Installing Metal Roofing (Or: How to Avoid Buying Fancy Tools You’ll Only Use Once)

Got the harness, got the the tools - all ready to rock.
Got the harness, got the the tools – all ready to rock.
One thing they don’t tell you about building a tiny house is how strange it is to be about 13’5″ feet in the air on a 42-degree-pitch roof, trying to get a roof into place – all the while trying to balance yourself as you work underneath your own two feet.
Roof sheathing (the plywood on the studs), was difficult enough using ladders. But installing tar paper? And then roofing?Better brush up on your pre-school gymnastics lessons.

We unfortunately did not get too many pictures of the process, mainly because Drew and I were both so busy trying to figure who had which hammer and how best to not get tangled up in our roof harness rope. We had a pretty good system going. We bought a roof anchor that many roofers use to attach themselves to a roof for safety in case of a fall. Then we used some harness gear and set it up so we could get around the roof. The harness attachment was mainly a last resort precaution – if we fell, we’d swing instead of landing on the ground 13’5″ feet below. So the majority of the maneuvering was all balance, gymnastics, and focus.

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Yeah, lots of focus.

I’m getting better with heights. After working on the roof for a few weeks, I’m not as freaked out by it. The dormer roof is only 12 degrees, so that one is easier to move around on. It’s very close to sitting on a flat surface. We can exit our skylight opening and reach most of the dormers from there. Since we decided we didn’t want a skylight in our main room under the gables (mainly due to cost), we had to figure out how to work on the gables. If you ever wanted to know, it’s like riding a very big, very pointy, horse.

So my task was laying tar paper on the roof. The way tar papering the roof works is that you start with the bottom layer horizontally along the bottom edge of the roof and layer your way up, with an overlap of about six inches. You do this so any water that hits the tar paper will flow down and off the roof instead of under the next layer of tar paper.
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So Drew, up on a ladder, installed the first layer, and then we attached a 2×6 ledge as a foothold on the end of the roof. Basically a trick we found that roofers use is screwing a 2×4 into the roof to use as a ledge to stand on while working. At first I was skeptical – how much could 1.5 inches really do to prevent my fall – but it proved to be very useful in the end. We worked on both sides, nailing it in with the same roofing cap nails we used earlier for the tar paper on the sides of the house. Once we got to the ridge beam, things got a little tricky. Tar paper tears very easily, even the 30lb stuff we were using, so the less contact I had with it, the better. We basically draped one long piece over the top, nailed the edges, and we were done. We repeated the process with the dormer walls without much trouble.

Next was the metal roofing. We ordered from a local company that pre-cut the roofing into the sizes we needed. That helped a lot. This time, Drew was on the roof.

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We probably need to work on the whole focus thing..
Before we could get to installing the metal roofing, we had some other work to do. First, we needed to create fascia board that would attach to the ends of our rafters along the sides of the house. Then we installed the drip edge along the sides of the fascia, so that rain would have a place to drip off of our house. We later plan on installing gutters too, so they would be collecting the water from this drip edge as well. For the fascia, we bought long pieces of cedar and coated them with 100% linseed oil. Pure linseed oil provides a protective coating that preserves the wood and protects it from water damage, mold, insects, and UV damage. It also helps the wood retain its color. Unfinished cedar (over time) turns grey, because the outer cells of the wood dry up, turn grey, and flake off.
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The fascia board (after we’d installed the metal roofing in this picture). This is along the edge of the gables. A great room window sits below it.

Then we needed to install the drip edge, which sounds easier than it was. There are a couple of layers to it. First, we had to install a metal cleat that the drip edge can slide onto. Then came the drip edge. It was time-consuming and showed little payoff initially, but it helped us get to the next fun part.

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The bottom level of metal is the cleat. Next is the drip edge, which clips into the cleat on the bottom and screwed into the roof on the top. Overlaying that is the roof panel. In this picture, the end of the roof panel has already been bent over the drip edge.

After that, it was time to work with the metal.  We would take each long piece, cut 1″ notches into the corners, and remove those pieces so the metal could later be bent and crimped. We’re supposed to use a fancy metal bending tool, because this part wraps over the drip edge, but we didn’t want to spend the money on a tool we’d use so briefly. So Drew came up with the great idea to take two 2x4s and a couple clamps and make a makeshift bending machine.

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First we cut 1″ notches from the two edges of the metal, so that the flap could bend over and around the drip edge.
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Then we placed a spare 2×4 under the edge along the line we’d just cut.
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Next, we put another 2×4 on top to make a sandwich.
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Then, instead of using fancy metal-bending tools, Drew came up with the idea of putting clamps on the boards and bending the edge down.
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The finished product – his method worked perfectly!

After this, we installed the pieces so that the screw holes were toward the outer edge of the roof. After screwing it in, we’d snap the metal into place and then screw in the next one.

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We started at the cheek walls that separate the dormers from the gables. The first board we installed with gasket screws (pictured). Then we put pancake screws in the holes and then took the next piece of roofing and snapped it over the ridge to make it seamless.
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Here is a picture of the pancake screws before we put the next sheet of roofing over it. (Note, this is on the opposite side of the roof from the last picture).

A note on types of roofing: We decided to use standing-seam metal roofing instead of Maxrib for multiple reasons. For one, standing seam has a longer warranty and is expected to last 40+ years. With Maxrib, the screw holes are exposed, making it so water has a better chance of entering into the holes and damaging the roof. Interestingly, we read that manufacturers often won’t even stand by Maxrib products because the exposed fasteners present a constant liability for water to enter your home. Another great feature of standing seam is its hidden fastener system. If installed correctly, there should be no fastener left exposed to the elements. Therefore it represents a far less likely entryway for water.

The process will get a little more tricky around the cheek walls because there are a few specialized pieces of flashing that we will need to install to make the roof-wall transition safe and leak-free. We’ll keep you posted.

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