Lots of things can go wrong with roofs: bad flashing can cause leaks, a poorly designed valley can turn into a slow-moving glacier, and misplaced gutters can do more harm than good. Experienced roofers see a lot of stupid roofs.
Soon after I dropped out of college in 1974, I got my first construction job. I was hired by Edward J. Thornton Roofing Company in Newtonville, Massachusetts. The company paid me $3.50 an hour. For the next 12 months, I installed countless bundles of asphalt shingles and mopped acres of tar-and-gravel roofs with hot asphalt. Every now and then, I also helped Ed, the company’s sheet-metal worker, to install copper valleys and copper-lined cedar gutters on slate roofs.
Most of the time, I was installing asphalt shingles, back in the days before nail guns and portable compressors. We used heavy wooden extension ladders. My staging consisted of 2×12 planks laid on hardwood shingle brackets; each bracket was secured to the roof with three 16d nails. We never had any fall protection.
My tools were simple: a 16-oz. straight-claw Estwing hammer, a Stanley utility knife, a cat’s paw, a chalkline, a measuring tape, a pair of metal snips, and a cotton nail bag. My tool box was so light that I was able to commute to the roofing shop on my bicycle; I strapped my tool box and my lunch box on the rack over the rear wheel. (Fortunately, my boss delivered the ladders, staging, and shingles to the job site.)
I really enjoyed shingling. I still remember the satisfaction I experienced every time I nailed the last few cap shingles on the end of a ridge — especially when the weather was sunny.
Once a roofer, always a roofer. I still shake my head when I drive by a house and see a…
Get building science and energy efficiency advice, plus special offers, in your inbox.