One of my favorite remarks directed to people after they have experienced an unexpected event or result is “So … what did you learn?” In retrospect, I think I might have appreciated someone saying the same to me at times. It might have saved me some money and perhaps duress if I had learned a lesson, sooner rather than later.
Over the years I have tackled many do-it-yourself projects and major and minor renovation projects. Some were easy. Some were awful. Every one had a lesson to be learned.
The first lesson in this series is entitled On the Roof. Let’s get started!
Have you ever been up on the roof of a building or a house? While the view may be breath-taking, the consequences of losing your footing when a little close to the edge, can also be breath-taking. And not in a good way. Or at least up until the last moment when you hit the ground.
Story One: In the early winter of 1980 my wife and I rented a cottage, as our home on beautiful Georgian Bay in Ontario. Georgian Bay is attached to Lake Huron. It’s also amid what is called ‘the Snow Belt.”
It lives up to its name. One February morning we woke up to two and a half feet of snow on the road. The plow apparently didn’t come around too early on the beach roads.
I was concerned about the build-up of snow on the roof of this rented bungalow, so I bundled up and climbed up on to the roof. Snow scoop in hand, I managed to float a fair amount of snow, off of the roof, to land in large heaps on the ground below.
All was going well until the fatal moment … well I guess it couldn’t have been fatal because I wouldn’t be here telling you this tale would I? Well, it could have been fatal. I went flying off the roof to land unceremoniously in the piles of snow below which had previously been above.
I was lucky! The snow piles were deep enough to provide me with a cushion of comfort as I came to a sudden stop on terra firma.
I was doubly lucky in that there was a part of this tale that I conveniently glossed over. Remember that two and a half feet of snow on the road? Since I wasn’t able to get my car out of my driveway and on to an unplowed road, I booked off sick from work earlier that day with the flu.
Now wouldn’t that have been interesting if I had injured myself and had to phone into my employer “it seems I’m going to need a little more time off work, well maybe a lot more. I guess I had a high fever from the flu and somehow I found myself up on the roof… Yeah, it was a surprise to me too. I must have been delusional from the flu and I guess I truly believed that I could fly… Yeah, you’re right … it is hard to believe.”
Story Two: This story takes place a few miles up the road away from our rental waterfront cottage. Our first home. Mortgage rate 13 and three quarter percent and a deal at that.
‘Twas a raised bungalow with a 24 by 8-foot deck off the kitchen in the back of the house. The deck was too narrow to be of any practical use.
While there can be way too much snow on Georgian Bay, there can be a lot of sunshine in January and February. I decided to enclose the deck and make a sunroom, to capture those sunny winter days.
This was my first real construction project. With a little help from my friends, a few boxes of beer and some really good whiskey, we built the structure for the walls as well as a sloped roof that tied into the main roof of the house. It was my first attempt at shingling as well.
Up and down the wooden ladder, hauling bundles of shingles and heavy rolls of tarpaper made for a busy day. The process went well up until the fatal moment. Well, here we are again, the near fatal moment.
I stepped down off of the newly shingled roof, onto the top step of the wooden stepladder. Just to clarify … the rickety, old, wooden stepladder that I had bought at a garage sale for a few bucks.
The ladder flew one way. Gravity chose which direction I was to go.
It kind of reminded me of the old Coyote and Road Runner cartoon, where the Coyote would run off the edge of a cliff and would be suspended in mid air, until he realized where he was and crashed to the ground. The same happens in real life, except the air time is a heck of a lot shorter than in the cartoons and the kaboom when you land, hurts a lot more!
I made a three-point landing … my chin and two wrists. My helpers stayed with my infant son while I drove to the Emergency department of our local hospital. The usual wait ensued, followed by a bunch of X-rays. A minor concussion, two sprained wrists and a hairline fracture of one of my arm bones was the verdict.
Then back home again. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I had to do my own driving. That seems a little odd to me, especially with the extent of my injuries.
After seven weeks convalescing from my injuries at home and off work, I was bored and wanted to go back to work. As I write that previous sentence I can’t imagine being so bored that I would want to go back to work. It seems beyond the realms of my imagination. Now a seven-week holiday … I can easily get my head wrapped around that…
I needed my doctor’s permission to go back to work, so off I went to see him.
I asked him “so how long do you need to be off with a hair-line fracture?”
To which he replied “Why? Who has that?”
“Well I thought I did!”
“It was probably just a hair on the x-ray. Sure go on back to work if you want to!”
Story Three: Fast forward a couple of decades and transported to the ‘sunny Okanagan’ … except when it’s not sunny and it’s snowing more than what seems possible.
The scenario … brand-new home situated in the hills above Kelowna. It is our third Okanagan winter. We had moved to Kelowna, two winters before at the end of November. We had left our home town in Ontario with four feet of snow and forty degrees below zero. And it was a wet cold…
We landed in Kelowna, no snow, plants still in full bloom, locals still wearing shorts … we must be in heaven! Three winters later … not so heavenly. Lots of snow. The roof seemed like it had a good two and a half feet of snow.
Is this starting to sound familiar at all? No flu this time … I was in perfect physical and mental health. My aluminum extension ladder was securely propped against the house by my wife as I hauled my shovel and scoop up onto the roof. Then my wife went for a walk around the neighborhood. A long walk around the neighborhood.
The snow floated off the roof rather easily as I recall. I was able to clear a three-foot swath, the length of my reach, along the one edge of the roof. This is where I learned an interesting do-it-yourself factoid.
When you clear the layer of snow from a steeply pitched cedar shake roof, you lose any semblance of traction you may have previously enjoyed. Asphalt shingles with their rough sandy surface, can provide grip for standing and walking on the roof. Cedar shingles provide you with a toboggan run. It can be fast and exciting for a moment or two, but the landing can be treacherous.
With nowhere to go except down and no doubt quite rapidly, I had no choice but to sit down on the roof awaiting my wife’s return. Remember me mentioning that my wife had gone for a walk … a really long walk?
Upon her return, I was able to conduct a controlled slide to the top of the ladder and then descend from my short term imprisonment from the snow-covered roof above. A bit of a case of ‘numb bum’ but other than that … a safe conclusion. Still lots of snow on the roof though. Looked like a good place for it to stay.
When taking on any do-it-yourself or handyperson [sounds awkward] project, you need to do some strategic logistical planning, before you start.
- What are the working conditions in this project?
- Are there any hazards I need to be aware of?
- Am I capable of completing this project?
- Do I have all the supplies and tools I need to complete this project?
- Will I need any assistance to complete this project?
On the roof:
- If you have a wooden ladder … its bonfire time! Burn it … but be careful you don’t burn your house down.
- Do you have a sturdy aluminum or fiberglass extension ladder to get up onto the roof?
- Are you able to secure the ladder to the ground so it doesn’t kick out on you? Many extension ladders have pivotable feet that you can sink into the ground for added stability.
- Do you have a helper to stabilize the ladder while you climb up?
- Do you have adequate footwear that provides grip? This can change depending on the conditions of your roof. Wet or dry conditions require different options.
- Do you have a cell phone to take up with you on the roof, should you require help?
- Do you have a fall-arrest system in place to keep you on the roof, rather than in the air? Building centers and safety supply stores can be a source of harnesses and ropes to ensure your safety. When you lose your footing on a steeply sloped roof, thinks happen fast. If you are securely restrained, you are more likely to live and finish your job.
And finally … if you happen to book off sick from work with the flu, for heaven’s sake stay off the roof. And don’t go cutting trees down to clear a bush lot. That’s a subject for another lesson from the School of Hard Knocks.