House For Sale. As Is. New Roof! (Some Assembly Required.)

August 12th, 2015

It’s been over a week since Operation Re-Roof and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. Of course, four days after the new roof is on–it hails. For a full minute or more small chunks of ice drop from the sky in a meteorological hazing ritual. A trial by fire, you might joke, except that it is really a trial by ice.

“You couldn’t have done this three weeks ago!?” I yell at the clouds who defiantly rumble back with such a loud clap of thunder I am thrown to the ground and pelted with more ice.

I’m still in recovery mode. I dedicated a full four days to the project and pushed myself to my physical and emotional limits. I do not know if I have pushed myself like this before. I imagine this is the closest I will ever get to bootcamp.

Certainly, I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish. What we were able to accomplish. (I’m still in awe of the family members who stuck with me through the project.) Yet, even knowing what I know now, I don’t think I would have had it any other way. In the end, it all feels worth it.

Warning Signs

Honestly, this was probably the best possible time for this type of project to happen… well, second best time if we’re going to include “never” in the list of optimal dates.

We missed some clues when I bought the house. My dad and I did a thorough inspection of the place. It’s not like we didn’t see that the roof looked wrinkly and wasn’t flat. We just didn’t see how it was a problem. The roof was only seven years old, it should still be in good condition.

The bank wouldn’t let me sign the paperwork until some sort of expert had looked at the roof and declared that it would last at least two years.

“Sonny, I know a thing or two about roofs, and well… that appears to be a roof. I was a little skeptical when I first drove up. Thought maybe it was a wall, or a cake, but after a careful inspection, I can say with some confidence that it is, in fact, actually a roof.”

And so, two years, and two months after signing some papers which say I’m accountable for this building, I realize why my bathroom floor is wet after it rains.

It started several weeks ago when I replace my bathroom fan. With the new vent there is no way water should still be dripping in… unless… It rains again and I’m in the attic crawl space with a flashlight looking at half a dozen wet spots. Understanding hits me like an ocean wave as I see the rusty roofing nails and three-inch gaps in the roof boards as if for the first time.

My house was built in the late 30’s. The roof is all 1x16s, 1x12s, 1x8s, 1x14s, etc. pieced together like the world’s lamest jigsaw puzzle. Looking closer, the boards in the attic all have nail heads sticking down. When the house was re-roofed nine years ago they had taken the boards off, flipped them over, and re-shingled: Mobile Bay style.

“Damn the gaps! Full speed ahead!”

So, it’s off to the bank with a box of chocolates and a dozen roses because I need a loan and something to eat while I fill out the paperwork.

I have yet to find anyone who has re-roofed their house and said it was fun and easy. People who own roofs seem to fall into two main categories. The first, would never think of re-roofing their house on their own. The second tried it 10 years ago and will never do it again.

My roof is small and everyone I talk to agrees that it’s probably a two day project. None of really take time to consider how the roof’s steepness will slow things down.

The process has been segmented into three easy steps.

  1. Remove all shingles.
  2. Nail down OSB over top of existing boards. (OSB stands for Oriented Strand Board. It’s like plywood but better for things that are roofs.)
  3. Tar paper and shingle with new shingles.
  4. Profit???

What could possibly go wrong?

Day 1

We actually don’t get started until 1:00pm on this Thursday. It’s not ideal, but that’s the best we can do. The shingles are only 10 years old at this point and come off quickly in big chunks. The first quarter of one side comes off very quickly. I have three helpers and a number of roof-jacks (or toe-jacks) to keep us from sliding off.We begin putting together a playlist of “good roofing songs.” The list includes Slip Slidin’ Away by Paul Simon and Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty.

By supper time the North side is clear of debris and we break to eat. My friend cooks brats on the grill and we use the pile of OSB as a table.

Afterwards we have a decision to make. Do we move the scaffolding to the other side and start tearing off or do we start putting OSB on while we’re still setup on the North side? We opt for working with the OSB and get a good start on it before it gets dark.

We’ve probably put in around 20 man hours into the project at this point and we’re not nearly as far as I thought we might be. But this was only day one and we have more help scheduled for Friday, which was suppose to be the main work day.

The roof needs to be inspected after putting the Ice & Water Barrier down but before it’s covered in shingles. This is the last thing we do before calling it a day. The inspector is scheduled to come on Friday morning and we’re not entirely sure how the inspection works. The North side is ready for inspection now, but it’s unlikely that we’ll have the South side ready by the time he shows up. The only thing I can do about it is worry.

Day 2

Friday is the big day. I have my parents, brother, cousin, and uncle all on board to help, and my friend decides to return to help grill and cater the event. We’re just a few lawn games away from a block party. My brother, dad, and I finish putting the OSB on the North side while my mom and cousin work at clearing the shingles off the South side. We’re nailing 2x4s into the roof at intervals for support because without them we’d just slide off the edge.

The inspector shows up and is a friendly chap. He only needs to see one side of the house to make sure we’re doing it right and he gives us the ok and signs off on a little slip. This is a huge source of relief, and one less thing I have to worry about. He does not offer to stay and help.

At noon we break for lunch and have ribs. Because that’s how you roof a house. It’s also my mom’s birthday and I know she loves me because she’s spent the majority of her special day on top of my house.

The sun is hot. The day is humid. We take frequent breaks in the afternoon, which slows our progress down significantly. We’re dragging and slowly realizing that there’s no way this project will get done today.

By 5:00pm we have finally finished putting all the OSB on the roof. We’re both excited and exhausted.

Supper is more burgers and brats on the grill. My aunt has shown up and so have three of my cousin’s friends and someone responding to a request for help on Facebook.

We enjoy a good meal, again eating outside, using a makeshift table of extra OSB and some things to set it on. The day is cooling down and we’re beginning to lose daylight. We have maybe an hour or so before sunset. The next step is putting tar paper down, which turns out to be more difficult than anticipated.

The roof is now in the shade, and the tar paper is cold and slippery. We staple it to the OSB, but the tar paper rips under our weight and two of us slip and slide towards the edge of the roof. This is the closest anyone gets to falling off the roof. I later hear it described as the scariest thing my aunt has seen all year, when I read her review in the morning paper.

My dad runs to buy wood slats that we can use to nail down the tar paper, but they are thin and I’m the only one who feels safe on them. Everyone else would prefer to have them nailed two or three deep. Even with them, the roof is slippery.

We’re all exhausted and crabby at this point. The people on the ground are afraid the people on the roof are going to fall. The people on the roof are afraid of tearing the tar paper and also that they might fall. If you were watching this play out on HGTV you’d probably have seen the footage from this night in every promo.

The forecast has threatened rain overnight for days. The roof in it’s current state is not waterproof. If it rains tonight, there could be serious damages to the insides of this building that I own.

I have an awesome family but we have pushed ourselves to the limit today. The sun is setting, tensions are high, arguments about the next steps are being raised. Arguments about whether or not it will rain. Personally I’m ready to get in my car and drive South and never look back, though I doubt I would make it out of the city limits without needing to stop at a hotel.

This is the lowest point of the project. Originally, we were suppose to be done by now. If the roof wasn’t so steep, maybe we would be. But the roof is steep and instead of being done, it is not even water proof. Without a word I climb down and start putting things away. For the second or third time I consider just giving up and selling the house on the spot. As is.

“Wanna buy a house?”

“I only have $10.”

Everyone helps clean up and then leaves, all praying for a dry night.

Day 3

Morning dawns on a sunny day. There was no rain overnight and I say a prayer of thanks. Several prayers of thanks.

Most of my help is gone, it’s me, my dad, and my uncle who make up the main workforce. My coworkers parents show up unexpectedly for a few hours to help. It’s hot and humid. Even worse than Friday. The South side is bathed in sun and the shingles soak it up like a Sheryl Crow song.

A few minutes on the roof feel like hours and frequent breaks are a necessity. We’re actually putting shingles on now and the process goes quickly, but never quickly enough. The few thin clouds are tantalizing but we are thankful that it is not raining.

By mid afternoon it’s clear that the project will not finish today. I’m racking my brain to think of people I know who might be able to help, but everyone on my list is either already here or has prior engagements. Of my core helpers I’m the only one younger than 50 and I’m simply amazed and thankful for their stamina.

By supper time we’ve finished the first side. Most of us have had grilled burgers or brats for five meals in a row, now, so I take my parents and uncle out to a Chinese buffet. It gives us a chance to sit and enjoy some cooler air. While we’re gone, my cousin and his friends move the scaffolding back to the North side of the house.

After supper we tar paper the North side, starting at the top and working our way down so we can nail in 2x6s for foot rests and don’t tear the paper. It’s so much better than our last attempt.

The roof is now weather proof, which is good because at 2:00am it rains for about five minutes.

Day 4

Sunday is better. It’s not as hot on the North side of the roof and we have the most heavenly breeze I have ever encountered. We learned a lot from shingling on day one and this time it feels faster. Once again we are down to just four workers but we’re able to finish up just before supper time.

Collectively we must have put close to 200 hours into the project. My roof is only 1300 square feet, which means we probably spent close to nine and a half minutes per square foot. While that seems excessive, this was the first time most of us had worked on this kind of project before. And it was a steep roof.

The physical exhaustion and emotional agony during the project were not fun. At the time I just wanted it to end. Yet, even amid the Saturday heat, I couldn’t imagine giving up. As we sat in the shade we speculated what it would cost to hire someone finish the second half, but that would have made for such an anti-climactic story, I don’t think I could have done it.

Though it’s been a week, I recall the experience with some fondness and I can’t help but be reminded that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

Right now, I’m hopefully that I won’t have to do any re-roofing for a while… But I’m also hopeful about other aspects of life. I’m encouraged. I’ve made it through something difficult and I’m better for it. I have a new appreciation for my family and friends.

If you asked me now, I think I would be in the small sliver of a minority who says re-roofing my house was fun… it wasn’t easy, but it was fun.