It’s been a pretty hot summer here but when it has rained, more often than not it hasn’t been just a polite little sprinkle – it has poured! While these storms did provide some much needed rain, it’s after some of the worst storms that serious problems come to light with our historic structures on grounds. Regular maintenance is always ongoing in regards to our buildings but large capital improvement projects are starting to loom on the horizon for many of them. For instance, after being battered by a particularly brutal rainstorm, the roof on Sweet Home Schoolhouse developed quite a serious leak. Many of our buildings’ roofs are coming to the end of their lives, having been installed close to 30 years ago or even before in some instances. It’s our responsibility as the caretakers and guardians of these structures to develop a strategy to deal with these issues year after year and plan for each building’s future so they can continue to be an integral part of teaching the community about life in the 19th century.
Luckily, the Sweet Home Schoolhouse has been sponsored for the last few years by the Amherst Women’s Interclub Council who donate a specified amount of money each year dedicated to the building’s maintenance and preservation. With donations such as these, for which we are forever grateful, we are able to undertake projects that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. So with funding in place, the work on repairing the damaged shingle roof was undertaken by Scott and Tim, our Historic Grounds Building and Manager and our Facilities Manager respectively.
They used Number 2 cedar shingles for replacements. Over the years, cedar has become one of the most common materials of choice partly because it is one of the most durable types of wood that is also one of the easiest wood types to grow. There are several grades of shingles and it is important to choose the best quality for the structure you are working on. Number 1 shingles are cut from the very best wood and are the highest quality shingle. Number 2 shingles are cut from somewhat lower quality wood than Number 1 shingles and may have some knots or inconsistencies but are still suitable alternatives. Number 3 shingles are cut from even lower quality wood and should really not be used on anything but a barn or shed because of this. When updating our Erie Canal Room to include miniature replica structures similar to those found in canal towns in the 19th century, we used Number 3 shingles on the “roofs” of these structures because there was no danger from the weather or the elements so we could use the lowest grade shingle while still maintaining a semblance of historic accuracy.
When discussing his most recent project, Scott notes that the most important tip to doing a repair on a shingle roof is that cedar shingles require ventilation to remain dry, so make sure you provide some level of ventilation between the wood shingles and the solid roof deck. If you fail to provide ventilation under your wood shingle roof, you will significantly accelerate the deterioration of your shingles. Your 50-year roof could become a 20-year roof if the wood shingles cannot dry out properly. He also encourages the use of a jig and straight edge to make sure your shingle rows are neat and level.
Because trees were plentiful from the earliest settlement days, the use of wood for all aspects of construction is not surprising. Wooden shingles were lightweight, made with simple tools, and easily installed. Wooden shingle roofs were prevalent in the Colonies, while in Europe at the same time, thatch, slate and tile were the prevalent roofing materials. Shingle fabrication was revolutionized in the early 19th century by steam-powered saw mills. Shingle mills made possible the production of uniform shingles in mass quantities.
So what is the difference between cedar shingles and cedar shakes? The term shake is a relatively recent one and today is used by the industry to distinguish the sawn products from the split products, but through most of our building history there has been no such distinction. Shingles are more precisely milled than shakes, and provide a more refined classic appearance, which is well suited to a wide range of styles. Cedar shake installations provide a more irregular, rustic appearance. Most cedar shakes today are made by machines, and are sawn on at least one side. Although cedar shakes today are seldom hand split, they still follow the dimensional rules of their predecessors, which vary by grade. Shakes are thicker than shingles, ranging from 1/2″ to 3/4″ or greater at one end, while shingles range from about 3/8″ to 1/2″. Functionally, the most important difference between cedar shakes and shingles is that shingles are milled more precisely than shakes. Cedar shakes are more irregular, and don’t lay as flat when installed. This creates gaps which can be penetrated by precipitation. Cedar shingle installations are more precise, lay flat, and provide a highly weatherproof system, even in extreme weather.
After about a day of work, the patch was finished and the building is now safe from the elements. However, this is only a temporary fix. The roof will have to be completely redone at some point in the future. Joining the new shingles with the old shingles won’t result in as sturdy of a bond. In addition, while patching this area, Scott and Tim discovered that the old shingles had been stapled instead of nailed in. It was common practice a few decades ago to affix shingles but this can result in shooting staples through the shingles, in crushing the wood fibers, or in cracking the shingle. Instead, corrosion resistant nails should be used.
For more information on the repair and replacement of wood shingles, click here. Read about our Adopt-a-House Program or contact our Development Director, Spencer Morgan, to find out how you can get involved with funding projects relating to our historic structures in the Village. We invite you to become a part of history and join us in preserving these structures for generations to come!