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It all goes back to that darned tree

Yeah. That tree.

Well, the tree and the incompetents who built the former porch (now entryway and sleeping nook) on this house.


Contractor Mike showed up today to cut a 3 x 6-foot hole in my lovely (but collapsing) beadboard ceiling so he could see exactly what’s going on in the crushed-looking part of the roof.

Shortly thereafter he started laughing.

Laughter is right next to “Whoops!” for things homeowners don’t want to hear from contractors.

Nevertheless, after he invited me to stick my head up there among the spiderwebs, I could have laughed, too. I won’t go into the gory details. The short version is that the roof of the former porch was not only way, way underbuilt and mal-built, but it was never adequately attached to the house. Just toenailed in with 8d (too short) nails. Which over the years had rusted.

That tree — you do remember that tree? — not only yanked the metal electric stanchion out. It yanked the whole roof forward, removing the last fragile connection between former-porch roof and house wall. The collapse started then though it wasn’t yet visible. The roofers staging their stuff on it a week later just completed the job.

Nothing’s broken up there, far as anyone can see. And not much is rotted. Which is amazing and good. The whole roof just kind of lost its moorings and “slud” a foot down along the wall and a inch or two outward.


After he quit laughing, Contractor Mike, who’s a generalist and generally a “lite-duty” guy, called in Contractor Joe, who knows roofs and roof problems inside out.

Contractor Joe is also a perfectionist for whom the term “good enough” doesn’t exist. He stood around for an hour smoking cigarettes and proclaimed that if I didn’t immediately spend another $4,000 to rebuild the entire roof (even the non-collapsed portion), my walls would fall outward (which they’re already doing, but slowly), my windows would shatter, and the ceiling would fall on my head and kill me.

I stood around not smoking cigarettes and insisting, “$4,000? Ain’t happening. No way. Surely there’s a means to stabilize this, bring the walls in, and keep the rain out without a total rebuild.”

After Contractor Joe went away Contractor Mike detailed a “make-do.” Which I’m thinking about. It involves removing the whole ceiling, pushing the “slud” rafters up and supporting them against the house. That will hopefully pull the walls back in (or at least enable the walls to be pushed back in and held in place with long, long screws.

Dunno yet what to do. I’m still in shock. For now, I just had Mike put a big brace against the most out-of-kilter wall and I stapled plastic over the hole in the ceiling. I already moved everything out of the imperiled space and am sleeping on the couch in the living room.

Murphy has definitely struck again. But as Mike says, that tree may have done me a favor. That roof construction was so bad and already so fragile that if the tree and the roofers hadn’t displaced it during good weather, a snowstorm or a high wind could have displaced it at a much worse moment in a much more catastrophic way.

So … I’m considering myself lucky now???

But for sure, I am lucky that, with you guys having covered so much of the cost of the good roofing job, having a bad roofing job right on top of it is less painful than it would otherwise have been.


Well, for anybody who’s actually interested in the gory details, here’s one for ya:


The support running from lower left to higher right across the photo is a mere 2 x 4 that somebody decided to use as one of the roof’s supporting hips. A 2 x 4, did I say? No. When they didn’t have a stick of lumber long enough to form the entire hip, hey, they just cut a 45-degree angle at the ends of two 2 x 4s and sorta-kinda stuck ’em together — then used that shaky contraption to support that entire end of the roof.

You can’t really see it in this photo, but the two rafters attached at the point of that 45-degree cut don’t even come within 1/2 an inch of actually touching the hip board. From the spidery stuff in the gaps, it appears they’ve been that way for a long time.


  1. jed
    jed September 23, 2014 9:12 pm


    Without being there myself and looking, I’m at a loss for the best way to proceed, but there’s probably a fix that doesn’t involve rebuilding the whole thing. Long, long screws? Makes me thing of those things, forget what they’re called, that are used to pull walls together — they go from one side of a structure to the other, thread on both ends, and a plate an nut go on each end so you can tighten the nuts and pull the walls in.

    Of course, I’m thinking of how, in An-Cap land, there are no government building codes to be enforced. Well, in our ideal Libertopia, private companies would inspect housing and underwrite insurance based on their inspections, or something like that. Boy, there’s an incentive to do a good inspection, if you’re the one providing an insurance policy.

    Hope Mike can come up with something. Seems it ought to be able to be stabilized with tearing it all out.

  2. Ellendra
    Ellendra September 23, 2014 10:21 pm

    I’m afraid I can’t offer advice about the roof itself, but do you have a back-up plan in case it gets scary enough that you don’t feel safe sleeping there?

  3. LarryA
    LarryA September 23, 2014 11:16 pm

    Back in the day I knew a Boy Scout who put up something almost that rickety.

    He didn’t get his merit badge.

  4. Karen
    Karen September 24, 2014 1:43 am

    I bet you’ve learned way more than you ever really wanted to know about roofing and construction. πŸ˜‰

  5. Claire
    Claire September 24, 2014 4:53 am

    Yep, no merit badges for this “project”! But I’m sure there are easy, or at least easy-ish ways to lift that roof and tie those walls back together without Contractor Joe’s perfect rebuild.

    And Ellendra … yes, not only do I have a backup plan, but it’s already employed. The nook under the busted roof is empty, the bed taken apart and stashed, and the last couple of nights I’ve been trying to decide which is more comfortable — the couch or my old cot. Not sleeping under that roof again for a while! (Even though the ceiling is currently braced up very firmly with 2 x 4s.)

  6. Tonerboy
    Tonerboy September 24, 2014 6:33 am

    Claire, while I am sure you don’t want to take on contractor Joe’s choice of how to fix this, one thing you need to be sure about is how stable the foundation is under the outer wall of that porch. IF you attempt to “pull” the roof back to the house wall it may cause that wall to bow out making matters even worse.
    From your description it was poorly built from the start and my guess is the original builder of the open porch never intended it to be enclosed and carrying all the additional weight of materials.
    What I have learned from several re-dos of older homes, the original build may stable but several “handy-mans” make-dos sometimes warrants the decision to either eliminate the add-on or start over from scratch.
    Sounds like it will be an interesting and exciting next few months.

  7. LibertyNews
    LibertyNews September 24, 2014 7:03 am

    Well, I guess at some point the bad news has to stop, right? Hang in there. πŸ™‚

  8. Claire
    Claire September 24, 2014 7:47 am

    Tonerboy — You are SOOOOO right. In this case, however, no worries. I’ve already fixed the foundation under the former porch and under the main house wall that adjoins the porch.

    Well “no worries” that I know of. Who knows what other “joys” may be in store. But LibertyNews is right; the silly stuff has to stop sometime.

    In retrospect, It would definitely have been a wiser choice simply to remove that old porch extension. But I’ve done enough work on it now that I’m officially committed to it.

    And the good news: Even though it rained pretty hard last night, with some wind — nothing is leaking.

  9. Matt, another
    Matt, another September 24, 2014 7:51 am

    I’d carefully dissassemble the whole mess, saving the materials as much as possible for re use. then with addition of new materials as needed, rebuild it. All it would take is time, good weather, strong back, carpentry skills and some money.

  10. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau September 24, 2014 9:10 am

    Guys like Contractor Joe are who you want when building a NEW house, but they are pretty useless for repairs. You have to make a lot of compromises with old houses.

    I have seen a lot of situations in old construction where I just had to laugh. Every old house has a few of those. Amazingly, the houses still work pretty well, most of the time, as long as the water is kept outside.

    If the foundation is good (and I agree that is crucial), I’d just get a come-along up there and start pulling things together (carefully!). Install some lag screws to give something to pull on. Don’t do anything that would break the roof seal; just pull the whole porch back to the house. If you want to connect those rafters together better, before pulling the porch/nook, use either some pieces of plywood and screws, or some Simpson strong-ties. Now that you have the ceiling off and can get to things, it should be doable. Nothing that would satisfy Contractor Joe, but if it keeps the weather out, who cares?

    Another thing you can do is push from the outside if the pulling looks like it won’t work. I once had a house with a broken foundation (because it had been built on heavy clay). I just got my pickup truck bumper against the part that had broken and sagged outward, and pushed it back in, then drilled holes in the concrete and tied everything together with turnbuckles. It worked well enough.

  11. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau September 24, 2014 9:20 am

    BTW there is nothing wrong with 2×4’s if they are short enough and don’t span a huge space.

    Another option is to push things together temporarily and tackle a nook tear-down and rebuild next summer. Just a room with one egress window (if you care about conforming to code!) or no window (if you don’t) is not going to be expensive or difficult. Easily a D-I-Y project. You can probably even re-use some of the lumber.

  12. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau September 24, 2014 9:26 am

    I could take a look if you want. Just email me.

  13. LarryA
    LarryA September 24, 2014 9:56 am

    Another thing you can do is push from the outside if the pulling looks like it won’t work.

    I’m picturing Claire in a house with flying buttresses. Hey, it worked for a bunch of famous cathedrals.

  14. Scott
    Scott September 24, 2014 10:15 am

    Without actually seeing it up close, I’d guess you could drill some holes, run Reddy-Rod (All thread rods), hex nuts/washers and slowly crank down on it until you pull everything back into place.

  15. Claire
    Claire September 24, 2014 10:43 am

    Good ideas. I don’t think I can back a pick-up truck next to either of the bad walls, but the Redi-Rods or some other way of pulling the walls in and hoping to push the ceiling up at the same time actually seems like a decent possibility.

    And flying buttresses? LOL! Already have one of those, though it’s a crappy-looking 2 x 8 and not some glorious stone arch.

    Paul, I’ve emailed you.

  16. Keith
    Keith September 24, 2014 1:05 pm

    It’s amazing what a few ratchet straps will do to space out the repairs until they better fit with your cash flow.

  17. Claire
    Claire September 24, 2014 3:09 pm

    I’m really appreciating all these solutions with ratchet straps, Redi-Rods, come-alongs, etc. And I hope something that simple will really work (at least to get through the winter).

    But every contractor who looks at the problem — even contractors who are generally comfortable with “seat of pants” solutions — sees this problem as being very complex because you’ve got walls leaning in two different directions and a roof pressing down.

    People who’ve seen the situation “live” all say it would be easy to make one wrong move and make the damage worse.

    Me, I would just love to thread some Redi-Rods through the tops of those couple of walls, then put wide flashing down where the roof doesn’t quite meet the house. Then deal with the big problems next summer.

  18. emdfl
    emdfl September 24, 2014 3:18 pm

    Bought an older house(1933ish). Started remodeling the kitchen and the contractor discovered that when some previous owner had expanded the kitchen he had removed the rear support wall of the house including the roof-truss wall-spanning beam and replaced it where the wall had been with a 12 foot long 4X4just sitting on the two side walls
    The 4X4 and the ceiling had about a 6″ droop when he opened it up. Had to put in a beam built from two 2X12s laminated together to get the roof back where it belonged. And don’t even let me get started on the rear porch roof/ceiling.

  19. Claire
    Claire September 24, 2014 5:06 pm

    “And don’t even let me get started on the rear porch roof/ceiling.”

    I won’t. πŸ™‚ But you definitely have my sympathies.

    Now, just tell me it’s absolutely worth it to have an old house with character after all those troubles.

  20. jed
    jed September 24, 2014 6:13 pm

    Just had to go looking for that architectural term I couldn’t think of. Wasn’t nearly as fancy or arcane as I was thinking; it’s called tie rod. Same concept as redi-rod, or all-thread, except it’s not threaded all the way, and it can left-hand on one end, and right-hand on the other, and some other variations. Typically, goes into anchor plate at each end.

    I wouldn’t try to pull the walls in and push the roof up at the same time. I’d figure a way to temporarily support the roof with posts and raise it up, then fix the walls before lowering the roof back down. Of course, that’s without being there to look at it. But trying to do 2 jobs at once is where I think you’re more likely to get to the “one wrong move” scenario. Not talking about a large amount of roof raising — just enough that the walls can move independently.

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous September 24, 2014 7:27 pm

    If contractor Joe actually got his $4K, would that actually get the entire structure (foundation, walls, and roof) up to 100% (or reasonably close)? If not, what would it actually cost for contractor Joe to “fix it right” and make everything structurally sound? Could that be the next big-big-biggie superproject? The last? What’s the actual price tag on “eliminate the pain” once and for all?

    Because some of us want to dream a little.

  22. Claire
    Claire September 24, 2014 8:30 pm

    Oh my, Anonymous! You dream big!

    On that section of the house, the foundation has already been repaired and is — blessedly! — not moving an inch. It’s solid. The subfloors are good, too. $4,000 would be more than enough to fix the roof and any stray things that might be wrong with the walls.

    But … well, that’s a big dream. I’m sure I’ll find a “make-do” for much less than that that’ll stabilize everything and keep water from getting in.

  23. Claire
    Claire September 25, 2014 5:17 am

    Oh, and I have to say there’s one more BIG project after this. The foundation at the rear of the house still needs fixing. But that can be done slowly, over a period of years, one beam at a time. The “pain” πŸ™‚ isn’t going to be eliminated, this being an old house. But $4,000 would take care of all the damage inflicted by trees and roofers and undo the original bad construction on the front of the house. Still, that’s a lotta money.

  24. Pat
    Pat September 25, 2014 8:07 am

    Maybe we could send you cash instead of Xmas/Winter Solstice/Hogmanay gifts.

  25. Claire
    Claire September 25, 2014 3:37 pm

    Pat, what a nice thought (even if you did leave out Kwanzaa and Channukah πŸ˜‰ ).

    But you guys already gave me my Christmas presents this year. It’s the gift that will keep on giving for a long, long time — my roof.

  26. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau September 28, 2014 9:42 am

    Can you post more pictures of the separation, both inside and outside? Also if the roof is sagging down and the foundation is solid, that means the walls must be bowing out, so take a picture of that too.

    I have a long house-jack post for jacking up roofs and what-not, unfortunately it is still in Wyoming. But I agree there should be some way to lift that roof up, maybe by prying up on the bottom of a post with a pry bar and sliding some shims under it.

  27. Claire
    Claire September 28, 2014 6:28 pm

    Paul, rather than posting more pix to the blog, I’ll send you several privately.

    I agree the roof could be jacked up. I’m wondering how it also gets pulled back up against the house.

    Pix to come.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous September 29, 2014 8:05 am

    Personally, I’d vote for an anonymous conspiracy to raise that $4K. Even if you feel you’ve gotten more than enough from the first bleg, would you consider restarting the thermometer?

  29. Claire
    Claire September 29, 2014 10:09 am

    Anonymous, it’s a wonderful idea and thank you for thinking of it. But after all that people have already done, it’s too much. I just could not ask for more. Especially I couldn’t ask people who’ve already given so much to fund what amounts to a “luxury” solution.

  30. Claire
    Claire September 29, 2014 6:11 pm

    Anonymous. OMG. Was that YOU, Anonymous?

    Everybody else: Sorry to be cryptic. But that Anon will know what I’m talking about. And once I’ve recovered my voice I’ll have more to say.

  31. Anonymous
    Anonymous September 30, 2014 5:21 pm

    Well, yes. No words (or thanks) to me are necessary. But the intent is to also muster up a few more anons. It’s understandable if *you* don’t want to ask for more, but that doesn’t mean that *we* can’t. To that end, I offer a challenge to everyone reading this: $4K buys a *proper* repair. If you haven’t already donated, now’s your chance. And if you have, now’s your chance to do it again — anonymously. Who will join the conspiracy of the anonymous? Let’s dream a little.

    Blog posts or further thread comments on the best or most creative outlaw money laundering techniques would be very welcome. Now’s our chance to test them out.

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