Thursday, May 9, 2013

Renewal and the Art of Roof Maintenance


As time psses I am less inclined to dive into large house maintenance projects, preferring to pay others to do them, or doing them mañana. Eventually in my quest for simplification, I suspect I will move out of this roomy antique and into a smaller and easier-to-maintain home. But I love living in this house, and for now I manage as best as I can.

However there is one recurring project that I enjoy a great deal. I love to do the roof.

Roof maintenance in this land of flat, concrete roofs is very different from what many of us who've owned houses in northern climes are accustomed to. Up north, a roof leak in a wood-frame house like my old one in Juneau can mean costly repairs that are best left to a professional. In Yucatán, if you start out with a roof that has never been left to deteriorate for too long, with a little bit of attention every couple of years you can keep expensive problems at bay for a long time.

The folks I bought the house from had deferred some maintenance, so for the first several years I owned the place I had a few leaks. Little by little I identified the sources of these problems and repaired them, and since that time I have had no leaks at all. The roofs are original to the house. That means that they are probably ninety years old. Because of their age, they need a bit more TLC than newer construction.

Annually during the January to May dry season, I inspect the entire roof surface, identifying new cracks or spots where the waterproof coating, called impermeabilizante, is lifting or cracking. Some years things look pretty good, and I just scrape loose coating and apply a fresh layer in those places. It's only a few hours of fairly easy work. Other times, like this year, much of the surface needs to be recoated, so I scrape the entire roof and attend to any new cracks that have appeared. 

Sometimes thin layers of old cement, used to level out or smooth over repairs, have become soft or have stopped adhering to the layers beneath. These need to be carefully scraped off, so as not to damage the remaining surface. Occasionally this is quite a bit more work than expected, as layer after historic layer, decades of accumulated coatings and repairs, begin to peel like layers of an onion. You've got to be careful in these circumstances that you don't take off too much and leave a low spot where water will puddle, causing further problems down the line.

Small cracks, if left unattended might allow seepage and cause deeper damage and leaks. To repair these, I drizzle in a thin mixture of roofing tar and then trowel the surface smooth once the tar has begun to set. For larger cracks or hollows in the surface, I mix the tar with a bit of sand. The benefit of using a stiffer tar-sand mixture is that it can be troweled and smoothed much like concrete, but sticks well even on dusty, dry surfaces.
While the patched areas are curing, the scraped sections get a good workover with a wire brush, followed by a thorough sweeping of the whole roof to remove as much dust as possible. Then comes the part I like most.

There is something about rolling on the luscious, creamy roof coating that I find very satisfying. I suppose that knowing my roof will be waterproof and the rooms beneath dry and secure during the daily rains and storms of the coming hurricane season is part of the reason for this.


But there is more to it than that. I love the repetitive work, dipping the roller into the bucket and rolling out the milkshake-thick liquid, over and over. It's a great pleasure to watch the sparkling, fresh surface quickly spread out before me. I enjoy doing things I am good at, and I've figured this one out. When I am done, the roof is perfectly clean and blindingly white. It's a good-sized roof.  It may sound funny, but the results are impressive.

After finishing, when the sun is down and the roof has cooled I sometimes climb upstairs to sit in the midst of this plain of pure, spotless white to watch the sky. I might bring a small lounge cushion and lie down up there to watch for falling stars, owls, bats, satellites, airplanes and distant storms. Even on a moonless night I can see perfectly well on the newly-coated roof.

Spring cleaning, for some, achieves not only household cleanliness and organization but can represent a new beginning and readiness for the coming year. In agricultural communities, tilling the soil in preparation for planting can mean about the same thing. I know devout Catholics here who feel refreshed and renewed after attending mass and confessing.

I don't mean to imply that working on the roof is anything like a person's faith, but for me, the annual ritual of attending to the roof  is something that achieves a similar kind of result. It's a renewal of a sort, a tabula rasa. The house is ready for another cycle, and so am I.


26 comments:

  1. Great post!

    I can totally identify with your feeling. There's something quite satisfying about doing some job that has a definite beginning, end, and positive result.

    So once dry, your impermeabilizante is tough enough to walk on? Could you put lawn furniture on top of it if you wanted to?

    Given the overall marvelousness of the climate in Mexico, especially DF and the mountains in my view, I think roofs are an under-appreciated asset there. It's quite a pleasure to be up on the roof, somewhat removed from the city, but still able to see it and hear it.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where our 95-year old slate roof takes a certain amount of maintenance we are too afraid to do ourselves due to the height and pitch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kim, yes, you can walk on the coated roof, but too much traffic would wear the coating and might cause problems. I walk on the old parts of the roof sparingly. I wouldn't put furniture on it, mainly because it's such an old roof. However, when I renovated, I did create two rooftop terraces on top of the new addition. There's no better place to be after a hot day than two stories up enjoying the breeze and 360-degree view.

      Delete
  2. Great job, Marc. You can be assured that your roof is ready for all the rain that will come soon. I used to get a similar feeling of renewal when painting the interior of our home. But lately, my body doesn't take too kindly to the bending, stretching and reaching of house painting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand you completely because we are about the same age. I regulate myself carefully when I do this, working only early in the morning when it's cool, and stopping by about 9:00 or 9:30AM. And often I have help. This way it takes me several days to finish, but I don't get too tired and I don't ache much. It's not a bad way to work.

      Delete
  3. I have long lived by the motto: laborare est orare -- to work is to pray. Tasks such as re-coating the roof should end with a hearty "amen!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, Steve, I am not ready for the Amen yet. I will get up early tomorrow and finish the project, most likely. If not tomorrow then over the weekend. Perhaps I'll "amen" on Sunday.

      Delete
  4. I like a nice white roof under foot when I'm drinking cocktails (or a really cold beer).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I dont' think we enjoyed the roof while you visited here. It's something I overlooked. We'll have to plan on it next time.

      Delete
  5. Impressive indeed. Roof repair and maintenance in Mérida seemed so mysterious and complicated when I was needing it recently. I'd like to think I could do it myself next time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was up on your roof once, looking at your tinaco, I think. The roof looked looked pretty good. But in a couple of years it will need a little touch-up. Get ahold of me... I've had a lot of practice and can help you get started.

      Delete
  6. You enjoy doing the roof? You're a better man than I am. I enjoy hiring people to do just about anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I wouldn't say it's exactly a pleasure, but I find it satisfying for some reason. And I break the work up into little chunks, done early in the morning. I am still working on it...it's 8:10AM and I am done for the day.

      Delete
    2. I hired a crew to do the roof the very first time. I watched them, thought I probably could do better, and now I do. I save a bit of money, and I have no leaks. That's the best part.

      Delete
  7. I like house care and construction posts, probably since my house has been a 4 year project and still continues. I've been doing my impermeabilizante work as well but differently because a new roof I expect. On new roof started with a 50/50 mix of water and impermeabilizante for penetration and again a little thicker. That took care of it for two years. Now I'm using fiber material and pure impermeabilizante on corners and places with signs of wear. Have a wash area and clothes line on the roof so it sees traffic and we're up there for the view as well. Mine is nice and white as well till the dust starts covering it up.

    Nice post !!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a roll of the roof fabric that I keep meaning to place up there. I tried a test patch on a high-wear area, and it seems to prolong the life of the roof coating, and probably reduces the need to patch cracks. However, since I haven't really had any problems with the roof, I never got around to putting down the fabric. Maybe I will the next time the whole thing needs a redo.

      Delete
  8. I've done my own roofing most of my life. But a decade ago I hired a crew of thirty Amishmen to put a new roof on our farmhouse. They did a good job, including tear-off, sheeting, and application of new 50-year GAF shingles. But I had to build an outhouse for them, as it was during drought. No way could our plumbing keep up.

    It's worth mentioning that the coating you use, Marc, is also available in barn-red. If a roof is also to serve as a patio, red reduces glare, seeming more like soil in reflectance. ~eric. MeridaGOround.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the reflective quality of the white coating, and since I do not use the coated sections of roof on a regular basis, the high reflectivity does not bother me. If I were up there a lot during the day, perhaps I would consider the red. And I believe that the white coating may keep the roof a little cooler. Cooler is better, especially this time of year.

      Delete
  9. If you ever decide to work again, I suggest that you'd be a super overall supervisor for projects many of us gringos find daunting. I myself cannot even manage to get up onto my roof to see the before and after repairs.

    Thank you for such an informative post. It even resurrected the lines of a old song (before your time type):

    http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Manana-lyrics-Dean-Martin/A457CEDC8DBF0C1C48256E87000CCB6B .

    These lyrics actually make me laugh in recognition!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually Alinde, I do know the song...growing up I listened to a lot of my parents' music...

      On the subject of working in this field, I am only interested in working on my own place. I did a little care taking for friends' houses in Merida, and after a year or two got pretty tired of it. One old house to worry about is enough.

      Delete
  10. i'VE NEVER SEEN THIS DONE IN mEXICO. At least not in San Miguel.......never have had a roof leak either! Thankfully........Looks beautiful

    ReplyDelete
  11. I can see how that would be very satisfying. For 5 years in Patzcuaro we all tried to solve the "leaky house syndrome", with varying degrees of success. When our house was new the first time we had a "horizontal rain" it felt like we were going down with the ship. We were never able to completely contain the situation and now we have moved to San Miguel where is comes in under the sliding door. The back porch is built on a slant TOWARD the house. LOL

    ReplyDelete
  12. Flat roofs, above all type of roofs, is the easiest one to manage. And I am even more convinced that it is really so after reading your post. And though this is the case, I'm glad that you check your roof regularly. That sets a great example for every homeowner out there. Making sure that your roof is in its best condition also prepares you for the bad weather. Thank you! Tiffany Larsen

    ReplyDelete
  13. I totally get what you mean. There is such satisfaction in getting a BIG job done, even though the actual work is monotonous. For me it was cleaning out my closet a few weeks ago... and I spent all of last Sunday hand-shredding the papers I threw out.

    Joanna

    ReplyDelete
  14. Kudos to you for enjoying the maintenance on your roof, Marc! I think it's a practice that everyone should observe regardless of the roof they have. Causes of leaks and natural wear and tear are similar to shingled roofs and your flat roof. The only difference is the time between repairs. Plus, with proper and timely maintenance, anyone can save on dealing with bigger issues as a result of leaving them unattended for so long.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I am surprised the foam roof has not made it to Merida. It seals the whole roof and the parapets too. Keeping water off of the walls helps avoid problems with salitre. The foam roof also gives you a couple of inches of insulation.

    Robert Gill
    Phoenix, Arizona

    ReplyDelete
  16. It's truly nice to see someone who's keen on keeping his roof in the best condition. This task is really important. It's getting more and more difficult to predict the weather today. Being prepared is our best defense against it. Thank you for sharing!
    Nelson Mcglaughlin

    ReplyDelete

I appreciate comments, but will delete comments that are rude, offensive or off topic. Unfortunately, due to the heavy volume of spam, comment moderation has been enabled. I will try to approve comments promptly, but your patience is appreciated.
If you have technical trouble leaving your comment, please email it to:
marc_olson@hotmail.com
and I will post it for you.