November 03, 2015

Rooftop Victory

Rooftop Victory
By John R. Greenwood

I recently read one of Jon Katz's Bedlam Farm posts about the trials and tribulations of a common home repair. He had a tight storm window and wanted to fix it on his own. It was a post about weighing dollars against sense, learning versus surrendering . In the end it was the desire for independence that prevailed. Jon's story inspired me to send him one about a recent home repair of my own. These are stories about home improvement and self improvement. Not just learning how-to's but also learning about weighing capabilities against common sense. I find myself in a constant tug of war between wanting to do something on my own or being smart enough to acknowledge my limitations and ask for help. Sometimes the latter proves to be the more courageous choice. 

But not today...

Here is the letter I wrote Jon. As an author, teacher, and mentor his three word response to my letter was; "Share the story."

So, here it is:

Jon, I just read your post about planing the storm window on Maria’s Studio. It made me smile and at the same time I wanted to help. Knowing that’s not something you readily embrace I thought I’d share a quick story about something similar that happened to me. We had a new gas furnace installed around the time you and I first met a few years ago. The new furnace is vented with plastic pipe that runs out of the cellar and through the side of the house. This eliminated a need for the old chimney. Because the chimney extends up through the center of the house it isn't something easily removed. We simply left it the way it was. The problem is now we have this large opening running up through the center of the house. It was an open invitation to bats, squirrel’s, birds or anything else looking for a nice quiet place to set up camp. My plan was to cap it off with a cement cover. That was several years ago.

I’ve spent the majority of this summer working on my home and not much else. Fall was already fading. I was determined to get that chimney capped if it was the last thing I did in 2015. More than once I picked up the phone to call a contractor, only to hang up before anyone answered. I was a grown man with big shoulders and enough home repair experience to do this myself. My only fear was climbing on the roof. My agility and flexibility has left the building along with some testosterone. But, I’ve been trying to get back into exercise mode and my courage was abnormally high this past Monday. I left work early and set off on a mission. I drove to Home Depot and bought a $3.00 16”x16” cement paver and a tube of masonry adhesive and headed home. I changed my clothes and got the ladder. I collected a hammer, caulking gun, the paver, and my courage and headed to the rooftop. 

The first thing I had to do was hammer the center flue out and level off the top of the chimney. My adrenaline was pumping as I wailed on that cement like John Henry burying a railroad spike. It took a while but I finally had a nice smooth surface to set the cap on. I filled the caulking gun with the tube of adhesive and emptied it around the top of the chimney. The cement cap covered the opening like a special order. I let out a sign of relief and looked down below for someone to share my victory with. 

Nope, I was on my own.

Now I had to get back to that ladder without falling off the roof. A few years ago I would have walked down the roof like a Wallenda and climbed down. That ship had sailed. This time I was shaking and skittish. I backed down the roof like a toddler backing down a set of stairs. I got to the ladder tossed my tools to the ground and made my decent. When I finally stepped off the bottom rung I gave a private little fist pump and let out a hearty, “Yes!”

Minutes later I was on the back steps sipping a cold Miller Lite and enjoying the falling leaves. It was then that I realized just how great life is. It simply boils down to how you savor it. On this warm October day I sipped a little rooftop victory. I didn't break any windows, tools or body parts.

Cost of a contractor to do the same job = $200+???
Cost of a cement cap and tube of adhesive = $10
Savings by risking life and multiple limbs = $190? 
Being able to check one more thing off an endless list = "Priceless"

Yours truly,


  1. I love this post. As a woman that has lived alone for some time I know the anxiety that can raise your blood pressure in making some repairs. But I always try to fix it myself before calling in the fix-it man (or woman). However, my ladder climbing days are gone and so I resolved all my repair problems by moving into an apartment. -- barbara

  2. Ha. Love this. My Dad was still climbing the roof and cleaning the chimney through his 70's - maybe early 80's. Not sure. He wouldn't say!