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Metal Roofing--Love It or Leave It—Nobody’s Indifferent
by Laurie Mercer
How one island-based camp-to-cottage transformation in Stoddard, NH, embraced green living and got topped with a cool metal roof.
Stoddard, NH : Highland Lake is drained every year, and I've never understood why.
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Never meant for winter, our recent remodel and restoration on the property was aimed at extending our seasonal enjoyment by embracing some newer technologies.
The incomparable view from its century-old deck of the Maxfield Parrish-inspired clouds against cerulean skies makes up for any limitation associated with island living. Beginning as a camp around the1880s, the property joined our family's saga in 1960. John Carr, the island's namesake and one of its former owners, joined my parents at their first open house, under the old porch. Many of the guests returned over the years. Carr Island enthusiasts are like a tribe.
The island also has its detractors. "The place gave me wet dreams, and not the good kind," complained one of the guests in the island log book. Thanks to our new metal roof, his bad dreams are a thing of the past.
Like many summer properties, the island cottage had become a magnet for stuff my parents didn't know what to do with. Nostalgia ruled. Mismatched dishes were from my childhood. Once our parents passed, my sister Bonnie and I chose to navigate uncharted waters while trying to stabilize Carr Island for the next 100 years.
Anybody with a seasonal property knows that there are many moments when you question just how much use you get from that second set of expenses and mechanical breakdowns. So we were eternally grateful when our builder and his crew, suggested things that extended our season. The large granite fireplace, augmented by a heater, built with stones dragged up the hill by our Dad, continues to be the primary heat for guests. We recreated a trap door between the first and second floors to contain warm air downstairs. Now several small, individual baseboard heaters supplement it, warming key locations as needed.
There are some compromises, the windows, once beautifully hand blown glass are now fully efficient double pane glass.
Our architect came to us as the result of perusing portfolios of NH-based architecture firms on the Internet. Our builder, on the other hand, came the old-fashioned way, by referral. We had admired the work he had done on the noteworthy Hancock Inn in Hancock. Think globally, act locally. We believe it. With the exception of some lighting fixtures, all the professional services, appliances, furnishings, and materials we chose were NH-based.
Our team of professionals arrived by snowmobile, four-wheelers, kayak, and party boat. Basically we got all new wiring, fir floors, unfinished pine interiors, appliances, windows, stone tiles, a two person tub with a fine view of the lake, sliding doors, and decking. A strong overhead timber survived the demolition and the original white pickled ceilings are mimicked in the new areas. Michal called it a camp to cottage transformation.
Our dreams were modest; we added just 142 square feet of new space, but what a great use of space.
Beyond being practical we also wanted the place to be aesthetically pleasing. Many boat loads of old stuff went to the landfill. Simplify, simplify. I hauled a large iron dental chair from the island to the Stoddard Recycling Center, which is where my father found it. Before I even got through the gate, somebody else asked for the chair.
In addition to energy saving windows, doors, and appliances, we went looking for a new metal roof to replace the leaky asphalt shingles. We chose a second-generation, family-owned Ohio firm who provide all-American materials that are 98% recycled. This company trains their own installers, which connected us to with a local contractor. This is not turf for amateurs and casual do-it-yourselfers.
Shakes, shingles, and standing seam panels are manufactured by using aluminum, steel, copper, and zinc. The energy efficiency of metal compared with asphalt is superior. Lots of customers also prefer to put metal over existing shingles to prevent adding waste to landfills. Metal roofs are also key to water catchment systems, which are gaining ground (and water) in arid parts of the country. Our roof came with a limited lifetime warranty. One expert wrote that your roof's lifetime should not outlast your mortgage.
One of our trusty handbooks was Green Remodeling, Changing the World One Room at a Time by David Johnson and Kim Master. Johnson and Master wrote that the type of roofing we use has serious consequences on our health and the environment. "Sloped roofing materials, such as asphalt-based rolled roofing and shingles, will offgas toxins when heated by the sun. Flat roofing materials, such as tar and gravel, will also continually offgas when heated by the sun, emitting known carcinogens such as VOCs from asphalt, including benzene, polynuclear aromatics, toluene, and xylene."
The authors further state that 78% of the total roofing dollars spent in the U.S. go to re-roofing, exposing homeowners to high levels of toxic fumes every time they repair or replace the roof.
Up on the Roof
On the slippery side, metal can heat up and send a pile of snow and ice below, and we had just installed a glass railing on the balcony. So it was with a focus on installation that I climbed the ladder this summer, joining the roofer and his crew on our house top. Roofers do, in fact, share a different view of the world, seeing their work space with the eye of an eagle, not a worm.
"You've got to understand how to manage the snow coming off a roof," said our roofer, adding. "Installing metal roofs is not rocket science, but it must be installed correctly to make it work. If it's a DIY project, I strongly recommend hiring a professional to prep you for the job."
Getting good advice is a wise investment. The average project for our roofer is in the $18,000 to $22,000 range, but he has also done big homes that cost up to $50,000. The cost for materials is about $6 to $12 a square foot depending on whether steel or aluminum is used, standing seam or profiled shingles.
Most metal roofs are Energy Star efficient and qualify for up to $1,500 in federal tax credit.
We chose patina finished shingles (which look like slate) on the pitched roof, and standing seam on the new porch additions where the pitch was too shallow for a profiled surface. The American metal roof market accounts for just 8% of all roofing. That may seem small, but it's about double what it was 20 years ago!
When asked the manufacturer why that metal roofs are a lightning rod for people who either love them or hate them, the president of the company said that people who don't like them "just haven't kept up with the times. Metal is beautiful, practical, and has a great green story to tell."
Modern Metal Roofing Materials and Handling
Today's modern metal roof always has a clip locking system with interlocking panels, so it can float with the heat, leaving the panel to contract and expand depending on the temperature. The clip system allows the roof to do that. The clips also keep the roof flat to the decking material so that when air comes across the roof, it can't lift the roof, which is why you see more metal roofs in coastal areas.
Our roofer says "All of the better products on the market have a slotted system or a clip system. Standing seam (vertical metal) goes down with a screw-down, stainless steel clip. On the shingle products, those are aluminum clips. You can use aluminum or steel. On a lake you can use steel, and it won't affect warranty, but if you are near the ocean, you have to be a certain distance from salt air to use steel."
The upside of roofing, he says, is that, barring a catastrophe, "You pick the season to do it that's right for you."
"If you are doing the work yourself, the easiest thing to do is to use aluminum products because they are lightweight and easy to work with. Steel is much more difficult—harder to bend, heavier, more difficult to form, and less forgiving," he says.
He prefers aluminum in a shingle to standing seam. "Shingle is easier to put on (panels come in small sections). Once you have the basics on how it goes together, it's easy and they are lightweight."
He photographs every job before he begins to study the roof in its initial state. Things to look for are problem areas like rot, dips, swales, missing shingles, or anything out of the ordinary. If you are doing the work for someone else, photographs illustrate areas of concern for the homeowner who is unwilling to climb onto a roof to inspect it.
You need to determine the existing material: asphalt, fiberglass, wood shake, wood shingle, slate, asbestos, clay, concrete, tile, or something else. Roof styles themselves can be: gable, hip, intersecting, mansard, gambrel, saltbox, and Dutch hip, among others. To create your roofing, draw your roof using a clean sheet of grid paper. Imagine what it looks like from the top looking down.
Having a good understanding of the structure, including overhangs, will help your organizational skills. Then there is the ability to get workers onto the roof, and having the right tools at hand. The same wooden staging brackets normally used on an asphalt roof can be used on a metal roof as well.
As for safety tips, a veteran roofer says "You have to be very comfortable up there on a roof. I've had airline pilots who couldn't take it. A helper has to be balanced and able to climb around. Most of the guys we hire are younger—mid-twenties. They are lightweight, agile, and intelligent. No goof balls up there."
Installing asphalt is more forgiving. You just lay down the material and nail it in place. "Metal roofers don't have to be finish carpenters, but they do have to be craftsmen. Guys who do all types of siding are usually pretty good at it. You need a person who can think through a process of interlocking panels, forming them, using the snips, bending; there is lots of hand work required."
Chimneys, especially rough natural stone, skylights, vents, satellites, antennas, and lightning rods present more challenges for forming and fitting details. "The average skylight," he says, "will add 2 to 4 hours of labor. Skylights are complicated because you have to take apart the flashing system. On chimneys you often have to take the lead off first. Every roof is different."
Most modern metal roofs have some kind of foam panel that adds insulation value in a roof and cuts down on noise. Another key material is roofing paper. Our contractor chose Aqua Guard, which he gets from the roofing manufacturer. "All metal roofing requires a minimum of 30-lb. felt between the roof deck and the panel," he says. "The decking could be plywood or a layer of existing shingles."
While called "felt," today's roofer is probably using a kind of fiberglass matt. Most are synthetic products with names like Aqua Guard, Roof Top Guard, and Titanium Shark Skid (Titanium UDL 30). Costs range from 10 to 12 cents a square foot for paper (felt), and 12 to 20 cents for the felt (synthetics).
Being trapped on jobs by New England's changeable weather patterns has made our contractor a true believer in using synthetic products according to the manufacturer's directions. "It does a couple of things, "he says. "It allows you to strip the old roof, put the paper down, and if you don't get the roof on that day, you are OK with an open roof. It's not going to leak."
Leaks are roofers' worse nightmares, but also their reason for being, especially when mold and mildew cause problems. For my sister and me, the classy new two-tone patina metal roof on our rustic new/old cottage means no more leaks. And no more jokes in the guest log book about them either.
Laurie Mercer, www.lauriemercerpr.com, is a freelance writer from Honeoye Falls, NY, and Stoddard, NH. To see a video go to "Carr Island" on YouTube.
Walker & Company
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