Guide: Repairing the cottage roof
Weather conditions can do a number on the cottage roof. Here's how to make it watertight
Corrugated galvanized sheets covered farmhouses and barns from the days when looks were less important than steel’s ability to slough off snow and chimney sparks. Now that the old grey ware has been updated with factory-applied colours, steel is taking some of that looks-conscious market share from asphalt, especially in cottage country where steel’s slippery, snow-shedding talent may be worth paying two to three times the price of asphalt.
It can be a mixed blessing for the unwary, however. That rafter-warping weight of snow doesn’t come off a flake at a time but avalanche style. Enough to destroy eavestrough, chimney, deck, or even the odd family car left parked too close to the cottage. While the avalanche solves ice dam problems, you’ll need snow guards (as shown in the photo above) to solve the avalanche problem. The guard, a rake of teeth near the eaves, breaks up the slide into smaller, less destructive pieces.
Steel is still available in long “standing seam” panels, in lengths to fit in one continuous run from eave to ridge. In any colour, they still look like a corrugated steel roof, however. The style upgrade is to smaller steel panels that can be stamped out to look like cedar shakes, like Mediterranean tile, or even — with a granular coating — like asphalt shingles. The smaller panels can also be made of lighter steel than the standing seam; Clyde Pangburn of Bil-Den Home Improvements in Whitby, Ont., a distributor of MetalWorks steel roofing products, offers a 16-gauge panel that weighs just 68 lbs per 100 sq. ft., less than one-third the weight of asphalt. Pangburn claims the panels can withstand winds of 177 km/h and last for 50 years, which is a lifetime in the roofing business.
Dan Trafford finds cottagers more cost-conscious than style-conscious. His clients don’t seem to mind if their standing-seam steel roofs look like steel. “Steel has better results and requires less maintenance than asphalt,” he says. “And for cottage additions, which often have a low-slope roof, continuous-panel steel is the only way to go. Low-slope shingles don’t even exist anymore.”
Like Pangburn and other installers, Trafford stresses the importance of maintenance and service, not one-time installation costs. And that is not to contradict the long-term warranties on the materials. It is a frank recognition that leaks can occur around chimneys, valleys, and flashings no matter what the roofing material might be.
In fact, rigid steel flashings are even trickier to install than pliable, goo-able asphalt. Which is why the cost of a steel installation jumps with the number of hips, valleys, and dormers and why Trafford balks at the very thought of a DIYer trying it. “A lot of steel flashings have to be custom made on the site,” he says. “Then there are the fastenings: roofing screws and neoprene washers. There are special brackets if you want eavestrough. And the steel has to be absolutely square to begin with or you’ll be in trouble at the end.”
This article was originally published on November 4, 2003