There’s a Freight Train Sliding Off of My Roof!

By Cam Mather

Last night a 747 landed on my roof. Or at least that’s how it sounded. But first, some background.

As we were preparing to move in to our century-old farmhouse (it was built in 1888), we were passing around some photos at a social gathering. Someone at the gathering took one look at the metal roof and said, “You’re going to hate that metal roof!” They suggested that we wouldn’t be able to sleep during rainstorms. Well, turns out we love the metal roof, and nothing sounds nicer than a heavy rain on a metal roof. Especially since the rain is either watering the garden or filling up the pond. I love rain!

When we first came to look at this house, the metal roof was a mess. The green paint was flaking off and there were large patches of rust. The previous owners arranged to have the roof painted, as a condition of the sale, before we moved in. But in no time, the paint was flaking off again and so we knew we needed to do something about it. We didn’t know whether or not we should completely replace the roof or just fix up the existing one. We had a couple of contractors look at it and they both suggested that since it was the original “tin” roof, we shouldn’t replace it. They pointed out how thick the metal is and said that none of the new metal roofs would be anywhere near as thick. They asked if it leaked, and at the time it did not, so they both suggested that it was best to leave it in place and fix it up.

Luckily our neighbor Ken knew of a company that did sandblasting and painting, so we hired them to work on our roof. First they sandblasted off the many layers of old paint and rust and took it right back to the bare metal. Then they sprayed on a layer of epoxy primer, and then a couple of layers of good quality paint. What a difference. Years of crappy paint over crappy paint that just flaked off finally came to an end.

Now the roof looked great, but there was a new problem. The sandblasting process not only removed all of the old layers of paint, but it also removed the many bits and pieces of “roof patch” in all of the various places where old chimney holes had been patched. During the first rain after our new roof paint job we discovered some new leaks in the roof.  But really, when you live in an old house, what’s a rain storm without the musical “drip drip drip” of a leak?

So we began the process of trying to patch up the new leaks. It took a few different tries by a few different people, but finally our friend Greg was able to slap enough patching material on to stop the leak. At least in one spot… we need to ask him back to patch up a new leak in a different part of the roof.

I have always been attracted to metal roofs. There is a feeling of permanence with a metal roof. I can never figure out why country folk, who can usually least afford it, often choose to install a metal roof even though they are more expensive. I think it’s because they last so much longer, and country people have roots. They have permanence. They plan on being around in that home long enough to get their money back.

I often think about some of the realities of peak oil, and these images of decrepit neighborhoods are perhaps a glimpse into the future.

Check out the roof. The shingles are often one of the first things to deteriorate. Asphalt shingles are going to be the “Achilles heel” of many homeowners in the future. They are made of petroleum products. Lots of petroleum. And they never seem to last as long as the manufacturer suggests they will. On our house in suburbia, the 20-year shingles that we used on our roof started to look kind of ragged after only 10 years. So what happens when oil hits $200/barrel and no one has any money left after buying gas for their vehicle to replace their roof shingles? Or $300/barrel?

I like my metal roof. I will admit though that a metal roof can amplify sounds. Our house is a 1-½ story, which means it has an upper floor, but no attic. So there isn’t much space between my head and the roof. As I sleep in my upstairs bedroom, the angled ceiling is right above my head with just a layer of drywall and insulation between the metal roof and me.

During the winter, snow builds up on our roof. Then eventually we get a warm spell and gravity being what it is, the snow starts sliding down. I think of the theories on what’s causing the rapid deterioration of glaciers in places like Greenland. Many of the glaciers sit on rock, and warm weather creates lakes, which trickle down to the glacier base, lubricating the rocks so that the glaciers can slide off into the ocean more easily.

And so it is at our house. The weather warms up, often accompanied by rain, and the “glaciers” that have formed on our roof, slide downwards. And they do it quickly, without warning. And man, are they loud! They are deafening. When hundreds (thousands?) of pounds of ice and snow go racing down a metal roof it sounds like a freight train is suddenly in my bedroom… for about 5 seconds.

Sometimes it breaks off in smaller chunks and that noise is manageable, but sometimes it all just goes in one fell swoop. I have a theory that the big breakaways tend to happen at night, when I’m in bed, often in a quasi-dream state where my brain can temporarily incorporate the sounds of a 747 jumbo jet crashing into my home like a special effects scene from “Inception.”

Is it enough to get me to move? Nope. Does it scare the crap out of me? Yup. Can I see an upside to it? Well, it’s just life with a metal roof that has a steep pitch. Our guesthouse has a metal roof but it’s not as steep and it’s much newer and has screw heads sticking up, which seems to make it less slippery. The metal roof on the guesthouse never has big avalanches like the roof on the house. But it, like the roof on the house, will be around for decades. I know that the roof on the house has been around for a century. And I like that permanence, because it’s my last house.

Metal roofs are also great because I can tell exactly when Santa has landed. The kids can sleep through it, but I’m a light sleeper so when a sleigh and 8 reindeer land on my roof, I know it’s just about time to get up and check out my loot!

* * * * * * *

Have you read our new book “Little House Off the Grid” yet? Order your copy from our website; Let us know if you want your copy autographed!

5 Responses to “There’s a Freight Train Sliding Off of My Roof!”

  • Cathy:

    My husband and I are both Sheet Metal Workers and we too love metal roofs…actually metal siding too. Make sure you get a reputable contractor and understand the material you are installing. Thee best is a copper roof for beauty, life and durability. All metal expands and shrinks with heat and cold, so make sure you have expansion joints and attachment. If taken care of.. they will last longer than we do.

  • We also look forward to the day when we will upgrade to a metal roof. Definitely appreciate that they will last longer then me…plus it’s just cool to have your own glacier!

  • Deb:

    My parents recently replaced their shingles with a metal roof. they love it and it looks great!

  • I am in love with metal roofs and hope to have one someday soon to replace our asphalt shingles. Your story reminds me of an infamous day a few years ago. I was riding a horse in an indoor arena and I am not a good rider by any stretch of the imagination. It was winter and the inevitable happened as per your story – a load of snow came screetching down like a 747 – the horse went wild and I went flying landing flat on my back in the dirt with the wind knocked out of me. Whoohoo what a ride!

  • Rick:

    You’re right, metal roofs are great! They’ll out last asphalt, they don’t contain toxins, so they’re good for rain water collection. I plan to get a standing seam metal roof for my place – yes, they cost more, but they will last 50+ years. It will be my last roof. 🙂

Subscribe to this Blog!
To receive a notification whenever a new post is added, please provide your email address!
Do you enjoy this blog? Why not show your appreciation with a donation? Big or small, we are grateful for them all!
Find Us on YouTube!
Do You Shop at Amazon?
If you use this link to access the amazon website, we will earn a very small commission on anything that you purchase. (For, use this link first and then link through to the Canadian site from here.)
For information about upcoming workshops at Sunflower Farm please use the pull-down Workshop tab above. Hope to see you soon!
About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
Posts from the Past
Mother Earth News
Many of you found this blog through our writing on Mother Earth News. Use this link to subscribe to the magazine and I will receive a small commission, which helps me to pay for this site! Thanks! Here's the link to use;