problems reachable by ladder
Tuesday, October 17 2023
There have been a couple leaks recently in Downs Street brick mansion. One of those was into the wall beneath the south (or, perhaps, southwest) valley on the third floor. I fixed the water-damaged interior wall last week, but what would it matter if it was just going to be destroyed again by the next rain? The other leak was into the ceiling of the second floor apartment in a place where water has appeared in the past. I don't know for certain where this is with respect to the third floor and the cardinal directions, but I suspect it's the same leak, since there was enough water going into the damaged wall to continue down another floor, and that wall is likely directly above what is ceiling on the second floor. From the ground, I'd seen debris clogging the valley above where the third floor leak is manifesting, and it was a good bet that that material could divert water flowing down the valley up over the edge of the flashing and into the house. I've seen such things happen at our house in Hurley, both from ice ("ice dams") and from fallen tree limbs (there is no term for that kind of damming). I'd suggested to Gretchen that maybe I could clear the debris if we got a really tall ladder. Such ladders can be bought, but they're very expensive and perhaps it would make sense to rent a tall ladder to see if they're useful for working on some of the Downs Street roof issues. So Gretchen arranged with one of the hardware stores in Woodstock to rent us a 40 foot ladder, which they would be delivering at Downs Street this morning at 9:00am. I was a little dubious whether or not I could actually wrangle a 40 foot ladder all by myself, so Gretchen would be there with me to help me wrestle it to where it needed to be.
We brought Neville with us to the Downs Street mansion and let him wander around the front while inspecting the roof on the front of the building. There's a bad spot on the soffits in the front middle (southeast side), though it's pretty good on the right (northeast) side. In the back, the soffits have bad spots on the southwest side, though the northwest (fully-back-facing) soffits are pristine. The bad spots are obviously from water damage, though it wasn't clear from the ground what was happening.
While we were in the back, Liz in her first floor apartment let her dog Malachai out to play with Neville. There was some confusion with the payment for the ladder rental that Gretchen had to fix, and then Neville got to meet an old beagel-pit mix being walked down Downs. While waiting again for the ladder, Gretchen chatted some with Liz and realized she'd gotten Malachai from an Amish "rescue." "Those are puppy mills," she declared confidently, having fully explored the issue when her sister-in-law fell for the same marketing.
When the ladder arrived, Gretchen and I were beginning the process of raising it when a developmentally disabled gentleman who was built a little like a cement mixer came over and offered to help. "Okay," I said. It was good he did, because I had no idea how much force was necessary to anchor one end of a 40 foot ladder when raising it (and that's not even with it extended). There's also the issue of what the ladder can do if you should let it get away from you (such as when letting it tilt too far from vertical). After some preliminary ladder wrangling, I uneasily declared, "Forty foot ladders are no joke!" It turns out the developmentally disabled gentleman was from the house across the street on the corner, where he'd lived his whole life. Apparently he doesn't have much to do, so he does helpful things like drag his neighbors' (including our tenants') trash cans to and from the street. Once we had the ladder in position below the problematic valley, I cautiously climbed up there and had a look. Sure enough, there were six or eight slate shingles choking the copper flashing of the valley bottom. There were also leaves sticks stuck in there too. It was more than enough of an obstruction to cause the leaking I'd witnessed. Fortunately, it was easy enough to clear out. I'd brought a rake and a hoe in case I needed to reach some distance, but the entire problem was well within reach of my left hand.
After that little triumph, we moved the ladder southeastward about 20 feet so I could investigate what the roof was like over a section of bad soffit. I thought maybe the gutter downspout was clogged, but no, the problem was that that section of soffit had sagged somewhat over the years and now the gutter it was holding (a built-in "box gutter" of a type typical of this kind of Victorian structure) was allowing water to pool. In fact, there was a pool of water in it today. Without a place to drain, the water had found its way into the soffit. I wondered how this problem might be repaired. Perhaps the low spot in the soffit could be jacked up and supported with a decorative wrought iron bracket. Or it could be filled in with a massive amount of tar.
We decided to bring down the ladder and also check out the roof above a section of water-damaged soffit near the west corner of the mansion. After some careful lowering and raising of the ladder (complete with the usual testiness that comes when Gretchen doesn't quite understand what I am trying to do but also doesn't really want to know the theory of why I'm doing what I am doing), I check the gutter and it was the same problem: the soffit had sagged and now the gutter wasn't draining. Supposedly in this spot a very expensive roofer had come and fixed the gutter last winter, but it didn't look like it had ever been fixed. Someone had inserted new flashing in one of the valleys (it looked like galvanized steel), that had probably been done since we bought the place. In any case, it the slate roof itself looked sound. Whatever problems it had were all restricted to the gutters, all of which were reachable from below using a ladder (and it was looking like a 32 foot ladder would be sufficient). Maybe these are problems that I can fix.
After I was down from the ladder, I was relieved to be standing on solid ground. I was also feeling better about the state of the Downs Street roof. I told Gretchen how great it was to have the information I'd gotten from climbing those ladders. Now even if we did hire professionals, they'd have to be on their toes because we know exactly the nature of the roof's problems. But maybe we don't need profressionals; I said that I would research how best to fix the poorly-sloped box gutters.
Later this afternoon, while Gretchen was off teaching her prison classes, I resumed work painting the ceiling between the front door and the center of the dining room area. I'd spread out numerous drop cloths, but no matter how far-ranging I spread them, paint managed to spatter beyond them. Fortunately this was always onto hard surfaces that could then be scrubbed clean. As for the paint itself, no matter how many times or how thickly I applied it (I was mostly using a roller brush), it always ended up drying as a patchy array. The color wasn't the problem, it was the surface sheen, though this could only be seen from some angles. But when the sheen was right, it was a messy array of triangles and blotches. I decided I was doing something wrong and mothballed the whole project, removing all the drop cloths and cleaning the brushes and roller tray. It was mostly done anyway and there's a chance Gretchen won't care about the sheen blotchiness.
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