Skip to content

Woot! A new roof!

November 18, 2013

The past five months of concrete cutting, pitch peeling and brick bashing has finally led us to:

Our new roofing contractor had us on his schedule for a Monday, which meant the old roof needed to be removed and swept by Sunday evening. It was difficult finding a separate roofing contractor that would do removal only; the one I got to come out and give an estimate gave me quite a shock when I opened his emailed proposal: four thousand dollars! And that wasn’t even for roof REMOVAL – he would just tear up the old roof and move it to part of the roof that we’re not replacing. Cleaning tar and pitch was also extra & above the four grand. Sheesh.

So once again, it’s going to be the “friends & family” plan to get things done for BAB.

The Tear-Off Crew: (L-R) Mary, Sue, Nancy.

The Tear-Off Crew: (left to right) Mary, Sue, Nancy.

And with every major project, a new tool is in order. I found a “roofing removal tool” called the “RipCart” on the internet. I should have gotten it back in June; all summer I was cutting through layers of roofing and gravel with an old circular saw and cheap blades and many hours bent over punishing my legs. This RipCart is quite an ingenious device – their first great idea is to take a typical circular saw but mount it to an adjustable plate on a cart with wheels. The second: they developed special non-clogging blades – instead of the usual 22 or 14 teeth blades, their models have only 3 and 5 teeth.

With this setup, I could cut up the old roofing into a grid, and then with levers, scrapers and pry bars, the layers of roof could be removed in squares and hauled away.

The RipCart - a HUGE time saver!

The RipCart – a HUGE time saver!

I was amazed at how well it worked. You can see in the photo that it created little rows of powdered roof crumbs along the cuts. Before RipCart, my circular saw and cheap blade left dribbles of melted tar on the roof, on the blade and inside the saw. And with RipCart, no bending over or crawling on my knees!

Since I needed to stay ahead the helper crew, the tear-off girls spent a few minutes moving any debris potentially in the path of the RipCart, and clearing out an area to stack the old roof. When I finished cutting the grid in the first section, the girls took over.

Picking up old layers of roof

Picking up old layers of roof

While one popped up squares, the other two would pick them up and move them with the wheelbarrow, and then they traded jobs every few minutes. They worked fast – I had to keep cutting and in fact the only time I stopped was for our lunch break.

Mary and Nancy had to take off, but fortunately Merrilee showed up as reinforcement.

Mary and Nancy had to take off, but fortunately Merrilee showed up as reinforcement.

After 4 hours or so, all of the top layers were cut and removed, but the next layer of, well, it’s just “roof crap”, made the roof still look like a big ass mess. We could barely see the concrete. Shovels and brooms were best for scraping off this layer.

WIth top layer removed, still lots of crap!

With top layer removed, still lots of crap!

Some areas were extra thick – several layers of gravel, tar and of course the wet old insulation.

This almost looks worse than before we started!

This almost looks worse than before we started!

After sweeping and shoveling up the remaining loose litter, we could see that a lot of the deck appeared very “crusty” with large lumpy areas kindof like the way the moon looks from far away. Definitely not the smooth or flat concrete deck I was expecting. I grabbed the Bulldog with a chisel bit to see if I could remove it. Some of it popped off easily and left flat concrete, other areas were more solid and I really had to bear down and chisel it away with the demo hammer. I felt like I was carving stone. The material was very curious – if it didn’t pop off, it chiseled away in practically a powder which then looked like dirt.

I found myself literally chisel-hammering away entire sections of bumpy concrete using a relatively tiny 2″ chisel bit. The sun had set 30 minutes ago; we were losing light… Merrilee thought I was kidding when I said I could go down and get some work lights.

Merrilee needed to get back to her family, so it seemed like a good time for Sue & I to take a dinner break. After eating, I spent another hour in the dark, with work lights, chiseling away the moonscape to expose the flat concrete. I surveyed the un-chiseled areas – and decided that I needed to upgrade the tool if this was going to get done before Monday morning. I had an idea of what those larger demo hammers cost ($500+ for the tool; $50+ for a bit) so this seemed like a good rental opportunity. Home Depot to the rescue – it was about 8:00pm now and their Tool Rental closed at 9:00 – and they had what I needed.

The rental demo hammer was pretty freakin’ awesome – it had so much power that it literally jiggled my vision – it felt like my eyeballs were vibrating. Which I’m sure they were. Fortunately my brain compensated because after 10 minutes or so, the vision jiggles diminished and I could see clearly what I was doing. I chiseled in the dark cold night until 9:45; I thought the neighbors would appreciate the noise stopping before 10pm. I asked Sue if she could hear it in the apartment and she said it was much louder than the Bulldog.

So Sunday morning: back to chiseling. We must get this roof prepped because roofers arrive in less than 24 hours.

Sue took some pictures of this mystery crusty junk…

Smooth concrete on left and bottom, bumpy crusty stuff at top and right.

Smooth concrete on the left and bottom, bumpy crusty stuff at top and right.

Just like with chiseling the tar, asphalt and pitch back in the summer, chiseling this junk required just the right angle of approach. Too steep and the chisel dug down into the deck, too low and it didn’t cut away the junk and it skipped across the tops. I developed a special stance of holding the tool between my knees and guiding it accurately with my arms and legs.

Chiseling up the bumpy crap - turns into dust and flying bits.

Chiseling up the bumpy crap – turns into dust and flying bits.

With this 4″+ wide chisel and heavy duty hammering behind it, I was ready to scrape the entire deck. I knew that the roofers would be powerwashing the roof, and then expecting to get it dry, and this junk seemed really porous and it would probably retain a lot of moisture. The new roof would perform best with the minimum amount of moisture in the concrete when it’s applied.

But it was still a pain in the ass.

About half the deck chiseled and two hours of sunlight left...

About half the deck chiseled and two hours of sunlight left…

Sue & I persevered – we just kept literally plowing ahead; sweeping and shoveling after the chiseling, and right around sundown we had it all cleaned up.

The concrete deck - all naked and ready for new roof.

The concrete deck – all naked and ready for new roof.

We felt lucky that no rain was forecast; in fact, scheduling this whole roof demo & installation is a pretty tricky thing – we got on the roofer’s calendar over three weeks ago. If we had rain this Saturday & Sunday, we would have been in a world of hurt.


The new roofing contractor showed up around 8:30am Monday morning. We discussed the plan; if this was warmer weather, they would powerwash and prep the first day, then apply the new roof the second day. But St. Louis was expected to get nasty 20 degree temperatures overnight with a not much warmer Tuesday, so they were thinking of just powerwashing and prepping Monday, then skipping work on Tuesday, and come back Wednesday to commence with the new roof. Sounded good to me. As long as it didn’t rain; there was none in the forecast.

So after getting them all hooked up with garden hoses and a water supply, they set to work cleaning the concrete while I hung out on the second floor below, expecting a greater-than-usual amount of water coming through the exposed cracks in the concrete roof.

Concrete roof is cleaner than ever

The 1914 concrete roof is getting cleaner than ever

They’ve had plenty of experience to know that their powerwashing water and debris doesn’t always go where they want it to go, so they’ve brought powerful air blowers to guide the mucky water away from the deck that they’ve already cleaned.

A kick-ass powerwasher

A kick-ass powerwasher

There’s basically only one place where all of this mucky junk to go – the roof drain that we had replaced just last week. This is definitely a good test whether that was a successful installation.

The new roof drain is the lowest point now - all junk goes down the tube,

The new roof drain is the lowest point now – all junk goes down the tube,

Once all of the actual powerwashing is done, they’ve got to dry off the entire deck. They’ve brought several gas-powered air blowers to get the job done.

Blowing everything dry

Blowing everything dry

Yes, every little nook and cranny needs to be dried. Any little spot of water can cause a blister in the roofing material, so they are very particular about this step.

Once the drying is done, their next step is to prep for the next day’s work of spraying, which means masking off areas that should not get any new roofing on them.

Masking off the bricks

Masking off the bricks

They went around the entire perimeter with the roll of plastic. The roof would be applied up the wall for the first four or five rows of bricks. They could have gone as high as we wanted to pay – but that’s about 14″ and I don’t think we’ll ever have that much water up there.

Plastic masking is all ready now

Plastic masking is all ready now

The plastic is folded and expands to about 4′ wide – they planned to expand it when they start applying the roof. They figured if they pulled it out before then it might get too windy and rip off.

They said goodbye and would come back Wednesday morning.

Unfortunately they were right about the wind. That evening we got a LOT of wind, fortunately no rain. When leaving for work Tuesday morning, Sue thought she heard plastic tarps flapping on the second floor. I thought, how was that possible unless a window was open? I didn’t leave any windows open. When I got home from work, I looked around upstairs – everything looked fine. So then I changed clothes and went up to the roof…

Oooops - plastic gone awry

Oooops – plastic gone awry

Sure enough – the plastic masking had all blown off. And it got entangled everywhere. I’m pretty sure this is what Sue heard blowing – this skylight is open to the front stair near the entrance.

The guys came back Wednesday morning. (They knew about the plastic – I texted them pics the day before.) So we picked up all the plastic – it was unusable now so tossed it all in the trash. They chose to not put it back yet until they were ready to put on the new roof.

With the freezing temps overnight, there was now a layer of frost on several areas of the concrete roof. This was going to slow them down some more – they needed to apply a liquid primer coat on everything before the new roof, and it was a bit too cold for that. They had to break out the blowers again and get rid of the frost.

Keith, the manager of the crew, proposed a new schedule to me – this cold weather was interfering again. So, since we were getting frost overnight and it’s not warming up much today, he wanted to just spray the primer today. That would give the primer extra time to dry. Then at the end of the day they wanted to cover the entire primed area with tarps to keep the frost off – which meant they wouldn’t have to worry about blowing away that moisture again in the morning. Keith wanted to know if this was okay with me since it would be extending the completion date to Friday.  (Initially (or at least in warmer weather), they planned to have the job done in two days.) I told him that was all fine – there was no need to rush it and I’d rather not sacrifice the quality of the installation by rushing it. Of course we were both constantly checking our weather apps to make sure the was no rain forecast. Rain wasn’t expected until the weekend, so stretching out the installation was fine with me.

Electric sprayer for the primer coat

Electric sprayer for the primer coat

They brought up a paint sprayer – funny, it’s exactly the same model I have. Since it looked like this would be a messy operation, and watching someone spray didn’t seem like much fun, I left the roof for a few hours to work from our apartment below.

In the afternoon I popped my head out of the hatch – the entire roof was now covered with a clear black stuff that looked sticky. I asked if it was okay to walk on and they said sure. It was a little sticky.

Black primer coated over everything

Black primer coated over everything

And they still haven’t put back the plastic masking. They were just careful with the primer and only coated the lower bricks. Keith said they didn’t want to leave the plastic up overnight again to just blow off, so instead they would tape it up first thing in the morning, and then do a quick light primer coat on the few bricks left.

The guys had just started unrolling their tarps. I took a few pics then helped them stretch them out.

Lots o' tarps!

Lots o’ tarps!

Keith was concerned about the nooks and crannies of concrete around the skylight. He thought that frost would cover those areas overnight, and with the tall objects and walls blocking the morning sun, it would be difficult to dry those surfaces. So he opted to use his last gigantic tarp to engulf everything around the skylight.

We have our own Cristo sculpture!

We have our own Cristo sculpture!

That’s all for the second day – new roof goes on in the morning!

A quick sidebar about the overall plan: you may have seen in pictures that it doesn’t look like we’re replacing the entire roof. We are only replacing about 40% of the whole roof surface right now. We’ve got limited funds and can’t do the whole roof at once, so we are replacing the oldest part of the roof first, which is also the leakiest. When this section is done, about 90% of our leaks should be stopped.

The guys started a little later the next day so that the temps could be a little higher. Their first task was to put up that danged plastic.

Finally getting the plastic masking back up.

Finally getting the plastic masking back up.

I just realized that I haven’t explained the new roof product. It’s basically spray-on rubber, made by a company named Triton. It’s a fairly new product, in fact BAB will be the first building in St. Louis to have this product. I’ve researched quite a bit about roofing, and this stuff will allow us to put ANYTHING on top of it, from fountains to planter beds to just simple decking. One bonus for us: it’s 100% “green” or sustainable, with no VOCs!

They set up their equipment down on the ground just outside our apartment. The great thing about their installation process is they don’t have to cart any materials up to the roof!

Products all set up and ready to go...

Products all set up and ready to go…

Here’s the details on what’s pointed out in the last photo. Skip to next paragraph if you’re not interested. 1) Six 55-gallons of the liquid rubber mixture – basically what becomes the roof. 2) Special mixing unit, with valves and pressure gauges that allows them to adjust the air, rubber and accelerator to just the right mix. 3) Accelerator: the liquid rubber solidifies instantly when the rubber comes in contact with the accelerator. It’s basically a special salt water mixture. 4) A big gas-powered air compressor, creating the force to pump these liquids up to the roof. 5) About 300′ of hoses; one for air, one for rubber, one for accelerator. The only part not shown is the special spray gun.

Keith started spraying around the new drain. His plan was to go all the way around the perimeter first and then fill in the middle areas.

Keith makes it look easy.

Keith makes it look easy.

The spray gun is quite the thing. I was told during a product demonstration that it took them years to design & develop it.

Close-up of the spray gun...

Close-up of the spray gun…

You can see the separate liquids - the accelerator and the rubber.

You can see the separate liquids – the accelerator and the rubber.

The two liquids get mixed together just a couple of inches beyond the nozzle tips. About 2 seconds after it hits the surface, it solidifies into a squishy rubber, which allows more product to be placed over. This means that they can build up extra thick areas where needed, like in small holes or gaps. They have videos on their website where they spray it into dams and cones. Amazing stuff.

Keith can touch the solid rubber immediately after spraying.

Keith can touch the solid rubber immediately after spraying.

Making good progress around the roof...

Making good progress around the roof…

This skylight base has leaked forever, but not anymore!

This skylight base has leaked forever, but not anymore!

One area I was worried about how well it could be coated was a very messily constructed junction where the 1914 brick parapet was extended in 1923 with a concrete parapet. Where the two meet near the roof deck, there’s a lot of extra concrete that bumps in & out, with lots of small hollows that had pitch in them. I tried chipping it smoother with the demolition hammers, with only a little success. But Keith had no trouble coating it with waterproofing rubber!

The spray-on rubber can coat even the roughest surfaces.

The spray-on rubber can coat even the roughest surfaces.

The stuff goes on kindof dark brown looking, but when it’s totally cured & dry, it’s black.

They made their way all around now and were starting to fill in the middle. Since I’d seen enough of how the system works, had plenty of pictures, and they were about to coat the access path to the hatch (blocking access for a couple hours), it was time to leave the roof and do some more work from the apartment.

When I popped my head up a few hours later, the entire roof was coated in rubber.

View from the hatch - the roofs looks waterproof!

View from the hatch – the roofs looks waterproof!

So they finished by 4:00 and said “Let it rain!” because this stuff is instantly waterproof. While it needs some time to “cure”, that’s mostly to make it more durable for walking over it.

Final step: come back the next day to powerwash away the dried accelerator (which starts leaching out right after spraying) and then inspect the entire roof for adequate coverage, and hand-apply a semi-solid version of the rubber if there are any areas suspected of needing a little touch-up.

I gave them a key to BAB before they left, cuz I planned to go to work the next day – no need to hang out and watch them powerwash.

The next day (Friday) Keith called me around noon to give me an idea when they’d wrap up. He said they’d finish around 2:00, so I went home and found them just finishing up with the hand-troweling.

Finished new roof - bring on the rain!

Finished new roof – bring on the rain!

So there it is… our new roof! Does it seem like there should be more excitement in my voice? Maybe. How about if I misuse an old Seinfeld term and say that we have “BRIDLED enthusiasm”, in that we will get really excited about our new roof when we have a great big downpour and don’t get stressed about it…

I started this post with a pic of the tear-off team, so it seems appropriate to end it with a pic of the “put-on” team. They were great to work with and I hope to have them back in the spring for the next phase of new roof.

The new-roof crew: (left to right) Keith, Joe, and Jack.

The new-roof crew: (left to right) Keith, Joe, and Jack.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    November 22, 2013 11:10 am

    So glad this project is done. Like Dan, I too will get there someday to see your B.A.B.y 🙂 Hope you both have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Sue permalink*
      November 22, 2013 5:34 pm

      Bring your work clothes! 🙂

  2. Brian permalink
    November 22, 2013 8:40 am

    Congrats Tom… When it’s all done it will be amazing…!

    • Tom permalink
      November 22, 2013 8:45 am

      Thanks Brian – when it’s done it will also be… a relief.

  3. rick peterson permalink
    November 22, 2013 6:07 am

    WOW, looks great.
    Let it rain, let it rain.

  4. Dan permalink
    November 22, 2013 4:37 am

    And I sit here and complain when I have to paint a room. Cannot wait to come see the place someday.

    • Tom permalink*
      November 22, 2013 8:29 am

      Anytime you’re near, give me a buzz!


  1. Roof | B. A. B.
  2. Dumpster #2 | B. A. B.
  3. Re-roofing | B. A. B.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: