The Pottery Roof Leaks

I spent a very long hot day up on the pottery roof last week. The old pottery roofing material is now over 100 years old. I’m not exactly sure how old it is, as I got it 2nd hand off the roof of the old hardware store in Bowral in 1983. The old roof had started to leak after something like 80 years of use. The old corrugated galvanised iron roofing was very well made and lasted well, but the problem with all these old roofs is that the old corrugated galvanised iron sheets could only be manufactured in short lengths back in the old days. I think that the maximum length that could be rolled was something like 8 feet or 2.4 Metres.
The up-shot of this was that all the old roofs had lots of overlapping joints to get the full length of the roof covered. Although the galvanising was good, it did suffer from condensation in the overlap. The outcome of this 80 years of condensation was for the roofing sheets to rust through in the overlapped joints. 
When I was building our new pottery back in 1983. We had just lost the earlier pottery building on the site to fire. Bummer, but onwards and upwards, no rest for the wicked, etc. We needed a new pottery building, the previous one was made entirely from timber that we had put a lot of effort into with planing and polishing, waxing  and so on, so that we could see the lovely woodgrain. Actually, we had been burnt out 7 years earlier when we were renting a place in Dural, 120 km. to the North. We lost that pottery on an intense fire day that took 7 other houses. We were lucky to get out largely unscathed. We managed to save the rented house, but our pottery went up in the inferno. It was all timber too.
So we learnt from our mistakes, recycled timber is cheap and easy to build with, but very flammable. This time we decided to re-build with mud bricks, which we did. But that is another story! It took us 12 months to save the money, make all the bricks and then construct the building. We had no money, and a very small income from one day a week teaching job at the Art School. We had no income from selling pottery, so we had to improvise and ended up building the pottery out of what we could scrounge from the side of the road ‘clean-up’ piles and recycle yards. We managed to scrounge a big truck load of de-commissioned telegraph poles and these made the uprights. We also came across a very large pile of wafer-thin timber scantling off cuts of softwood for free. This became our ceiling. We picked up most of the doors and windows from the side of the road, and I made the rest of the doors.
We were most of the way through the construction and we still hadn’t found any roofing. I was starting to think that I might have to buy some — heaven forbid. I went down to the big hardware store in Bowral to enquire about the costs. I needed just a bit less than 200 Sq. Metres of roofing iron. The cost was outrageous. It really set me back with the shock. It was going to cost more than the total amount we had spent so far to make the entire building. I walked out of there quite disheartened. As I walked out to the parking area, around some temporary protective fencing, CRASH! There was a very loud and quite shocking noise right next to me on the other side of the barrier. Someone had thrown a sheet of roofing iron off the roof of the hardware shop. After gathering my senses, I looked up to see that some workmen were taking the old rusty roof off the hardware shop, ready to replace it. 
I walked straight back into the shop and asked if I could have the old iron off the roof? I was told with certainty that every piece was already spoken for. A dozen local builders had previously put in bids, as soon as they heard that the job was about to happen. I accepted that, but said that I would still like to be considered if there were any bits left over. I left it for the weekend and returned on the Monday and asked what was left for me? I was told that these builders were a busy lot and you can’t expect that they would drop everything to rush in to get their bits of 2nd hand rusty roofing straight away. I reminded them that I was very keen and not to forget that I was putting in my bid for what was left over. I returned every 2nd day for the next week to check on developments. On my first visit on the third week the owner told me to take the f…king lot and I never want to see your face again. Great! I had my roofing for nothing. As all the sheets had rusted through on the overlaps, I simply cut off the rusted 300mm. bits off each end and used the roofing as shorter sheets. That has worked really well for the past 36 years. Now that the roofing is well and truely over 100 years old, the new overlaps are starting to rust through again.


It’s done a sterling job for us for the past 36 years, but it is leaking consistently now whenever it rains, The worst bits leak over Janine’s decorating bench. Fortunately, it hasn’t rained very much, or very often, for the last decade as the global crisis and drought tightens and deepens. The roof still works with or without rusted overlaps on the steepest parts of the roof, but on the most horizontal areas, it has stopped being effective. It has to come off and be replaced. I think it through and decide that I had better prepare well for this job and all it’s likely contingencies, so I buy a big box full of new roofing ’TEK’ screws and a big roll of new, shiny, silver, aluminium sisalation.

Once the roofing sheets are taken off, there is no going back, everything has to go back together. i can’t afford to leave the roof off for any length of time exposed to the elements and weather.
As I start to remove the old roofing screws, I quickly learn two things. Firstly that the roofing screws are just as rusty and worn out as the iron sheeting that they are holding down. Secondly, as I spend an hour or two looking down at my feet, drilling out all the old screws, I realise that my shoes are just as worn out as the roof! I must think about getting some new shoes, but this roof desperately needs attention first. 

Some of the screws are so rusted, that they have no thread left on them, others just snap off, leaving half of the thread embedded in the roofing battens. I start to realise that I’m lucky that the roof has stayed on all these years. I don’t have the resources to replace the whole roof at this stage, it will cost $10,000 to do it all, just for the materials. As it is I’m spending about $1,000 to buy the parts to do this very bad bit now.

I started in the morning and went at it full-tilt for the rest of the day. I didn’t stop for lunch, just drank water and kept going. Janine dragged away all the old sheets as I got them loose and stacked them on the ground, while I worked at removing all the old screws. Some of these were so badly rusted that I had to use a crow bar to lift them up a bit while working at them with the screwdriver in reverse. We worked at it until very late in the afternoon. Janine stacking the new sheets of iron vertically against the guttering at the edge of the shed, so that I could drag them up and into position and screw them down.
Initially, I just put a few screws in each sheet to secure them into position safely. Why is it that just as soon as you roll out 15 metres of sisalation sheeting on a roof, that the wind suddenly blows up from nowhere and blows all the fabric away over the roof? I gather it all up again, roll it up, then roll it out again in place and staple it down as I roll it out. I find that the wind can lift the silver paper up and tear it loose from its staples, so I end up placing bricks on the edges at short, regular intervals, removing them as I get up to them and replace the bricks with sheets of new corrugated iron.  I can see that this is going to be a very long, ongoing job, replacing all of the roof over the next few years.
I end the day working alone as Janine has so many other jobs that she wants and needs to do around the farm. I still have to place all the remaining roofing screws in all the intermediate positions along the roofing battens to hold the sheeting down securely for another 35 years against all that nature can throw at it. I end up using most of all of the box of several hundred screws.

By the end of the day, I climb up and down the ladder several times in relay with all my tools and bits and pieces. I remove the ladder and wind up the electrical cords. I’m too tired to eat, I just lay down on the bed for a rest. I’m glad that I won’t have to do that again for a while. I have leather hard pots wrapped in plastic waiting in the pottery underneath me, but that’s tomorrows job.

This is self-reliance.