Seattle Press
Roger's Home Journal
Roofless in Seattle - A History of Getting Wet

There are many stories in this moldy city about people who embrace the sensation of being soaking wet. Our local seafood hero, Ivar Haglund, used to sing a ballad about a fellow who was perfectly content to sit on the beach through endless days of rain. The thought of being surrounded by acres of clams brought him to a state of bliss. The lyrics were a metaphor for a sort of northwest nirvana, with Puget Sound as our Ganges.

For thousands of years the natives of our region used long planks split from long cedar logs to keep most of the rain from entering their long houses. During big winter storms big rocks were placed on the roof to help keep the big planks from blowing away. Big men were called on to sit up there with the rocks during extreme winds. They wore cedar jackets and drank hot clam nectar to avoid death from exposure.

Today we can observe that some of our neighbors seem to have the same ability to passively accept a drenching rain. Despite a gathering of dark clouds, some homeowners in our area boldly open up their homes to the elements. Whether the project is re-roofing, building dormers, or constructing an additional story, the goal is usually to accomplish a home improvement. Unfortunately, when heavy rain arrives at the wrong moment an impressive amount of damage can occur. The homeowner, or sometimes the contractor, learns a hard lesson about how water destroys insulation, plaster, gypsum, flooring, painted surfaces and many possessions. I would expect these people to be scrambling for a tarp, but they sometimes calmly stand by and watch the rain pour in. Could there be a special ingredient in their clam nectar?

Scott and Dennis are the two owners of a local construction company called Reality Framers. They make the assumption that most of their customers would rather that rain be prevented from entering the home during an upstairs addition. There are many stores which sell a product known as a blue plastic tarp, and when Scott and Dennis are about to start a new job that requires opening a roof, they purchase and deploy this device. They've done it many times, and have developed a "tarping system" which they generously shared with the rest of us a few years ago. The story is called "The Complete Coverup," and is found in the Journal of Light Construction (October 1995).

The essential details of their tarping methods are easy to understand and follow. They always use a tarp that's big enough to cover the entire work area, since overlapping seams have a way of allowing water to get through. They roll the tarp into a huge sausage (or cheese blintz) shape and put it in position to deploy quickly in the case of a sudden shower. When the rain starts, or at the end of the work day, the tarp is unrolled and then secured around its perimeter with pieces of two-foot long 2 x 4 blocking. These blocks of wood are rolled into the material and nailed into the adjacent framing or existing roof. This effectively distributes stresses and prevents a strong wind from getting under the edge and causing a tear.

With the perimeter secured, Scott and Dennis eliminate the possibility of puddles by using padded "taut sticks" to create a convex surface. These sticks are long 2 x 4s with blocking and carpet scraps nailed to the end. They're used to push the tarp up to create a giant bubble of protection. With these "taut sticks" and tarp they're often able to continue working during wet weather. At the end of the day they also add diagonal "stay sticks" to brace the "taut sticks" and prevent them from toppling during a windy night.

Scott and Dennis use special techniques for working around chimneys, overhanging areas, or projecting ends. They've found really clever solutions to the challenging problem of outsmarting wind and water. Call me if you need this information for your project. I'll make you a copy of their great article.

If you don't want to wrestle with tarps, but prefer to work with large planks and to spend nights on your roof during stormy weather, here's another possible resource to consider: I heard somewhere that cedar bark jackets might soon be available at both Eddie Bauer and R.E.I. stores. They're supposed to be really itchy, but shed water almost like duck feathers. There are also rumors floating around about a little shop near Green Lake that has a great deal on duck feathers. Shop around!

Roger Faris is the Director of the Well Home Program at the Phinney Neighborhood Association. The program provides advice, encouragement, tools, and classes for home improvement and repair. Call (206) 789-4993 for information. For the Home Earthquake Retrofit Program, call (206) 382-2159.