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Summer of Tar

July 21, 2013

Just like World War I was called the “Great War” until the approach of ANOTHER world war, when I started working on the roof project, I had no idea it would be my “Summer of Tar”. I was removing tar in roofing asphalt paper, gooey roof cement, semi-solid pitch and every other way asphalt has been used. Hot and sticky, it’s always hard to remove and it gets on everything.

The roof was turning into a brickyard; I felt fortunate that I had so much extra space to spread everything out.

Salvage areas laid out

Salvage areas laid out

So now to remove that lower brick parapet wall. (I mentioned in a previous post that it would be cheaper to remove it than repair it.)

I learned several things from the brick demo in early July: 1) I should remove the tar from the wall and not from individual bricks after they’re removed from the wall (if I wanted to keep them), 2) make cuts through all the layers of tar & roofing before trying to remove them, 3) use the bulldog hammer chisel to peel the tarry black sheets away from the bricks, and 4) go buy a Bulldog to break apart the bricks instead of the hand chisel and brick hammer.

Angle grinder with large blade an extended "handle"...

Angle grinder with large blade and extended “handle”…

In a short distraction, I was looking at the exposed concrete cant, which I couldn’t budge with the hammer chisel, and pondered if I could cut through it. I found a 7-1/4″ diamond-edge blade in my blade box and mounted it to one of my angle grinders. Of course I had to remove the safety guard, and the side handle grip placed my hand waaaaaay to close to the blade, so I improvised and added an old broom handle so that my hand was in a little bit safer location.

When turned on, the blade generated so much centrifugal force that the entire setup acted like a gyroscope, resisting moving in any direction. It cut through the concrete quite easily but made a lot of dust.

Then I thought that perhaps this large blade would cut through the layers of tar & junk better than the hammer chisel. The diamond blade would not be damaged if it hit the brick or concrete, since it was designed for cutting that stuff. So I made a few test cuts through the roofing and it worked much faster than the hammer chisel, though it sortof just “melted” through the layers and sprayed a lot of debris onto my hands.

Blade spits out lots of tar droppings.

Blade spits out lots of tar droppings.

The cuts certainly made it easier to remove the chunks of roofing.

Better way of removing crap from bricks.

Better way of removing crap from bricks.

Using the big blade gave me the opportunity to clearly see all of the different layers of old roofing. Looks like there could be ten old roofs in this location.

Cross-section through old layers of tar & roofing.

Cross-section through old layers of tar & roofing.

Moving down the wall, I developed a pretty good rhythm of stripping off sections of gooey black sheets. The area near the top of the wall always required a lot of hammer chiseling because it was mostly sticky black goo sealing (well, TRYING to seal) the top of the roof flashing to the brick parapet. Once I freed the top edges, and got a good peel going, I could start prying layers away.

Gettin' a good peel goin'...

Gettin’ a good peel goin’…

I could only get down about 10″ with the hammer chisel, and this parapet was about 3′ tall. So once I was past all the really sticky parts, I could use a longer scraper which had more leverage to pop the sheets away from the wall.

In the next photo you can see all of the old layers – and another old wooden termination bar that was attached with nails into the brick, at what was once the top of the roof flashing. (Future layers were attached above that.)

Almost popped off...

Almost popped off… lots of old nails…

It took about an hour to get the tar & roofing peeled from half the wall.

Half finished on the south side of the wall.

Half finished on the south side of the wall.

While I’ve been carrying these sections of roofing one at a time over to the pile, I thought I sure could use a wheelbarrow up here. We have one down in the dock, but I doubt it would fit through the hatch. I measured the hatch; went to the dock to measure the wheelbarrow – nope; won’t fit. Doesn’t mean it can’t still get up there – just need to find another way.

My best option was to haul it up over the back wall. I knew there was some old climbing rope somewhere; left behind by previous owners. Now where did we leave it? I spent 20 minutes looking around and finally found it on a random shelf next to the bowling ball that was also inherited when we bought BAB.

I went up to the roof with the rope, tied one end to one of those heavy coping tiles as a weight, so that the rope doesn’t fall over the edge, and then tossed the other end over to the alley below. Then I took the wheelbarrow out through the dock, set it up on its handles and leaned it against the wall – I figured that orientation would minimize any hang-ups or catching as I dragged it up along the brick wall.

It wasn’t that hard until the very end – it took both of my hands to hold it still, but I needed another hand to reach over the top of the wall and pull it up & over. I had to get my feet involved – I wrapped my foot around the rope and held everything tight; I could release one hand now and grab the front of the wheebarrow. Ugh that was close. I imagined the whole thing falling 35′ straight down and smashing to bits.

Back to the wall: took a couple more hours to finish it up, and clear up the mess.

South side of the wall done, almost ready for demolition.

South side of the wall done, almost ready for demolition.

You can see in the last photo that part of the bare roof is exposed – about a 4″ slot along the wall. While that might let some rain through to the deck, it’s just what will fall on that strip, because the cut edge of roofing remaining is higher – there’s still a little slope away from the wall.

Now with the south side stripped, on to the north side…

The north side has copper flashing...

The north side has copper flashing…

There is a concrete cant along the bottom of the north side, and a large sheet of copper flashing embedded into the wall. The roofing is intended to be lapped up the cant and UNDER the flashing, stopping there, which means the roofing didn’t need to be tarred or nailed on the wall.  Fortunately previous roofers followed those rules here. (On the south side, each layer of new roof lapped further and further up the wall.)

But there was still of lot of tar/asphalt goo directly on the brick that needed to be hammer-chiseled off.

The copper flashing pulls out somewhat easily.

The copper flashing pulls out somewhat easily.

Everything got REALLY messy in the corner where the low brick parapet met the really high parapet of the exterior wall. Globs of tar, patches of organic material under layers of roofing – just a big mess.

The corner - big mess.

The corner – big mess.

And I found something interesting when I pulled out the copper flashing – someone tried nailing the copper into the concrete and the nails just curled up instead of driving into the concrete.

Curl 1...

Curl 1…

Curl 2...

Curl 2…

Curl 3.

Curl 3.

They’re visible in the last photo but here are some close-ups… They were definitely old nails – not round like modern nails but tapered with square edges. I saved them – might make something cool out of them some day.

Once the tar and roofing was removed, demolition went fairly quickly. When I demolished the short section in early July, not only was I using simple hand tools, but I was also attempting to clean & save every brick.

Now, I had the Bulldog, and my pneumatic chisel, and I was less picky about saving brick – if I couldn’t get a brick clean with one or two whacks of the chisel or mason hammer, then it was tossed into the “trash” pile. Somewhat clean bricks got stacked in a “keep” pile.

Dismantling going fast.

Dismantling going fast; the “trash” brick pile is getting big.

About halfway down the wall I uncovered some steel rods. I was surprised to see them embedded in the wall; not sure what they would be used for.

Rusty steel rods found embedded in brick.

Rusty steel rods found embedded in brick.

I took out some more bricks to see if there were more… yep.

Two more steel bars found.

Two more steel bars found.

Until I knew what was going on here, I carefully chiseled around them.

Used pneumatic impact hammer with a chisel bit to work around steel rods.

Used pneumatic impact hammer with a chisel bit to work around steel rods.

I removed all the bricks around the steel rods; saw that they came up out of the concrete below. Still not sure what’s going on, I went down to the second floor to see if I could find any help there.

Well there was a concrete column directly below that spot. Duh – since Southwestern Bell always planned for expansion, they would have put third floor columns directly over second floor columns, and having reinforcing steel connect through the deck would have made them stronger. Since they could “hide” these 4 steels rods in the brick parapet wall, it made sense to plan for the future.

Just a few more rows of brick to remove; then time to clean everything up.

Not sure how we’re going to get rid of all this stuff, but I thought it would be wise to separate it. I piled the mortar pieces separately from the brick chunks; the asphalt/tar/pitch stuff was stacked close to the alley, and I had a neat “keeper” brick pile and a bit wobbly “trash” brick pile.

Keeper bricks are the neat stack.

Keeper bricks are the neat stack on the left.

While sweeping up the debris I found something I didn’t want to see – bricks embedded in the concrete. This might mean some old brick construction was left behind during the first expansion. Or for some odd reason they were placed there during new construction. They’ll just have to stay there for now; maybe I can figure it out when I start tearing down the next wall.

Some odd bricks within the concrete - not a good sign.

Some odd bricks within the concrete – not a good sign.

All swept up!

All swept up!

It felt good to have it all cleaned up, but I think I’ve got a lot bigger job coming up with the wall that’s still remaining and that nasty hole filled with water.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Cathy permalink
    January 3, 2014 10:47 am

    I love reading about your roof work and seeing the layers!

    • Tom permalink*
      January 3, 2014 11:16 am

      Thanks Kathy! Stay tuned – I’ve got several more roof posts to catch up on…

  2. rick peterson permalink
    January 2, 2014 6:43 am

    Look’s great Tom. Sounds like you will never get a day off unless it rains or snows.

    • Tom permalink
      January 2, 2014 9:26 am

      What’s a “day off”? 😉

      thanks Rick

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