There’s a Freight Train Sliding Off My Roof!

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

I like my metal roof. I will admit though that a
metal roof can amplify sounds. Our house is a 1 1/2-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.”

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.

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!

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Have you read our new book “Little House Off the Grid” yet? For more information about Cam or his books please visit