Tag Archives: cornice

Cornice repair

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.

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Front parapet demo

Did I mention that the front parapet was badly crumbling? If you wonder why, the answer is easy: bulk water infiltration into the masonry.

The cornice roof (a copper sheet) was supposed to shed water away from the building. Not only did the cornice roof come apart at the seams, it had bent inwards, allowing water to pond right behind the edge. To “solve” that problem, a previous owner had punched small drain holes into the copper sheet, allowing ponding water to enter the cornice interior and the masonry behind.

Some of that masonry had deteriorated so badly that someone put a layer of cement parging across it to prevent it from falling off. That, however, further aggravated the problem, because the cement parging trapped moisture and prevented the masonry from drying out.

We went around and peeled back the roofing membrane which was lapped across the parapet. Underneath that, we found rows of mostly loose brick, if we were lucky. Behind the cement parging, we found brick crumbles.

There was hardly anything to salvage. We scooped up all the loose material and slowly worked our way down until we hit solid masonry. That meant in many cases going down to the bottom of the cornice.

From this point on, we could begin to rebuild the parapet in stages, and along the way, repair the cornice.

As usual, many thanks to our skilled friends Augusta and Rubani who helped us in this adventure.

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Bracing for the cornice issue

Our house came with a beautiful cornice that was attached to and supported by the parapet behind it. It was constructed out of copper, but the bottom section had been painted, unfortunately.

It has terrified me for years. This was because upon closer inspection, the top of the cornice was in dire need of repair and we had water infiltration issues, which led the supporting parapet to crumble. And no matter who I asked, I never got a straight answer on how it actually was constructed, supported or attached to the building. It remained shrouded in mystery, leaving me to procrastinate.

With the looming solar array installation, there was no avoiding this any longer. I opened up the top copper sheet to get a visual on the inside and the attachment mechanism – or lack thereof. And the more I started digging the more terrifying it got.

The “support mechanism” was rotting pine boards, which were rotting either in the masonry or the opposite end. And the supporting masonry had deteriorated into loosely stacked bricks.

The crumbling masonry had to be removed and rebuilt. The bottom of the cornice was salvageable, but the top sheet had to be entirely replaced to prevent any further water infiltration into the masonry behind. Mind you, the job of the cornice is to shed water away from the building façade. Along with all this we needed a new support mechanism.

To save and reuse the bottom section of the cornice, I had to brace it before I could remove and repair any of the masonry or top copper sheet. The last thing I wanted was for it to fall off the building.

I managed to score a stack of reclaimed two by fours at The Rebuilding Exchange, which I used to rig up a solid bracing system.

Next step, taking down the crumbling parapet.

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