Raising the Roof at The Elms
Largely hidden from view behind its high parapet walls, a crew of workmen toiled atop The Elms this spring to accomplish a job that won't be repeated for at least another hundred years: putting a new protective roof on the century-old structure. After years of repeated patchwork to repair leaks caused by decades of expansion and contraction in the harsh New England weather, the time had come for a more comprehensive and cost-effective solution. After much research, architects Mesick, Cohen, Wilson and Baker, working with Properties Director Curt Genga and his staff, came up with one: lead.
Sheet lead, to be more specific. The new roof on The Elms consists of nearly 60,000 pounds of sheet lead, rolled out and welded together to form an impermeable barrier against the rain, snow, heat and cold. The use of sheet lead for roofing has been commonplace in Europe for centuries, but remains fairly innovative in this country. Prior to deciding on it, Genga researched not only its durability, but also its environmental impact, clearing its use with state environmental experts. The lead sheeting is covered with a walking pad consisting of concrete laminated to Styrofoam, which provides an additional protective barrier.
As contractors began stripping off the old roof covering, patching holes and installing a rubber liner, Preservation Society staff worked on installing a dozen new drains in the roof. Stainless steel pans were custom-made and installed in the drain wells; the original cast iron pipes, cracked and broken from decades of freezing and thawing, were replaced with 70 foot long liners made of flexible and long-lasting PVC tubing. That tubing carries rain water off the roof, through the building and down into the extensive drainage system that runs under the property and out to Spring Street and beyond.
The new roof will be especially durable, says Genga, because it is an engineered system. "Traditionally, the failure of something ike this happens in the seam between the sections. We've come up with a seam that won't fail. It's welded instead of being soldered. That makes it stronger. It's not inconceivable that this roof could last for more than a hundred years."