Monday, August 28, 2006

Slate Book Review:

Before I get in to the book review, let me describe my relatively new found fascination with slate... Slate is to roofs as Timberframing is to structures. A slate roof on a timberframe structure seems like a natural match, both crafts are carried over from the days when people had the pride and time to build things "right," and not much patience for building things "temporary." Slate is a natural product (it is stone!) that outlasts any known man made roofing material. (Although we should check back in on this claim in a couple hundred years to see if stainless can give slate a run for its money). Unlike asphalt shingles, there is no toxic trash left over from the installation - simply more rubble for backfilling your foundation. And just as with old timbers, slate roofing is often recycled into another structure when it excedes the lifespan of its original structure. I'm puzzled that slate roofs are not more prevalent on modern timberframe structures. Well, on with the book review... I probably can't convince you that slate is the "world's finest roof," but maybe these books can...

Title: The Slate Roof Bible, Understanding, Installing, and Restoring the World's Finest Roof
Author: Joseph Jenkins
This is by far my favorite book about slate roofs. It's amusing, witty, and informative. It's loaded with color photographs. The book describes (in great detail!) various styles of slating, the tools you'll need, how to repair a slate roof, the types of slate that are available, the geology and chemistry of slate, and some interesting history of slate quarries in the US and abroad. It seems clear to me that Joseph Jenkins has been as important to the craft of slate roofing as Ted Benson has been to timber framing. The author and his family personally visited quarries all over the world in the process of compiling information for this book. If you own a slate roof or if you're just comtemplating a slate roof, you really need this book. Like the best books on timberframing, I have read this book several times and each time I discover something new. My copy is well worn and dog-eared. The book lives up to its lofty title. The author of The Slate Roof Bible, Joseph Jenkins, maintains an active web site devoted to slate roofs. The discussion board is fairly active and his e-store has hard-to-find tools at reasonable prices. (I bought a slate hammer from him and one from ebay.) Also, somehow he is able to sell stainless steel nails cheaper than if you bought them directly from the supplier. (I bought 50 lbs from him).

Title: The Slate Book: How to Design, Specify, Install, and Repair a Slate Roof.
Authors: Brian Stearns, Alan Stearns, and John Meyer.
95% of what you need to know about slate roofs is in Joseph Jenkins' book - the other 5% is in this book. Whereas The Slate Roof Bible has hundreds of color photographs, this book has only a few black and white photographs of actual slate roofs. This book also has three authors... and it shows... when was the last time you read decent prose written by more than one author? But this book is not meant to be a work of art - it's a "manual," and somewhat useful. I'm glad that I bought it, as it fills in some of the blanks left in Jenkins' book, because it walks you step-by-step through each step of installing a slate roof. I found the comprehensive review of flashing methods and valleys to be extremely helpful. One of my complaints about this book is that I bought it to gain more insight on how to lay out eyebrow dormers, and here it falls woefully short. In fact, although the book has a "diagram" of layout lines for an eyebrow dormer, there's no photograph of a finished eyebrow dormer in this book. Any book that proposes to teach you something about eyebrow dormers darn-well ought to have at least one photograph of one! (Jenkin's book has two pages of color photos of eyebrow dormers.) If you're just a little interested in slate roofs or wondering what questions to ask, buy Jenkins' book, but if you're staring at 43,000 pounds of slate (like I was a few weeks ago) that need to be nailed to your roof, then you owe it to yourself to buy this book as a "second opinion" on slate roofs.


Anonymous Shawn said...

Nice critique. I put on a slate roof last fall / winter here in Minnesota because I fell in love with the way a slate roof looks and performs. After I hired a "professional" to install the roof, I would e-mail Joe Jenkins pictures and he was kind enough to give an opinion.

I couldn't agree with you more in that why would anyone ever want to use "fake slate" in place of the real thing. Real slate roofs are a work of art.

I intend on installing a slate roof on my own on a garage next spring. Do you have someone helping you with your installation?

BTW, your blog is now something that I check each day looking for updates on your progress :-)

August 28, 2006 at 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been following your blog for several months now. I LOVE you're project and the fact that you are sharing it with the world. (You're a decent writer as well.) My husband and I plan to build a timberframe in several years and we are starting plans with a local TF company in November. (My parents built a timberframe through this company almost twenty years ago.) Getting to my point. . . I love the slate and understand your draw to slate roofs, but I am wondering about cost.? (Which is what is going to drive our project.)

Thanks! Keep up the GREAT work!!


August 28, 2006 at 9:35 PM  
Blogger oldmilwaukee said...

Thanks Shawn and Amy for the kind comments.

Congratualtions Amy on picking a timberframe structure... and finding a good company to build it.

As for the cost of the slate... all of the quotes from Vermont slate companies came back at about $350 to $400 per square of roof (10x10 feet), or in other words, $3.75 per square foot of roofing area for just the slate itself. It sounds expensive for roofing material, but what is the average cost per square foot to build a house... something like $100/ square foot isn't it? The only slate installation company we could get to quote the job wanted about $20/square foot for labor and materials, which came out to $80,000 for our roof. OUCH. We gave up on slate for a few months, but then I recovered from that estimate, bought $20,000 of slate, and decided to slate the roof myself. I would estimate the flashing materials (copper and stainless) will end up costing about $5,000 in materials. So, the short answer (which is probably what you wanted) is.... $5/square foot if you do it _all_ yourself. $10 to $20/square foot if you pay a professional. Remember, the square footage of your roof is bigger than your foundation becaue of roof overhangs and the fact that the roof is on an angle.

Shawn, I have two of my brother-in-laws helping me, and another one of the guys who helped me raise the frame. Some days we work on structure, some days we work on the slate. When I'm paying these folks (non professional roofers) to help me, it works out to about $7 or $8 per square foot of finished roof. Even if you just had one person packing slate (and helping cut them at the valleys), it would be much better than roofing "solo". Since you (Shawn) saw someone do it, you probably realize that laying slate is not rocket science - I'm sure you could roof your own garage, especially if there are no valleys to deal with. And if it leaks, well you have a lifetime guarantee from the person who roofed it - yourself! :)

Good luck! Please ask me more questions in a year when I know a little more about what I'd do differently. I'm already wishing that I had designed the house with an attic instead of cathedral ceilings everywhere. Finding a leak 20 years (or 2 months!) from now could be difficult. If I had an attic, I'd just walk into the attic during a rainstorm and track the drips. Finding a leak in the structure I'm building will most likely require some kind of telepathic roofing claravoyance.


August 29, 2006 at 7:29 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

That is so funny! I was going to send you an email and ask what you thought of Jenkins book, and here's a review. I've been following your blog for a long time now. Really cool project!! Thanks for all the great information!

August 31, 2006 at 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What more can I say. I stand in awe!
First, I would like to congratulate you for having the courage and tenacity to tackle such a large project. Second, I want to thank you for sharing your experiences with the rest of us dreamers.
I am putting the finishing touches on the floorplan and design of my timber frame home and have also contemplated a slate roof. So beautiful, and why not complement a structure that could last several hundred years with a matching roof. Cost has been my deterent, but I think you may just convince me that installing slate is not a black art after all, but something I can tackle myself.

I stumbled upon your blog a couple of months ago. I too check it daily hoping for more tid-bits on your progress. Keep up the excellent work and once again, congrats !


September 6, 2006 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger oldmilwaukee said...

Marc - thanks a bunch! I was a [timberframe] dreamer trying to absorb anything I could from the internet, just 2 years ago, and I came away with so many unanswered questions, even after buying all of the books - that's why I'm posting this stuff on the blog. Of course, your mileage may vary - in other words, everyone has an opinion, and these are just my opinions, but I hope they can help someone make better decisions. Slate is almost a forgotten art, but definitely _not_ a black art. It is not that hard to install... just time consuming when you get to the flashing, but not rocket science and not a black art. If you go with a slate roof, I'd recommend an attic underneath of it. I am tryign to pull off a cathedral ceiling beneath slate, and it has turned out to be harder than I thought (but not impossible). Also, I think slate would be more easily debugged (or maintained for a couple hundred years) if you could walk in your attic and look at it from the underside.

October 29, 2006 at 6:22 PM  

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