September 20, 2011 – October 31, 2011
Yup, count ‘em- that’s almost SIX WEEKS of roofing, and you get to enjoy it all in a matter of seconds from the convenience of your home. I know everyone has been waiting for months for this! The thing is, when you live in a house with no electricity, encoding video, editing photos, and Facebook status updates happily fade away into non-existence. You’ve all been rewarded for waiting so long though with a very in-depth and media-rich experience brought to you by the kind folks at Le Vignaud Productions.
Lena and I began pulling tiles down back in mid-September, the day after our visitors from Germany had left. I had originally estimated we may be able to finish the project in about three weeks, tackling it in three smaller sections, so about one week per 4m section… It took much longer than I had expected, but luckily we were blessed with beautiful fall weather all throughout October. The first few days went relatively smoothly: Tearing down the vines that had covered the roof, taking down the old tiles, and removing the old battens and rafters. It wasn’t until we made it to the point that we actually had to start building the new roof that we bagan to run into problems.
First of all, the outside wall had a taken on a bit of water damage from where the vines had been- they had worked their way in between the tiles and allowed water to seep into the lime mortar which makes it very unstable. So the walls had to be re-built with fresh mortar along the eves and gables. Second obstacle: The house is more than 100 years old which obviously means it was built long before the earth had a clearly measurable gravity field. Of course, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find the perfect ‘level’ anyway. In the end, the most practical solution (that didn’t involve actually moving the oak beams) was to simply level each individual rafter with small wood spacers between the rafter and the beam. This made the whole process of installing the rafters much more laborious and slow, but in the end the roof line looks much better for it!
Next up: The construction of our very special and totally ‘custom designed’ Chien-assis windows. First of all, I had very limited tools available. Therefore, these windows had to be constructed using a variety of highly advanced carpentry methods. That is, I had to build them by hand, with my trusty hand saw and a protractor. Second of all, I am not a roofer. I had no idea how this was supposed to work, much less how to make them both structurally sound and watertight! I had to take what was only a vague idea in my head, put it down on paper, and then proceed to design and build it having to overcome many obstacles as I came to them. I would venture to say that the addition of the two small windows added easily two to three weeks to the total project- Firstly in the physical construction of the window frames and underlying structure, secondly in flashing and waterproofing, and finally in literally hours spent cutting tiles to fit both the windows and the underlying vallies. If it wasn’t for these tiny windows, we could have easily finished in just three weeks. Was it worth it? Who knows…
Lena was with me to help during the first two weeks of the roofing project, and I am happy to say she passed the test! Even the neighbors were impressed how hard she worked, on the roof laying rafters, from the ground cutting tiles, and up and down the latter carrying tiles. Unfortunately, Lena decided she wanted to graduate instead of helping me finish the roof, and so had to head back to Germany leaving me to cope with the last two-thirds of our new project all on my own! If it wasn’t already hard enough, I can assure you, it was certainly MUCH harder to build a roof completely alone. I now had to climb up and down the ladder at least 7,000 extra times per day, not to mention there are just some things that are not practical with only two hands!
Once I was finally able to get past the first dormer window, things moved a bit quicker though- Section two took only half the time as section one even though it was larger; I saved a lot of time since it was a straight shot all the way across until window number two got in the way on the other side! That’s not to say it was without problems though: After we uncovered the old roof and had a look at the beams underneath, I found a very large rotted section which was also infested with ‘capricorn’ beetle larvae. These guys aren’t as bad as termites, but they had definitely managed to eat away a huge hole in the central structure of my roof over the past 50 years or so… I lost another three days removing the old rotted wood and replacing the damaged section with a new beam and then reinforced with concrete and stone.
I had managed to lay all the underlying structure for the second section by the time Clint arrived. He then helped me to put up the tiles for this middle section and then take down the tiles for the last section before he left and I was once again on my own. Section three was the most complicated of all: I was once again alone, and had not only another window to install and work around, but also the chimney, as well as the final edge of the roof wich required a lot of tile cutting to make everything fall into place correctly. This is when I really started to lose it- the weeks of sleeplessness and 10-hour workdays up and down the latter hundreds of time had certainly taken its toll. It was an uphill fight to not throw myself off the roof towards the end, I wanted it to be over so badly! I turned 27 on October 24th on my roof, during a 12-hour day pushing so hard to finish. I worked that night until I couldn’t see, but due to inclement weather conditions the next few days, the final tile was not laid until the 29th.
That night, I was surprised to be invited to the neighbors’ house where everyone had gathered to celebrate. After a few whiskeys, the last few weeks of non-stop work seemed to fade away and all I remembered was that I finally had a roof over my head. The finished roof made me truly appreciate for the first time the full potential of the house- It allowed me to look at in in a whole new way, and realize the beauty in this little building that I had missed before. It was an incredible amount of work, but in the end I am very satisfied with the results. For the first time, I feel like I can respectably call this old pile of stones a house… I can look forward to what it can become, and look back on all the work that got us here.
(click images for larger view)
(Thanks to Clint for some of the photos and video)