Installing Our New Cedar Roof and Brass Gutter

So, the bad news is we had a leak in our kitchen. The worse news is that once we started talking to roofers about re-doing our roof, which is cedar shingle, we learned that cedar has a 20% tariff on it right now that makes this bad timing for an already extremely expensive proposition. The even worse news than that is that after having the roofer replace only part of the cedar roof (in hopes that the politicians come to their senses and the price goes back down so we can finish the rest later at a sane cost), we still have a (reduced) leak, and the culprit looks like (drumroll) plumbing. Oh, the joys of homeownership! Come along with me on this journey …

Before we started, we were sure we knew where the leak was coming from – a vent on the roof that looked like it had seen better days located directly above where water was coming in the kitchen ceiling. Hahaha – NOPE.

Okay, so I do have to say, it isn’t all bad news. The roofers (Joseph T. Cazeault & Sons out of Hingham, MA) were absolutely some of my favorite subcontractors to work with yet. They asked questions, cleaned up after themselves, thought about aesthetics, always gave me a heads up on when they’d be at the house, suggested great solutions… all the things you expect contractors to do but that in reality are hard to find qualities, plus more good stuff! If you need a roofer and are south of Boston, I’d definitely recommend them.

The other good news is that despite the fact that our kitchen leak isn’t gone, our money wasn’t wasted. For one, the roofers also fixed leaks around our fireplace and bathroom vents that had been dripping into our attics. The previous owners had put a trash can under the leak in our most difficult to access attic, hidden behind a bunch of insulation (this was the one we originally thought was the culprit for the kitchen leak, but wasn’t). Oof.  Here is the vent in question sitting pretty (or as pretty as a PVC vent can look) on the re-done roof:

Look at that sweet, sweet copper around that guy now.  No leaks for you, mister.  Note that the cornerboard there is still just primed because it got much colder all at once and we didn’t want to paint until we knew it would stick.

Further good news is that we have drainage issues on our roof and the roofers gave us the great and aesthetically pleasing solution of a brass gutter. You can see it above – it looks like it has always been there!  Given the age of our house, we didn’t want gutters everywhere. It would certainly help drainage generally, but it would not be historically accurate. Plus, the house has lasted 300 years just fine with no gutters. But the issue was that a bump out was added to the 18th century structure in the 20th (the area against which our grill sits) which completely messed up drainage, caused premature aging of the bump-out roof etc. So – a gutter! Mischief managed.

We first got a quote to replace all the cedar shingles on our roof. Unfortunately the cedar shakes weren’t really maintained since the roof was last replaced (we think about 25 years ago but aren’t sure), so there is a lot of vegetation on them, and many are starting to cup, which can ultimately lead to problems.

So, with that quote in hand, we promptly started freaking out. This wasn’t a “houses sure can be expensive!” cost. It was more like a “That’s TEN PERCENT of our purchase price!” cost, or “That’s a year of college tuition!” cost. NO THANK YOU.

Our roofer was very understanding. These tariffs are hitting the business hard, because plenty of people like me are only replacing what is absolutely necessary in the hope that they will be lifted and costs will go down 20%. On top of that, there’s a lot of demand for cedar right now because of rebuilding costs from the historically high number of hurricanes, big storms, flooding, etc. of the last two years. Between the tariffs and the demand, prices jumped 30% in just a few months, and have stayed that way for the last two years.

So yeah, we’re holding off on the rest of the roof for now, and seeing if we can’t squeeze another year or two out of it. It will still be a big cost, but we’re hoping it’s more like a year of in-state college tuition rather than Ivy League tuition.

You can clearly see the new vs. the old cedar in the pictures, the new being the brown and the old the gray.  As they age, the new shingles will turn gray.

Above, you can also see where we stopped going across the roof, since they essentially put a seam there so that when we can do the rest they’ll have a precise starting point so that it all looks uniform once installed.

We also ended up having to re-side a portion of the house, because when the roofers replaced a water-damaged corner board they discovered a giant hole behind that board and the siding next to it – which was right where it was leaking in our kitchen!  Here’s what the side looked like before:

As you can see, the top half is shingled.  And now …

… siding that matches the rest of the house and should keep water out/age a little better.  Look how beautifully they lined up that siding with the pre-existing siding next to it.  This is why I said the roofers had attention to aesthetics.  I didn’t even have to lecture them to do this, they did it on their own which was much harder to do than you might think – nothing up there is square, and you can see how they had to work hard to put in the top board just right to look good.   You can see above the grill the weird water issues that were being caused by the bump out – note the different coloration on the lower shingles.  With the low-slope bump out roof replaced with a standing seam (very hard to see, but very hard wearing!) and the gutter in place on the top roof line, we think the bump out issues are done for good.

So, we did all this work, discovered a giant uninsulated hole right by our leak, and lo and behold … we STILL had a drip in our kitchen ceiling. While prior to getting the work done we would notice leaking increased when it rained heavily, after this work was done the leak was much, much smaller but steady, and not storm-related. After lots of searching we found a pinhole water leak in the basement, which our plumber discovered was actually water traveling down the outside of one of the water pipes to the kids’ bathroom. Which means that there is a leak somewhere in the pipes behind soffits that run above the kitchen and into the kids’ bath (all our plumbing runs in soffits because they didn’t have plumbing or electricity in the 18th century, so therefore didn’t leave space in walls to add it).

This all means our saga has not ended. We have to tear out the soffit that leads to the kids’ bath (located in the TV room) and if we can’t find the source of the leak there, we have to take out the wall behind the toilet in that bathroom. If it’s still a mystery, we have to take out the floor in kids’ bath. The kids’ bathroom plumbing runs beneath the floor and there’s a step up to get into the bathroom – again because plumbing was obviously all retrofitted to the house and has to travel somewhere!

However, we think that all leaks are related. Basically, there was a spot in the side of the house and another on the roof area we fixed that were open and letting in water. This explains why now that it’s been fixed, we don’t get more leaking when it rains. We’ve had the water in the kids bathroom freeze before, though, and now that we found that uninsulated area of siding, we know why – it just wasn’t protected enough from the elements.

Based on the staining on our kitchen beam and in our basement, this leak has been dripping at low steam for a very, very long time. Which likely means that one of the times over the years that the bathroom pipes froze, they sprung a tiny leak. It only became really noticeable when the roof and siding itself started to leak in the same unprotected spot.

I mean, the other good thing is that we’re already planning to re-do our kitchen, so replacing the small signs of water damage just goes along with that. The other good news is that we were planning on getting into the soffit hiding the plumbing anyway to see if we could make some more space related to our kitchen reno.

The not good news, obviously, is that the leak is not fixed, and as we bust into the kids’ bath we might as well just re-do it. It is in need of renovation anyway, but I was kicking that can way into the future, because why do kids need a new bathroom? They don’t care that the vanity doors are cracked, that the toilet clogs constantly, that the tile is not my taste, or that the tub is a dated Jacuzzi type from the ‘90s. And they live hard in a space, so letting them get through toddlerhood before renovating was fine by me. But it looks like now doing the kitchen, that bathroom, and fixing the leak all at the same time may be much more cost-effective than tearing out the bathroom soffit, floor, maybe toilet, then putting it all back and later renovating the thing. That’s like paying for the same repairs twice.

I know it’s a lot for a post about some shingles. Believe me, I thought it was going to be a straightforward fix. But nothing is ever straightforward in a 300 year old house …