Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stuck on the roof

The roof repair set-up, December 2008

I have discovered a lot of quirks about my house over the past year. One of the first, and most enduring, is the "whirly" vent atop the highest part of the roof, and the difficulty in dealing with it.

Soon after I moved in, on a windy winter day, I heard a high-pitched shrieking noise while upstairs in the house. I went outside, and discovered that the whirly vent was squealing like crazy, audible well down the road from my house.

It was winter, and cold and snowy, so I thought I'd try living with it. But one night in the upstairs bedroom with that vent shrieking all night long was enough - I had to fix it.

That's when I discovered the difficulty in accessing the vent. The problem could not be fixed from inside, and there was no attic access anyway. The front pitch of the roof was far too steep to climb, so the only other place to place a ladder on the ground and get to the top was on the east side of my house. That involved taking the extending ladder I inherited with the house (i.e. an unfamiliar item), extending it to its full double length, and going up more than two stories.

On a bitter cold winter day - temps in the double digits below zero - I found myself with time and energy, and I couldn't take the howling any more. I bundled up, got the ladder set up, and went for it.

As I got to the top of the ladder - like 20 feet up - I tried to make the swing from ladder to roof. My bulky overcoat got caught, so I took it off and threw it to the ground. The ladder kind of slid from side to side, but I got up on the upper roof. I had a can of WD-40 and sprayed around the various moving parts of the vent, but I soon found that did no good. I just could not access the needed areas without taking the vent off - and I didn't have the tools.

I went back to the ladder to start the climb down, and in the course of kind of testing its stability, it shifted and the "locks" bracing the upper part of the extending ladder disengaged. It was not safe to climb down - I had no idea if the upper portion would support me, or collapse when I put my weight on it. I was stuck - and I had discarded my wind-breaking overcoat.

I assessed my options. One was to jump to the lower roof about where the ladder is in the photo above. But there was limited room for error - if I slipped (the roof was icy then), I risked tumbling off that roof and to the cement sidewalk below.

Option two involved jumping off to a larger area of the lower roof where there was a thick blanket of snow - to the left in the photo - but I had to clear the main power line to the house. But I worried - would I electrocute myself if I brushed against the power line?

Right before heading out, I had for some reason decided to grab my cell phone, and I got it out and called my dad, 400 miles away. He assured me that the line was insulated, and I would be fine if I brushed it.

So, I psyched myself up for a few minutes. I had to jump - there was no other option. Well, I guess I could have called the sheriff - but I imagined that call getting heard by the local media, and me being featured on that night's TV news.

So, I took a few steps and leaped - and emerged unscathed. The snow cushioned my fall. I crawled under the wires and got into the house through the upstairs window.


Well, I was back down - but the vent was not fixed. A few months later, when it was a bit warmer, I bought a new whirly vent - which meant I had to get back up on the roof. This time, I tried the approach pictured in the photo:

- Single ladder set (precariously, given the roof pitch) from lower roof to upper roof - stable enough for me to climb up, but not to get down; no extending ladder issues. 

- All tools pre-placed on the upper roof, so I don't have to carry anything with me up the ladder.

- In the absence of snow, a big pile of foam, quilts, blankets, insulation, etc. placed in the "landing zone" to cushion my jump.

It worked - the vent was replaced, and no injury to me.

I had hoped that would be the end of my roof adventures for a while, but recently I noticed that the new vent wasn't spinning - which, from what I know about whirly vents, means it isn't venting the attic properly. So, I got the old vent, which I had saved, doused it with WD-40, made the epic climb up to the roof and did yet another switch.

It's spinning fine, now - and no squeaking.

The end. Wow, that was a really long story about roofs.

No comments: