by Ian Thompson Editor
In today’s Build Review post, Brent delves into the rich tapestry of American roofing history in his latest video. Historically, the choice of roofing material was primarily determined by the locally available materials and the expertise of the craftsmen. However, in today’s world, we have the luxury to choose virtually any style, though the price tag inevitably plays a significant role in most housing projects.
One crucial aspect that many specifiers may overlook is the complexity of installation, along with the need for any additional fixings or supporting sublayers. These considerations can add a substantial amount to the overall cost. For instance, in one of my projects, I opted for a galvalume metal sheet, drawn by its aesthetic appeal and cost-effectiveness. I anticipated a straightforward installation, but the reality was far from it. Despite it being a breezy summer, I struggled to keep the roofing paper in place while layering the metal sheets.
The heat of the summer made handling the steel sheeting an uncomfortable experience. Although I completed the entire roof myself, gaining valuable insights about the product set, I can confidently say I would not choose steel roofing again for my own projects. Is it a good product? Undoubtedly. But, my strenuous experience that summer serves as a poignant reminder that sometimes it’s worth investing a little more for a lot less hassle. On that project I regret not opting for an asphalt shingle roof for the large shed/workshop that would have matched the house roof better.
Another factor that impacts the price of a roof is the layout. A simpler roof design will always be significantly more cost-effective than a more intricate one. A convoluted roof form will involve a complicated roof truss system, a lot more time for the builders to work out, layout and fix, and there will undoubtedly be a lot of material wastage which you’ll be paying for. Simple does not have to be boring either, just use a good designer who knows how to achieve more with less.
Lastly, if you’re considering installing solar panels on your roof, keep in mind that some roofing structures are more suited for this purpose than others. In today’s market, there are numerous faux products that can replicate the look of any roofing style, offering enhanced durability and compatibility for solar panel installation. And, remember, the angle of your roof is a critical factor for successful solar installations.
Over to Brent.
“Roofing & Dormers” New House, Old Soul – Ep. 7
Hey guys, welcome back to “New House, Old Soul.” Today, we’re talking about roofs and dormers. Those two, in my mind, go together; they really speak to the history and age of these buildings, and they tell stories.
“Build the Original” series, hosted by Brent Hall, “New House, Old Soul,” sponsored by Stellar Floors and the Unico System.
Thank you. The asphalt 3-tab shingle is really a product of the ’20s. But if you really want something authentic, right, the very first roofs—what were the first roofs that Colonial settlers put on their houses? They put on wood roofs, okay? Because America was so rich in wood products, okay? It was just acres and miles of forest. Wood became a predominant material in the houses that Americans built, whereas in England, they might have built more with brick or stone. We didn’t have those things early on, or brick was expensive and hard to make. So you end up with wood being a predominant thing, clappers in the side of houses, and, of course, wood shingles on the top of the house. Okay, slate roofs were very important, and that was kind of it for a long time. If you were in the South and sometimes in Charleston, things like that, you’d have lead roofs, okay, where these lead sheets and things were going on.
So really when you think about the roof products, and I’m just leaving asphalt shingles out of this, right, because that’s not really capturing the old soul. With that, you have raised seam metal, right? Sometimes it was tin, sometimes there’s copper-clad, and so lead roofs and sheet metal roofs were one way of doing a house. Later in the 1880s and 1890s, you have clay tile. Companies like Ludowici, certainly historically early on in England, they had clay tiles that were very popular, and then slate roofs. So we’re talking about natural products here; we’re talking about things that convey that old soul. That doesn’t mean that those are the only products you can use, or you can think about some of these faux slate products are actually pretty good these days, and there needs to be a balance and a compromise because typically those kinds of roofs are most expensive. And is that the best way to spend your money on this job? That’s something you’re going to have to fight for and balance out and compromise on to really get that old soul.
But thinking about it in a macro 30,000-foot view, slate, wood, metal, and then clay tile a little bit later. So then you begin to look at architectural traditions, and you look at things like if you’re building a French house, a slate roof on a French house is very typical. And so that would be kind of a first consideration. Wood-shingled house, right? If you’re building a colonial revival house, slate or that wood shingle is very appropriate. And so there begins to be, as you craft your store and as you put your house together, things that make more sense than others and things that are more contributory right to that overall narrative and story.
And I’m thinking of a house that we did; it was kind of in the a hazy town mode. It was a vernacular French Creole Cottage kind of house, and we wanted to create that look of a lead sheet. And so these lead sheets would be sold, you know, two feet wide, four feet long, and they would have seams in them down the roof. So what we did on our roof is we actually did just a raised seam roof, okay, with just galvalume, I’m pretty sure. But we put false seams in there, and so we built down every eight or twelve feet; we’d do a seam. So that looking at the face of this roof, because it was French, it had a very steep pitch; you’d see these seams coming in there. We were now naturally installing this historic look, right? So there’s a way of introducing an old soul into a new house simply by the way we install the product, right, that it gave it that old-time look, and it was successful.
Here in Texas, those wood shake roofs can just die from the heat and the sun exposure. The other problem is that they’re not fire-rated. We’ve discovered a new roofing product that’s called wallaba. It’s a fire-rated wood shingle from Australia, and it holds up and stands up beautifully. It’s silvers and grays when as it gets older. The Pennsylvania farmhouse that we looked at in the introduction was done with wallaba roofs. So we’ve got a true wood shake roof, right, that has all the natural characteristics and beauty, but something that’s also fireproof. So something we can still use today.
We’ve got this, the Slate Bible, the book that you would be well-suited to get. There are so many varieties of roofs. This one’s called a ragged butt slate. What narrative? What story does that tell, right? I mean, it’s a very rustic, very rural type of roof. There is the graduated roof, where the bottom roofs look at that piece of slate right there; that thing is almost two inches thick; it’s massive. There’s so many different styles, and you see the sweeps and the other things that are going on in some of these houses. It is magical, okay? This is where you really get into craft, right? This is really where you get into people who really know their way around slate roofs or wood roofs. The wood roofs can do the same thing where you get these crazy patterns and stuff. But there is incredible artistic ability there. There’s incredible artistic opportunity. So don’t just say, “I want a slate roof.” Even this, right? You look at that in the Victorian period, what they did with slate roofs, they actually spelled things out. It points to the fact that there’s all kinds of different opportunity. I mean, one book I see 30, 40 examples of ways to do slate roof. Color is a key thing. Is it variegated? Does it have the greens and purples and stuff? Is it just black? Well, all depends on the story and the narrative you’re trying to tell.
The other thing that’s really important on roofs is the dormers. And I’ve done videos on dormers, but it’s really something that, as I consult with clients around the country, especially when they show me traditional design things, probably the number one thing I’m fixing is dormers. Now, what’s going on? Why is it so hard? What you find as you look at historic precedent is that there is a relationship between the face of the dormer, how it looks, right, the size of this face—let’s say it’s three by five—and the size of the window in that space. And we’ll go look at some new houses and these dormers that are ginormous, and then they have a little window inside. And so the relationship or the proportion of window to the face of that dormer needs to be 80 or 90 percent in order for it to have that old look.
Now, what that requires is sometimes actually turning the studs on the side the thin ways so that you don’t end up with these bulky things on the outside because you remember if I do a two by four and then do a and then I put my window inside there, I’m now five or six inches by the time I get siding and everything else on the side of my window. And if I have a small dormer and I have this big hunky side piece, it’s going to look ugly. The proportions and scale of everything are going to be wrong. But if I do, you know, an inch and a half and then a stud and then siding, I can stay in that three, four-inch trim range, cover that up, and really create a historic look. So look what I just did, the way I’m fighting for that space in there and the way I’m thinking about different ways of building my dormer so that it looks historically accurate, historically appropriate.
One of the best places I’ve seen to look at historic dormers is Colonial Williamsburg. Oh, foreign. That place is a Disneyland of amazing architectural features and architectural details that are done beautifully and done well. Go look at their dormers, go look at how they built them, how the proportion of window glass and light to the face of that dormer, look how they’ve done the siding on the sides, look at the roof details, look at those things, and they’ll teach you how to build beautifully. It’ll teach you how to get those proportions and details right. There’s a house that has these beautiful portioned windows that go up, and you’ll see how the windows get smaller as they go to the top. So the scale and proportion in that dormer, the scale and proportion is huge, understanding and trying to find a balance between size and scale but also how it functions on the inside is really important. And one of those details you need to fight for.
Finally, there are traditions as far as dormers and dormer looks. I talked about the shed dormer that’s so popular in the Arts and Crafts period. Why did that work? Why is it so successful in that style house? One, it continues the roofline and roof pitch detail is simplicity, right? The simple nature of those shed dormers with the small lights gives you the feel, right? Helps you conjure in your mind what that space looks like and how quaint and cute and cozy that little space is with those small windows that go up into the attic or second-floor space.
Not only the size of the window to the whole face but the style of the roof over the top of those windows and whether they’re long and thin in that Arts and Crafts tradition or whether they’re tall with a doghouse dormer in the Colonial tradition, all of those things tell a story. So between the roofs, between the dormers, we’re going to go look at a few right now, some successful ones, some unsuccessful ones, and you’re going to see how important it is to get the roof and dormers right when you want a new house with an old soul.
One of my pet peeves is dormers because I think it reveals the lost art of building as much as any other building thing. Columns are another one, but dormers are always messed up, and they’re messed up for a couple of reasons. One, because we work so hard to make the inside good, we forget about the outside. So someone will make a functional space in an attic or an upstairs area, and then we’ll not think about how that’s supposed to look from the front of the house. So you end up with these either large dormers with a small window or a mis-sized dormer or dormers with overhangs and rooflines that match the roof of the main house, and they’re not scaled down. So they’re the great sin of building right now. We’ve forgotten the past and forgotten how carefully historic dormers were designed and constructed so that they looked beautiful. And again, that line I have that the window shouldn’t make up about 80 percent, maybe even ninety percent of the face of the dormer. And if it doesn’t do that, it just—it looks messed up. You see these dormers in these new communities, and they’re just—they’re misshapen, they’re the wrong size, and they’re distracting. And, you know, the historic dormer, there is a graceful relationship and proportion between the lower window, the upper window, and the final window. And so there’s all these great details that we’ve forgotten about, and it all happens with the dormer.
I want to go show you Thistle Hill because on the main house, we’re going to be using this great Ludowici green tile roof. But on the carriage house, we’re going to use a shingle roof, and it’s really going to be different, but we found this from historic documentation; it’s really cool. [Music]
We talk about a story, and here’s an interesting one here. One of the things we found out about Thistle Hill was that the original roof was a shingle roof, okay? So why is there a Ludowici tile on the roof? Well, when the house got redone in 1911, okay, it got changed to the green tile that we have today. One thing is said in our research is that this never was a green tile in the Sanborn maps and everything else. It always shows to be a wood shingle roof. So we’re actually going back with a wood shingle roof there and a green tile here. And here is a great way of creating hierarchy that this is most formal; this has this Ludowici green tile roof; this is a secondary building; this has a wood shingle roof. And so everything’s not elevated to the tens, but we have this texture and this story that we automatically know. This is the main house; this is the main dwelling; secondary stables, carriage house, all of that kind of stuff. So it’s really cool and a fun way of using roofing material that we’re putting on and how it changes the texture of this story because we’re changing material. [Music]
So we’re driving around in Monticello right now. So there are good examples here because this in Fort Worth, we’re in 1940s, 1930s neighborhoods. So this is pre-World War II, pre-production building, and so the quality of the architectural details is oftentimes better in these neighborhoods. Now, drove around in a production neighborhood; you’d see a lot of bad dormers. But I mean, this house right here, this is a good example of a house with a handsome dormer on it, right? These dorms are a hip roof dormer, right? You’ve got a very steep roof. This is kind of an English or European-style house. It contributes to the architectural beauty of this house, the fact that they got two small windows with the two small lights there really contributes, right? Look at this roof. Here’s another great example of a tile roof. It’s a blend of colors; we’ve got a blend of different things going on. This house is a really good-looking house with a great roof, great dormers. One of the reasons it’s awesome and magical and looks great is because they’ve got those two details done really well.
I do a lot of designing and consulting around the country with different people. What I’ve found is that I am doing when I’m fixing these mansions or fixing these houses is I am stripping away details, I am simplifying, I am communicating the simple, the column, and pedestal. Well, I’m not trying to overdo it. I’m not trying to show off. I’m not trying to throw a bunch of stuff at it because I don’t know what to throw up there, and I have a Palladium window and columns that hang on the wall and just all these weird things, right? It’s a confidence from the street that I don’t have to be overly showy in order to be successful as an architectural piece.
So this is a new old house, right? This house was built probably four years ago. It was really inspired by Drayton Hall, which is in South Carolina. You see the porch system that we’ve got laid out here; it’s very similar to the back porch at Drayton Hall. So beautiful, wonderful house, great brick detail. In fact, I should spend a whole video here just talking about this house’s great details. But as to the roof and the dormers, okay, there are some decisions that we made on this roof. One, because we were talking about South Carolina as the original Inspiration House, a lot of those historic houses in South Carolina have lead race seam roofs. So architecturally, because I understood the architectural story of the house, we knew that the Racine metal roof would make a lot of sense.
Two, we’ve got these dormers, and that dormer system up there and the size of the windows shrinks down, right? There’s a scale that’s been introduced because the windows in the dormer are smaller than the windows in the second floor or the first floor. Notice that the eave and the overhang on the dormers are smaller than the eave and overhang on the roof. You’ll see sometimes these dormers with the exact same overhang of the house on a dormer, and it looks like it’s got big ears or something going on. So the scale and proportion of those things, dormers are different. Don’t let your roofer just go frame your dormers just because they did the framing on the rest of your house. It’s a different language; it’s a different overhang; it’s a different story.
Also, what we did on this house is we did the pedimented dormer roof on the outside, and then the circle killer dormer roof on the inside, kind of a play on a classical game that sometimes they get broken up classically between the pediment and the arched pediment. Notice the size of that dormer, notice the amount of window to the overall size of the dormer face, right? So that we have just enough for the trim on the outside and then the dorm on the inside. So it communicates a great deal. It communicates the scale and proportion and, you know, beauty of the house, all in just the language that we’re using on the roof and dormers. Roofs and dormers, they matter, guys. It’s a really important piece of that new house-old soul character.
The opportunity with roofs, the opportunity with dormers, and what they communicate about your skill as a master builder, but also your understanding of historic precedent, your understanding of architectural traditions, your understanding of what’s appropriate for this house. Here, we’re talking to this client. What’s the most appropriate roof for this house? Well, it could have been slate, it could have been racing metal, it could have been wood shake, right? So because we understand the architecture and the historical tradition, we immediately frame our conversation around something right, and then we talk about how it’s going to contribute to that, which is the most authentic. Okay, if I’d taken a green Ludowici roof here, right, that would have automatically spun this house forward to a 1920s early 1900 kind of look, and it would have changed the story and the narrative of the house.
If you’ve traveled to Europe and you’ve seen the houses in France versus the houses in England versus the houses in Russia, right? They all speak a different language; they all communicate differently. And those traditions are things that we’re grabbing onto to try to make things beautiful. So, I just hope you understand, guys, how important it is in the new house-old soul because windows, the cladding, and the roof and dormers are the things that help define as you pull up the curb appeal of the house. Those are the things that are most definitive and will help your house have that the old soul even though it’s a new house.