Putting a new roof over your head can be hot work


June 25, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

"Up on the roof" is a charming concept when it means a hot, starry night, a blanket to lie on, and the universe to think your thoughts in. It's a lot less charming, however, when it's 100 degrees, the sun is beating down, the pitch is steep, the shingles are worn out -- and it's your job to replace them.

Way back in March, when Randy volunteered to replace the roof on his parents' house in Virginia, he thought mid-June would still be cool.

Instead, he and his crew of two recently sweltered in three days of Northern Virginia heat and humidity, proving once again that while reshingling is not hard to do, it's really hard labor.

It's not, however, beyond the skills of a handy homeowner. If you choose your season astutely, you won't get rained on or a killer sunburn. And you'll save lots of money.

But there are a number of things to think about before you start.

First, how many times has the roof already been reshingled? It's a matter of weight: Conventional wisdom says that most structures can stand two re-roofs over the original.

However, based on his experience, Randy suggests no more than one layer over the original. A standard roof for a two-story colonial house may take 15 "squares," or 1,500 square feet. There are three bundles of shingles per square, so that's 45 bundles at 80 to 100 pounds each. You could be adding as much as 4,500 pounds to the roof, which may be more extra weight than the structure was designed to support.

If that's the case, you will have to strip the old roof -- and that means a lot more labor. The best way to strip a roof is to use a stripping shovel, which has a serrated blade that lifts roofing nails out from underneath. If you have to strip the whole roof, you may want to do it in sections, stripping, placing tar paper underneath, and shingling each section, so you don't expose the house to leaks.

If you are going to strip shingles, you will have to make some provision for hauling them away. In fact, if you do have to strip, it could make the job something you'd rather turn over to a professional.

But say there's only one layer of previous shingles, as was the case for Randy's parents' house; the new layer can go directly over the old one.

The next step is to determine how many shingles you need. Randy's father, an engineer by training, used a complex equation involving hypotenuses, and missed the shingle total by two bundles (which meant, in this case, only that the crew couldn't start the garage roof).

We still think the best way to decide how many shingles you need is to go up on a ladder and measure each face of the roof. Add them all up to determine square footage. Each 100 square feet is one "square."

Go ahead and order the shingles -- but before you even think about getting out on the roof to install them, there are some safety issues you must take into consideration:

* It's important to stay alert to avoid accidents. If it's hot and you are feeling clumsy or confused, take a break.

* Use a good, safe ladder that's rated for the height it needs to reach and the weight that will be loaded on it (the weight of the heaviest worker plus one bundle of shingles).

* Don't leave the paper bundle wrappers where you can step on them; place cut pieces of shingle that may be used later out of the way, at the roof peak.

* If it's sunny, wear sunscreen. You could be in the sun for a long time.

* Drink plenty of fluids and take a break if you're headache-y or dizzy.

* Clothing tips: Wear long pants to protect your legs from burns on the hot roof; wear a hat to protect you head from the sun; wear knee pads to protect your knees; wear a tool belt with a loop for your hammer; and wear tennis shoes, not work boots, as boots could damage the roof surface.

Next: How to install shingles.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

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