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Six: The Roof

Spider Lake Crash Pad Series 1

Before we moved forward with the cabin build, we knew we needed a roof on it before winter.  We contacted many, many roofers, but could not get anyone to talk to us.  There were two reasons.  1.  There had been hail storms in the area in the Spring and everyone for miles was getting a new roof. 2.  Part of the Crash Pad had a flat roof, and no one wanted to do it.

The conversation we had with the architect during the design phase about not wanting a flat roof was coming back to haunt us.  When he first showed us the design, that was one of my first comments “We don’t want a flat roof in Northern Wisconsin”.  But he convinced us, and we agreed, that a flat roof over the bedrooms would be more cost effective.  Less square footage equals less money, meaning staying closer to our budget (that was the theory).  Also, flat roofs are not really flat they have a slope built in that you don’t see.  In our case you wouldn’t see any slope because of the parapet wall surrounding the edge of the roof.  Flat roofs are on almost every commercial building, so again in theory it all made sense.  And lastly, theoretically a membrane roof would be cheaper than the metal roof we wanted on the pitched part of the cabin over the living area.  It all made sense and we hesitatingly agreed to move forward.

If we could turn back time, we would have never moved past that design conversation and instead pushed for a pitched roof.  But we can’t.

Even though we were having no luck finding a roofer, we thought the following Spring we would be able to.  So we decided to erect the cabin with a contingency plan to get us through until Spring.  Kurt had been talking to people involved with our project, and who had built in the area, about how to protect the roof for the winter and felt we had a workable solution.  Over the pitched roof we would have an ice and snow shield layer installed to protect it.  Over the flat roof Kurt and I would have to get up there and build the sloped roof ourselves in order to protect it for at least the first winter.

Our SIP builder put on the “ice and snow shield” over the pitched roof.  It was up to us to take all the research Kurt had done on sloped flat roofs and get up there and get it done.  Time was not to our benefit, nor was the weather, but we had no choice.  Rain and melting snow was already coming in the building.

We naively thought we would be able to use the cabin over the winter because it would be enclosed and we would have a wood stove.  We were wrong.  The only time we spent at the cabin over the winter was for a day at a time almost weekly all winter long (driving up and back for a total of 6 hours round trip) in panic mode just trying to get this little place to survive its first winter.  It started with using a wet dry vac to suck up the water coming through the roof that was all over the floor (gallons!) and ended with us finally having to shovel multiple feet of snow off the roof continuously until Spring.

Immediately after the Crash Pad was erected, Kurt and I were there alone for a planned week of building the sloped flat roof.  We had already endured our first snow during build week, and were nervous about the next snow coming.  We had already seen how much water would come in the building without a roof on, and we were certain if we didn’t get up there and cover the flat roof, the cabin would be a total loss by Spring.  We knew that would be the end of the dream and a financial disaster.  The stakes were high, and so were the nerves.  But we make a good team, and we know how to dig in when the work needs to get done.

On October 18th the SIP crew finished the final install of windows and doors in the morning and were gone by noon.  Meanwhile, Kurt and I had set up the compound mitre saw.  I received a tutorial since I never took shop class in high school and had never used a saw like that in my life.  Then we got to work on me cutting up the wood, and Kurt building the parapet walls.

It was 23F the morning we started, and the only saving grace of the week was by the end of it the temps were in the 70s.  At least one positive!

After the parapets were up, we progressed to figuring out how and where exactly to build the slopes.  It involved figuring out heights needed with two by fours so that they graduated down towards the scupper (An opening we left in two places between the parapets where the water is directed away from the roof).  We also had to figure out how to slope the corners to meet up with the other slopes and how that would direct the water away from the building and out the scupper.  At one point after discussing it and feeling stuck, I spent a good amount of time on the phone with the architect who tried to figure it out with me.  But he also isn’t a roofer - so it was a bit of the blind leading the blind.  In the end we were getting the math to work and were ready to go to the next step, laying down big sheets of CDX plywood.  The goal was to then put on a special adhesive, that we would then roll the roof membrane onto.

It was on October 21, 2022 of that week ~ a Thursday, we were almost done…  that our neighbors Scott and Stacey from down the road rode their bikes up the driveway.  We were up on the roof and I walked over to say hello.  They asked how it was going and I said ‘horrible’.  We explained what we were doing and they felt our pain.  Turns out years back they had a metal roof put on their new home that was incorrectly installed and they had to tear the whole thing off.  But they had found a good roofer and recommended them highly.  It was Paul’s Sheet Metal in Rice Lake (a town about 1 ½ hours away).  After Scott and Stacey rode away, I called Pauls’s immediately.  I had to leave a message, so we crossed our fingers and kept working.

Not long after, Paul’s called me back.  Miracle of miracles they said they would take a look at our project.  They said they had to be in the area that Saturday to pick up something and could stop by.  We met them on that Saturday morning (October 23, 2022), they took a look, and said they would help us!  We couldn’t believe after so much trial and tribulation we FINALLY had a roofer at the 11th hour.  And we will forever be grateful for the cycling community near the Crash Pad for always being so welcoming, kind, and helpful.  Without Scott and Stacey having rode up our driveway at THE moment we needed them too, who knows how that first winter would have gone.

We felt secure in our conversation with Paul’s, but they said they would need us to rip out the sloped roof we had almost finished.  They would start fresh (and do it right).  Luckily they said they could use our parapet walls, so all was not lost.

Kurt and I only had 24 hours left of that week to finish up any work because we had to get back to work the following week.  So up we went on the roof to demo 90% of the work we had done that week.  Bittersweet, but 100% worth it knowing we had someone coming behind us to do it right!

One thing we did not realized until Paul’s asked us, was that we needed the wood stove pipe installed through the sloped roof before they could roof that part. So off we went to purchase a stove. Unfortunately, because of the explosive building in our rural area, the stove install could not be done in time for the roofer’s to roof that until the following Spring or Summer! So our stove sat on the showroom floor for months, and the south pitched side of our roof would not have a roof until 2023. It also meant we would have no heat source for the entire winter.

When we got back to Minneapolis, we received the price quote from Paul’s and were devastated. The bid for the flat part of the roof was three times what we had expected, and way over budget. We did not have the cash on hand, but knew we absolutely needed a roof on before winter. That gut sinking feeling of remembering back to that conversation with our architect about not thinking a flat roof was a good idea came back to haunt us. But here we were.

After working with our financial planner on a game plan, we signed the contract and got on the roofing schedule. And then we had to patiently wait. The unusually early and snowy winter kept coming. But amazingly some time before Thanksgiving of 2022 there were two great weather days that allowed the roofers to come install the membrane over the flat part of the Crash Pad (but not the metal cap until Spring), and metal roof on the north side of the pitched roof. On our trip up on November 26, 2022 we were so relieved to see this:

And so she sat like this until early June of 2023 when finally the wood stove pipe was installed, the siding had been put on, and the finish work was finally completed on the roof.

A long winter of stress was finally over!

Would we do it again? Absolutely not!

Are we glad it is done? Absolutely.

For more to the story, watch the video above.

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Cabin Stories
These are our stories about building our cabin in Northern Wisconsin.