When we bought our building in 2009, our roof got a clean bill of health by the inspector. It had a fairly new membrane that was estimated to be good for another five to 10 years. And it was.
But the most recent membrane was not the only one that had been installed on the roof. In fact, there were seemingly endless layers of membranes and other roofing systems that had been installed on our roof over the last century, probably going all the way back to the very first roofing system in 1902.
It amounted to a roofing system sandwich of about two and a half to three inches. The weight of all this roofing material was considerable. Rather than adding another layer to it, it was time to tear off all those layers, take off the weight, and have a fresh start with a new roofing system.
Removing the two and a half to three inches of roofing amounts to about 12 to 14 cubic yards of waste. In preparation, our roofer, Pablo, organized two 10 yard dumpsters and a trash chute.
The trash chute was important to me, because it prevents the waste from flying all over the place on its way down from the roof.
The tear off had to happen rather fast. You don’t want to be in the middle of a roofing project and have rain storms moving through. Ideally you get the tear off started and the new system finished while the dry weather lasts.
Pablo arrived at 7 am with his crew and a selection of brute force tools. By noon, all the layers of the old system were gone and in the dumpsters. We were down to the original roof deck, which was old 7/8 inch pine boards.
To my great relief, the boards were in excellent condition, except for one spot that had water infiltration at one point. I noticed the damaged boards when I installed the insulation under the roof deck. So we were prepared, and removed and replaced the damaged boards.
During our roof project I had lugged a lot of material up the back porch stairs onto the roof. Countless pieces of brick, and rather heavy but beautiful pieces of limestone, among other things. In the process, my thighs grew big and my arms long.
Our roofer, Pablo, told me that they did the same in the old days: Shouldering the roofing materials and lugging it up stairs and ladders.
But not any more. Today, access permitting, many roofing material suppliers use a truck with a crane.
This was a rather relaxing and refreshing experience after what felt like weeks on a stair climbing machine. Not only did we have all the roofing material hoisted onto the roof in minutes, but Pablo got his tools and equipment lifted too.
What made me a little nervous was the sheer weight of the palettes that were now sitting on the roof. I had to remind myself that it should be OK, given that they are sitting there temporarily, and that we had the roof structure reinforced.
We had emergency repairs done to the east and west parapet back in 2009. Back then I had the hunch that additional work may be needed once we began redoing the roof. That hunch became a prophecy.
Don’t get me wrong. The parapet repairs from 2009 were perfectly fine. The issue that I faced had to do with roof insulation.
We insulated the roof between the rafters. And I learned (the hard way) that we needed to continue with the roof insulation above the roof deck. The insulation above keeps the roof deck on the warm side so stays drier during the winter months.
Adding layers of insulation onto the roof deck shortens the height of our current parapet. To maintain the code required height, I needed to raise the parapet. I called our mason back and purchased a few pallets of additional salvaged common brick.
I mentioned a couple of posts back that working with common brick requires certain steps and a certain type of mortar to produce a lasting masonry system. And I have described the process and materials in a previous post (Mending more masonry + Bricks and mortar). I recommend that you look up that post if you plan a project that would use Chicago common brick.
One key aspect is to make sure the common brick is properly soaked in water prior to installation. This prevents the brick from pulling water out of the mortar. And that in turn provides the desired bond between the common brick and mortar.
It is also a good idea to keep wetting the brick during and sometime after the installation for the same reason. So I kept busy spraying it down. This can be a full time job during a sunny and hot day. The common brick dries out rather quickly. Cooler and overcast days are easier.
The cornice was repaired and re-attached to the masonry. It was time to call the mason back to finish the brick work on the front parapet.
The parapet repair behind the cornice was all done using common brick. From the cornice tie-in upwards, we switched to Roman face brick. The same brick that was used below on the front façade. Lucky for us, there is one company left in the Midwest (the Belden Brick Company), that still manufactures Roman face brick.
But we didn’t just use Roman face brick. To keep with the architecture of the facade below, we integrated graystone into the front parapet. This is the graystone that I salvaged a few years back from buildings that were torn down nearby.
The front parapet has a depth of three wythes. We rebuilt the wythe facing the street with graystone and Roman brick. The other two wythes behind it were invisible. Here we used regular common bricks again.
To render the common brick stable, we used header courses to tie the wythes together. To connect the street-facing wythe – the graystone and Roman brick – I used ties to connect the graystone pieces to the common brick behind.
Getting the cornice and front parapet repair out of the way was a major milestone. I could now focus on raising the parapets along the east and west sides in preparation for the re-roofing.
The cornice had scared the daylight out of me for years, mainly because I didn’t understand its construction. And with that I had no clue on how to repair it.
This job was best handed to a specialist. I started asking around, and one name popped up twice: Ross from Bismarck Roofing. Ross and his crew knew their way around sheet metal work. And that included copper.
Ross had indicated that we could save the bottom portion of the cornice. The cornice roof, he said, had to be replaced. And so they began to cut it into manageable sections and carefully separate it from the bottom section. I contented myself with clearing all the crud that had accumulated inside the cornice. Cornice on a diet. It was a lot lighter once I was done cleaning.
What had eluded me was a solution on how to safely reattach the cornice to the masonry. Ross had a solution, and it was as simple as it was beautiful. He brought a set of plain copper busbars. He cut and bent them so they attached to the bottom cornice on one end, and to the masonry on the other end. This way the cornice was tied back to the masonry. The bars would prevent the new cornice roof from sagging.
What I really liked about this approach was its durability. The copper busbar bracing should last a lot longer than the old pine board bracing.
Ross went on to cut and bend the copper sheets into the new cornice roof. He moved the fabricated pieces back to the cornice, where he cut them to fit.
The new cornice roof was riveted along the edges of the cornice bottom, and riveted along the seams. The seams between each sheet were soldered together to prevent any water infiltration.
The timelapse makes this project seem to go so fast. But in this case, it actually did go fast. It took Ross and his crew just two days.
We now could finish the front parapet repair. That will be the subject of the next post.