Communion Of Dreams

It’s October! That must mean it’s time for …

… more House Horrors!

OK, this time it’s not nearly as bad as it was last year. But nonetheless, I don’t think this is exactly what most people mean when they talk about having a “green roof“:


Yeah, probably a safe bet.

So, this is the small roof of an unused porch on the front west of our house, which is a “Notable Historic Structure“ built by the first dean of the MU medical school in 1883. We’re fairly sure that this porch used to be a separate entrance for the dean’s private office/surgery, which is now our living room. At some point the door was closed off and turned into window, so now the porch is purely decorative and out of the way. As such, it tends to not get a lot of attention … including, unfortunately, maintenance.

But I was doing some other work up on the roof, and noticed that this small porch was to a point where it really needed some work. Eventually we’ll replace the steps and perhaps the floor of the porch, but first we needed to do some roof repairs.

Originally, this porch just had a sheet metal roof, over 1″ thick decking. But when the sheet metal started leaking, applications of roofing tar were applied in an effort seal the leaks. And for more than 100 years, that’s the only attention that it got. With the result that there was dried (and cracking/leaking) tar almost an inch thick in place over the whole small roof (it’s about 4’x8′).

To repair it was straight-forward: remove the old dried tar, repair the sheet metal as necessary, and then put down an appropriate proper flat roof.

To see that process, follow me below the fold:

Here’s the start of the scraping process:




Initially, I was going to just leave the cast-iron decorative fence in place and work around it. But as I went through the scraping process, I realized that the fence wasn’t really mounted any longer — it was just being held in position by wads of tar. So I carefully lifted it off in about four pieces, and set it aside:


The rest of the cleaning went fairly well. Here’s what was revealed under the tar:

revealed 1


revealed 2

Note the several areas where rust has eaten through the original metal sheath. At this point we had to consider whether to try and save the extant roof, or just replace the whole thing. We decided that there was enough there to salvage, but that some areas would need to be just removed, and other areas would need to be patched. Here’s a pic showing the mess back along the house wall, where the damage was worst:

along back

And here’s the same area after all the tar and the worst of the rusted metal was removed:


To patch the metal, I used standard roof flashing (a thin, strong, but flexible steel) with roof adhesive and roofing nails. Here are those repairs:

flashing 1


flashing 2

Just below this roof is another extended roof area on three sides, with conventional shingles. There’s a narrow strip all along where the two meet about 6″ high with decorative molding. The original molding had been damaged by squirrels and needed to be replaced. To do so we also had to repair the ends of some of the rafters and replace the mounting base. Here’s that process:



molding 2


molding 3

Once that was done, I added a new drip rail on the roof, under the original metal sheath, all around the edge. That helps to strengthen the edge as well as protect the underlayment and molding.

Then I applied a thin coat of roof adhesive:


Then tar paper:


The last step was to apply another thin layer of adhesive, then the roll shingle flat roof material. That is also secured at several points with roofing nails, and I sealed the heads of those with a small dab of additional tar:


Here’s a shot of the trim below. Note how the drip rail overhangs:

covered 2

I later went through and caulked the seams and screws, and in the near future we’ll paint over the molding for additional protection as well as replacing the trim on the house and the cast-iron fence. But at least the roof is now sealed up properly for the first time in a century or more.


Jim Downey

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[…] nature and profession, I save old things. It’s just part of my life. And I’m good at […]

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