Installing a Synthetic Slate Roof
By Mark and Theresa Clement
Installing a synthetic slate roof: How to cool down—and amp up—the house’s hot spot.
A roof is one of the most overlooked, under-served elements of a home’s function and appearance. Most homes employ a rugged but plain asphalt shingle that does little to help manage heat. It keeps the weather out, sure, but so do other types of roofs, including synthetic slate. And, synthetic slates just keep adding beauty, style and brawn from there.
A synthetic slate system is a premium roof and costs more than asphalt shingles up front. However, it’s an investment that can pay for itself over time, particularly if you have front porches, a garage or an ell that provides a view of your roof every single day of your life.
Style & Strength. There’s little comparison between commodity and premium products from a style standpoint. Even if you’re thinking about selling your house, adding a premium roof package both increases the value and can make a sale go through more quickly. The roof we installed, DaVinci RoofScapes Slate, is warranted for five decades. That’s just the warranty. Testing indicates it’ll last longer than that. Many asphalt shingle roofs will be in the landfill—twice—in 50 years.
Cool Features. Combined with Grace Ice and Water Shield as underlayment and a SunRise Solar attic fan, this roof system lowers the burden on the HVAC system for the life of the roof, paying you back every day for your up-front investment. I don’t want to say it’ll pay for itself, although that’s easy math if you sell your house in one month instead of 10, or sell it at a higher price because the new owner will never have to buy another roof. However, it will return dividends over time in the form of lower utility bills as well as not having to replace the roof again in your lifetime. This roof system also makes your home greener inasmuch as it has a very long life cycle that keeps it out of the waste stream as long as possible.
Previewing the Site
Roofing an occupied home is an ‘all-in’ project. While roofing isn’t even a task suited for lots of contractors, it is doable depending on varying factors. Whether you’re doing the work yourself or managing a roofing subcontractor, learning as much as you can is important. The first three things we look at on a roof project are roof access, the “drop zone” and roof pitch—all of which affect timeline and budget significantly.
Access—Getting to the Roof. Getting to the roof is easy on some houses and hard on others. In the in-town neighborhoods where we work, access is severely limited. Wires, crumbling driveways, front yards with retaining walls and super-thin side yards all conspire to make roof delivery of shingles and other supplies nearly impossible, so time and budget are allotted for hand-carrying bundles up ladders. Additionally, a sensible spot in the yard (approved by the homeowner) must be allocated for storing the delivery.
Access—Drop Zone. It’s often routine, at least with good roofers, to lay out huge tarps or sheet-plastic on the ground around the house (what we call the ‘drop-zone’) before tearing off shingles. Then the top-side mechanics strip the roof from the top downward, sliding mangled heaps off the roof and onto the ground. Ground-workers load shingles into dumpsters, dump-trucks or trailers.
Not all sites, however, permit this. Sometimes shrubs or a deck in the front or rear of a home must be protected from falling, nail-embedded debris. Sometimes you can divert shingles into a drop-zone(s) using a couple of 2-bys screwed in an “L” shape to the roof deck.
This site only allowed ground access on the corners. We weren’t comfortable dropping hundreds of pounds of shingles on the porches (East and West sides) because of the very real risk of dislodging old framing. On the north side there were two AC units and one very hostile neighbor. On the South side was a fence. For us, it was best to score, strip and bag the shingles topside, then drop them—surgically—to prevent damage (and bad PR). This was hard work but wasn’t as onerous as it might sound.
Access—Pitch. Simply stated, the steeper a roof is, the slower you’ll move. As a point of reference, a typical ranch or rambler type house has a 4 or 6 pitch. A colonial or American 4-square like this one, an 8 pitch. A typical Cape style house has a 12 pitch.
A 4 or 6 is an easy walk for a skilled carpenter. An 8 pitch (35-degrees or so) is the break point between walkable and un-walkable. You can walk an 8, but tying off is key to safety and production (we used Miller Fall Protection’s Titan Compliance safety kit). With anything above an 8 you have to tie off and have roof brackets (aka toe-irons; we used Roofer’s World’s Extreme Brackets), and probably a ladder with a ladder hook so you can travel up and down the roof.
Access—Interior. Installing a roof can have deleterious effects on the home’s interior, especially on a finished room. Sometimes you can guard against it, other times you have to budget for repairs.
For example, when a roofer cuts the roof deck above an open attic space to install a ridge vent, pot vents or attic fan, all the dust and debris from the cut lands in the attic. No big deal if it’s empty. If your wife’s wedding dress or your model train set are laying out … holy heart attack.
Another interior effect can be drywall damage if finished wallboard is screwed to the bottoms of the rafters. Pounding on the roof—walking it, stripping it, dropping bundles of shingles and nailing it—can dislodge joint compound from around the screw heads.
And remember, just because it can happen doesn’t mean it will happen. No one’s upset if a potential problem never materializes, but having this information ahead of time greases the wheels of success and profitability.
This house is over 100 years old, so the goal for this roof system was to be beautiful, historically accurate——and to make it easier to cool the finished room beneath it. We used a system combining DaVinci RoofScapes synthetic tiles (in the European color blend) installed over Grace Ice & Water Shield underlayment and vented by SunRise Solar’s attic fan.
Underlayment. Grace Ice and Water Shield, an asphalt-impregnated peel-and-stick membrane, is the underlayment for the entire roof deck rather than tar paper because it acts as a vapor barrier.
A vapor barrier helps cool a conditioned space by, well, blocking vapor. This is important because an air conditioner cools air partly by removing vapor (humidity). Much of the vapor in a home enters through the roof system. The sun’s heat actually forces humidity through the roof into the house in some cases. Since Ice & Water Shield is impervious to the vapor, it never enters the house and never has to be conditioned. And, we can report that the room beneath the roof got cooler as we installed the Ice & Water Shield. Even if the room beneath your roof is an attic, keeping vapor out helps reduce the temperature in the entire space, reducing the load on your HVAC, nevermind being an incredible second line of defense for snow, hurricanes, super cells and other forces of nature.
Finally, sealing the top side of the deck isn’t a problem for the roof deck’s lumber as long as air can move along the interior side of the wood.
Cladding. Beyond the beauty, staying power and uncanny realism of the DaVinci RoofScapes’ tiles, we selected them for their role in helping cool the roof system. Unlike a direct-contact flat shingle, DaVinci slates are ribbed to create an air gap behind them, which helps air circulate, keeping them cooler. It’s a small gap, but bigger than no gap.
Venting. Combined with the passive cooling described above, we added active cooling in the form of a SunRise Solar attic fan. And, while you may think we made the call purely for its “green” attributes (using no electricity, ever, is pretty green), it has as much to do with price and fast installation as it does our commitment to a sustainable future.
The unit moves as much air as a comparable hardwired model, but the SunRise Solar requires no electrical work inside to connect wires. Seriously, I took it out of the box and it turned on. This also makes the unit a huge winner from a price standpoint. It costs more to buy up-front, but if you include the hardwiring costs that you don’t have to pay for, you’re at least breaking even on Day One. Operation costs are then zero. Forever.
Finally, it’s made in the USA—just like the shingles and underlayment. I’m just sayin’ it’s still OK to use things made in this country.
Process—Expecting the Unexpected
A project on a chopped-up roof like this is intense, combining roofing tools and techniques, but also carpentry and organizational skills. Miss the boat on one and you risk rain in the bedroom or a slow leak by the chimney. So, if you’re tackling this job yourself, you’ll have to contend with any number of the following items. If you’re managing a roofing contractor, this is a good checklist to help curb surprise up-charges and get a sense of whether or not he knows what he’s doing. If your contractor knows you’re aware of all these items, you’ll be able to iron out a very agreeable up-front contract and scope of work with him. I’m not saying he won’t charge you for “extra” work, but if he does, you’ll know it’s coming. Again, knowledge is power.
The first element to manage is controlling the chaos from tear-off. On this site, we scored the shingles with a circular saw in about 3-by-3-foot squares. Once scored, we literally rolled up patches of shingles like you’d roll up a carpet. We stuffed rolls in our 20-gallon Rubbermaid bucket. Once the 4 mil contractor bag was full, we dumped the bag in the drop zone with little collateral waste in the yard. This is the cleanest roof tear-off I’ve ever done.
This technique also enables surgical tear-off. We removed (and replaced) one roof plane at a time, minimizing the roof deck’s exposure to weather.
Re-Nail. In an old house, expect that the 1-by roof deck needs to be re-nailed with the framing nailer. There’s nothing to it, except the line-item on your time and budget. As for replacing deck boards, my inspector wants to see anything I replace before covering it up.
Old Peel-and-Stick. This house had been re-roofed in the last 10-15 years with 3-tab shingles. Along the eaves was a granular peel-and-stick membrane. Ice & Water Shield won’t stick to the granules so the old stuff had to go. We found it easiest to pull it off with our hands, and a shingle-removal tool called the Red Ripper got the small pieces and nails.
Strip the Penetrations. In the case of a skylight or plumbing vent, allocate time and budget to taking it apart carefully. In some cases (like a bathroom vent hood or skylight flashing kit) you’ll want to re-use the flashing. Try not to bend or force them off. Peel material away slowly so you can get at the nails or screws holding it together. Then, find a safe place to store the small parts until you’re ready to re-assemble. (We like to blue-tape parts together and/or stick screws into a piece of rigid foam insulation to keep them organized.)
Blow Clean. Forget brooms, cleaning a roof deck is the work of a gasoline-powered garden blower.
This is where the roof system cool-down takes shape. For example, if you live in a hurricane zone, check your homeowners insurance about possible discounts; covering a roof deck with Ice & Water Shield renders it virtually waterproof—without shingles.
Peel-and-stick is tricky. Not only is it sticky on the bottom, but there are strips of adhesive along the top and bottom edge of the front face. So, when you roll the Ice & Water Shield to peel back the release paper, it can stick to itself. It took longer to install than tarpaper—by at least an hour per roof plane once we got rolling—however, when we left for the day we knew the roof was water-tight and we didn’t have to tarp it, which bought that hour back.
There is a different rhythm to installing DaVinci RoofScapes tiles (aka shingles) than typical shingles. It’s a slower process, and you have to do a few extra things to manage the material. However, once you’re in the zone, there’s virtually no waste, the material is clean and layout is simple.
Valley Flashing, Capping and Diverters. Even though we had Ice & Water Shield underlayment (standard for asphalt shingle valleys) we still followed the DaVinci RoofScapes installation instructions and installed aluminum W flashing in the valley on each side of the dormer. We bent this on our sheet metal brake, and it looks great.
As for the ridges, we bent aluminum in a V, again according to DaVinci instructions. Next, we nailed shingle caps over the aluminum. The key here is to make sure the V flashing runs straight from eave to ridge. A less-than-attentive roofer could easily install these out of line.
When we remodeled this home’s porches on a previous project, we wrapped them in a Fypon crown and PVC trim package. It looks great, but it’s on the front porch hidden by a gutter. Having learned our lesson on the front porch, we instead installed a diverter, bent on the sheet metal brake like a flat W flashing. The bottom is over the shingles, the top under. It catches 95 percent of the water coursing down the roof in the rain and diverts it off the eaves such that we have two little waterfalls on each side of the roof. Very nice. It holds snow, and shows off the crown as it should be seen.
Snow Guards. A roof like DaVinci’s, in a northern climate at least, requires snow guards. Snow guards are those little “hooks” that you see near the eaves of older homes, homes with standing-seam metal roofs, and on premium roof systems. The reason for them is to keep the snow-pack from sliding off the roof as a small—but very heavy and dangerous—avalanche. Snow guards hold the snow-pack together so it melts instead of slides. The reason snow slides off some roof claddings (slate, steel, polymer) is that unlike asphalt shingles, these materials are not gritty and therefore don’t retain the snow. (With DaVinci’s system, since nothing comes off with the water, like shingle granules, you can store and re-use this water.)
When you combine all these materials into a cohesive whole, it achieves a roof that will be unrivaled for its beauty and value no matter how you look at it—style, resale, doing your part for the environment, or all of the above—all of which you can do very enjoyably for a long, long time.
Editor’s Note: Mark and Theresa Clement are the hosts of MyFixitUpLife.
Sources of Supply
DaVinci RoofScapes — www.DaVinciRoofScapes.com
Grace Ice & Water Shield — www.graceathome.com
Miller Fall Protection — www.millerfallprotection.com
SunRise Solar — www.SunRiseSolar.net
Extreme Brackets — www.RoofersWorld.com
SIDE NOTE 1
“The Original” Authentic Roof
“The Original” Authentic Roof slates, from Crowe Building Products Ltd., were specifically designed and engineered to not only look exactly like real slate, but also to offer all of the benefits of natural slate, without any of the drawbacks. As a result, they are lightweight, easy to install and virtually indestructible. The Authentic Roof slates are also UV-resistant, energy-efficient and 100-percent eco-friendly. The product was invented in 1988 as the “World’s First” synthetic roofing slate, made from extremely high-quality, virtually indestructible, recycled thermo-polymers and intended as a “Do-It-Yourself” product. Additionally, all Authentic Roof slates bear the following certifications: UL Class “A” Fire, UL Class 4 Hail Impact, UL 110mph wind rating and Australia/New Zealand 2049 for water collection. To learn more, visit www.authenticroof.com or call (909) 754-6239.
SIDE NOTE 2
Roof Safety Regulations
Fall safety is a very important issue for roofing workers. According to the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, “Fall accident types are the most frequent and most costly across the construction sector, representing 25 percent of all claim volumes and 44 percent of all claim costs. From 2006-2008, there were 7,461 fall claims and $243,883,752 in fully reserved claim costs.”
Many people die from heights of even 7 meters if they land on their head or back. It is estimated that homeowners represent 50 percent of roof falls, and the remaining 50 percent occur among roofers. Since OSHA safety regulations were implemented, there has been a 60-percent decrease in falls during the past 30 years.
Roofing safety is dependent on workers’ awareness on the roof—balance on different slopes, awareness of who/what is around them, and ability to multi-task. However, solely relying on acrobatic skills dangerously plays the odds of slipping. There are some factors that are out of control, like falling through a rotten spot on the roof, tripping on a hose behind your foot or becoming imbalanced by misplaced footing.
Fall-protection equipment saves lives. Today there are so many options to complement sizes, comfort and working habits. Try on a few to see what feels best. Roofers World is dedicated to safety, equipping you with the tools to get the job done quickly and efficiently. Check out the company’s extensive line of roofing equipment at www.roofersworld.com.
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