of luck!

  3. Now that I've had a chance to sleep on it (and figured out how to view the higher resolution versions of your images) I've got a few more thoughts.

    I am now virtually certain that the space between the two gables was originally open. If it had not been, there would have been no reason to cover the area underneath with flashing instead of shingles. I'm not sure what's going on there right now, but it doesn't look good.

    Is that the remains of a chimney I see on the back of your house?

  4. Sorry about the high-resolution photos. The blogger interface isn't providing the links to them like it used to. I'm going to try MS LiveWriter for my next few posts to see if that fixes it.

    I agree that the gables were likely once open and should be again. And you're right, it doesn't look good, it looks horrible. And that picture is from November; it looks far worse now.

    There was a chimney servicing the kitchen, and the rear mud-room. It has been removed just under the roof line as you can see in the photo.


    Todd, there is a ridge vent, one of those whirlybird vents, along with a number of square roof vents. However, there is next to no insulation in the attic, and none in the top of the dormers. There is a fair bit of blown-in cellulose insulation behind the knee walls. In our area, there is a program where the government pays you rebates on energy improvements to your home. We can get up to $1000 back for insulating our attic to R-51. We plan to do that later this summer, after the roofing issues are repaired, along with adding soffit vents (which don't exist right now).