The new roof


I slept past the bz-bz-bz-bz of my alarm – over twenty minutes of it. When I finally got up and shut the maddening thing off, I thought that a few minutes of resurfacing from deep sleep would be in order and I crawled back in between the warm sheets, turned on the light so that I wouldn’t go back to sleep and lay there for another half hour. I don’t do that often, but I was up late last night getting ready for a dinner I was having here tomorrow, and I kept on thinking about the things I had to do. There was no time like the present; just a little scrub of the downstairs bathroom sink; a little vacuuming of high traffic routes in the house; wiping down the little spills in the fridge that have been ignored in the name of art (I’d rather be painting); and the collecting of recycling for the morning’s pick-up.

I heard the trucks arrive and decided it was time to move. My Lord! It was eight thirty already! The roofers were not only here,; they were beginning to move in. A medium sized flat-bed construction truck was parked in the driveway. A truck to haul wastage was backed into the corner by the fence where I usually park my car. A whole gaggle of young men were milling around like ganders with roofing products in their arms or on their shoulders. There were fourteen of them in all, most of them under twenty-five. Only the boss was older.


There seems to be a dress code amongst these guys – black jeans, black hoodies pulled up over the pate this early on a December morning, with baseball caps underneath in case of sunshine breaking through. Most of them were wearing harnesses. The slope on my roof is considered so steep that the quote was accordingly increased by a few thousands. Now that’s steep!

It means that the workers have to be attached and two-by-fours  have to be nailed into the roof for them to brace their feet on while they wrench up the previous layers of roofing.

Bang, bang, bang BANG; Bang, bang, bang, BANG.

The first motif of the fugue begins. Each individual has a different rhythm. The second voice starts.

bangbangbangbangbangbang with a rapid even tone joined by a hard hitter.


Were they doing different tasks? Soon all the fellows on the roof were either levering the former, moss-riddled shingles off or banging away in a lusty, vigourous cacophonic symphony of hammering. Nothing so musical as Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith but nonetheless percussive.

I went outside and got my instructions from the boss. I was to stay inside so as not to be knocked over by debris falling from the roof. When the compressor stopped, then and then only could I exit from the house. This would occur at ten o’clock, twelve and two.

I took many photographs to record the proceedings – the silhouettes of the men wrenching tile, the lithe fellows climbing the ladder holding on with single hand as they blithely carted fity to ninety pounds of materials to the top, the pail of nails for the automatic nailgun curled in rounds like ammunition.

It was only a short while into the project that the boss came to see me with a long face, if such can be said about a thick-set stocky man measuring five foot four. He had known that there were two layers of roof shingles, but they had discovered even a third. It was a layer of cedar shakes. The shakes gone, it revealed that they were only nailed to strapping – a typical old-style method of roofing – and there was no plywood underneath. I would have to pay for sheeting the roof in plywood. There would be more wastage to haul; The bill rose by a few thousands. I was relatively philosophical about it.


My career had been in property management. I’d worked with many roofing inspectors over the duration and  almost always, there was a risk of finding unknown conditions lurking underneath the surface. The roof was now half off. There was no going back. There was only one choice    – bring on the plywood. It would take almost another day. He would have to pay the crew…. Normally, he would have to double the cost of labour and materials for the company administration and profit….  His words hung in the air and trailed off into nothingness. What else, I wondered, could he throw at me?

I acquiesced. He gave an order for someone to pick up the plywood.

After taking several more photos, I went back in the house and began to calculate. Was he being exorbitant? Was he assuming he was talking to an innocent homeowner who knew nothing? This company came with a recommendation from several friends and neighbours, but they were less knowledgeable than I.

I looked up the closest lumber yard on the computer. Retail price on a four by eight sheet of three-quarter plywood cost $12.39. The house was nine hundred useable square feet on each level. Allowing for the slope, not doing any complicated calculations, a generous estimate would be fifteen hundred. Divide that by the thirty two square feet of the standard plywood sheet; multiply that by the price of it. That came to about six hundred dollars.

Then I considered the crew of twelve who were crawling like nimble ants over the upper epidermis of my house. At the current, still high rate of twenty dollars an hour (despite the economic crash, the effects of which had not reached our local economy still fueled by the Olympic dream) could cost two thousand for an eight hour day. No, the contractor was not far out in his rapid calculation. I could just pay up and shut up.

I continued on with my daily chores. Later, I went out again, took more pictures. The stripped roof revealed a rolled edge. I had wondered about its construction, and there it was, harmoniously curved by means of long strapping made from one by twos.


I went off grocery shopping and stayed out for a coffeehouse coffee. When I came back, much of the back roof was done.

When I came to review progress, one of the lads yelled out, “Watch your language! Customer coming!” at which I had to chuckle.  Barely a word was said while I walked about, took more pictures of the progress.

In the back yard, large abstract pieces of cut plywood were strewn about. The plywood sheathing was well under way; the torch-on vapour barrier was applied; the shingles covered them. I could see the effect my choice of Castle Grey Duroid was going to make in the end. It looked good.


They are still banging away out there. Dusk is falling. The young lad who is shovelling debris into the junk bin is doing a fine job of cleaning up. Two workers are cooperatively nailing shingle to the rounded edge. One on a ladder is reaching up from above ensuring the soffit remains properly fixed below the roofing edge; holding the roof shingle absolutely parallel to the roof edge while the other nimble fellow reaches down from the top to power-nail the shingle to the strapping.

The sounds are diminishing. There’s a chorus of masculine voices charrying back and forth as they consider then determine how to close off the roof for the night. The sky is clear. With luck there is no danger of moisture entering, save a heavy dew. Roof top tarps are coming out. Materials and tools are being packed back into the truck. There are still the phtt-phtt sounds of the automatic nailer, rumbles, as materials are being moved along the roof; a bit of pounding and scraping; but they are almost finished for the day.


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2 Responses to “The new roof”

  1. Chris Miller Says:

    Great shots of men working — you would have qualified for membership in the Soviet artists’ union!

    I’ve been hosting some workers this week as well — as they attempt to straighten out the crumbling walls of my garage — ooops — I mean, studio.

    There’s so much a person has to know in this life – and I’d rather just take a trip to the art museum.

  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Chris.
    People working, not thinking about posing, take such beautiful body positions and you could never set it up in a figure drawing class. I don’t know if I ever will get around to painting something from these, but the images are quite inspiring for me. I just have to get back to painting.
    Do you remember Breugel’s painting, The Blind Leading the Blind?
    Some of the group positions on the roof top reminded me of that great painting.

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