This American classic was built before ventilation, and even insulation.

Back before the Civil War broke out, the famed Shaw family of Boston would take the train up to northern Maine to relax at their seaside farmhouse. Governor Shaw and his son Robert spent many summer days at the Shaw home in Stueben, Maine.

For you history buffs, the Shaw home was the family summer retreat of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of Massachusetts. Colonel Shaw was immortalized in the movie Glory as the inspired leader of the famous Civil-War-era Massachusetts 54th regiment. This was our country's first all-African-American regiment, a regiment whose bravery set an example for all Americans.

While walking around this beautiful site one gets the feeling that nothing here has changed since those times. The ocean still brings cool summer breezes, the neighbors still look after one another, and the world seems far away and simpler. This is picturesque Stueben, Maine, a comfortable five and a half hours north of Boston and one hour north of famous Bar Harbor.

This American classic was built before ventilation, and even insulation. While historic and beautiful, it posed a real challenge for a roofing contractor to modernize the roofing system without altering the historic original architecture.

The home was built back in 1810 and has been kept completely intact. Its original designers used hand-hewn local trees as framing, and used local 14- to 16-inch-wide elm hardwood roofing deck boards. The frame was installed post-and-beam style with the deck boards installed vertically on the roof — instead of horizontally across the roof. The original frame is still intact with the hand-driven mortise and tenons strongly holding the rafters to the main roof beam. The Shaw family descendants still own and care for the home.

Needless to say, this roof system needed several key modern updates. The original decking is now 191 years old. There was no ventilation installed, and no insulation above the lived-in attic space.

Haywood Kingsbury of Mid State Contracting welcomed these challenges. As he explains, “Up here we get a lot of roofs like this one — we’re experts at modernizing these old homes.” I had the pleasure of working a couple days on this project with Mid State.

The Problems

After one trip to the attic, we knew that the roof deck had to be replaced; it had reached its end. We also knew that there was extreme heat loss through the roof. The attic is a finished and working part of the home. There was nothing holding in winter heat. There was also no ventilation anywhere, not even gable-end vents. The problem was, how were we going to insulate the attic, add a new deck, and ventilate the new system when installed?

The first solution was new decking. Kingsbury decided to use a roof deck/insulation product to add both insulation and ventilation space. The Hunter Panel Company manufactures an isocyanurate/plywood deck. “This is great stuff to work with,” explains Kingsbury. “There’s a 2-inch area for air flow with a new plywood deck installed by the manufacturer, one piece — all ready to go.”

The next solution was to install new intake venting. At this point, we knew that we could vent the new roofing system at the ridge. Cutting in a ridge vent would be easy. But intake ventilation presented more problems. The original design had no soffit area. “We’ve tried to use vented drip edges up here before, but snow and ice often finds a way through them,” explains Kingsbury.

With the help of GAF ventilation experts, Mid State Contracting devised a simple and effective intake ventilation solution. “We saw that with the use of the Cobra Fascia Vent, we could install a continuous intake vent that would never have the problems of snow and ice penetration that we ran into with other intake vents,” Kingsbury explains.

Putting it All Together

Step One: Complete Tear-off.As you can see in the photos, the crew from Mid State removed the old roof. “We always remove old roofing, regardless of how many layers are there, we just can’t be sure a roof will last without starting from scratch.” As we figured, the old deck had seen better times. “This roof deck probably had supported six or more previous roofing installations. Even though it’s strong old hardwood, its time had come,” claims Kingsbury.

Step Two: New Insulated Deck. At this point, the crews installed the Hunter insulated panels. “This step was made much easier by using these prefabricated insulated deck boards. We just installed them right over the top of the old deck, making sure we fastened them to the old rafter boards,” says Kingsbury.

Step Three: Intake Vent. The fascia vent was installed at the eave, directly on top of the old fascia board. Installed across the entire system’s edge, the new intake vent is positioned to act as air intake for the entire insulated deck system, and the entire roofing system. “As GAF Master Elite Contractors installing the Golden Pledge Ltd. Warranty, we know that we have to properly ventilate the roof for the system to really last,” says Kingsbury. “We always ventilate, we simply want the best for our customers.”

Step Four: New Fascia and Trim Woodwork. At this point, the talent of Mid State’s crew came through. “We needed to keep the architectural integrity of this home,” says Kingsbury. “Our carpenter was instrumental in ensuring that the new system looked as close to the original as possible.” As seen in the photos, the carpenter carefully crafted a brand new fascia board that covered the fascia vent and would act as the new fascia. “It took some crafting, but once we found the perfect new fascia dimensions, we knew we had solved a major portion of keeping this home’s architectural integrity.” As you can see, this detail absolutely ensures that water, snow and ice cannot penetrate this system at the eaves. “There’s no storm going to get through this edge detail,” ensures Kingsbury.

Once the new fascia was installed, the carpenter went to work and matched the rake side trim. “We’d raised this roof’s profile by more than 2 inches above the old trim at the rakes,” Kingsbury explains. “So, like the fascia, we needed to install new trim work at the rakes.” By carefully mitering all of the corners of new woodwork, both the new intake vents and the new raised decking were molded into this home’s original profile with virtually no way of seeing the changes.

Step Five: Wider, More Durable 8-inch Drip Edge. To bridge the new small gap between the new fascia boards and the new deck, we installed a wider, 8-inch drip edge on this roof. As seen in the photos, this wider more durable drip edge perfectly covered the fascia and decking transition area.

Step Six: Roofing Northern Maine Style. After clearing the hurdles faced by the carpenter, these seasoned roofers could get to work weatherproofing for their harsh climate. “We can get a couple of feet of snow here every winter, but this house is so close to the ocean that ice storms are actually more common than snowstorms,” says Kingsbury. With that in mind, these roofers believe in extra waterproofing steps all over the roof. “With warranty, GAF asks us to install a leak barrier like Weather Watch in several key places, like at chimneys, around plumbing vents, at any sidewalls, and of course, at the eaves. The funny thing is we were doing those things ourselves before GAF even suggested them to us, our weather here called for it.”

The owner of this home, with Mid State’s guidance, chose to use the GAF Slateline shingle. “We felt it offered a great historical look, just like real slate. But we definitely wanted the 110-mph wind warranty on this coastal home,” explains Sally Harrison.

Step 7: Ridge Vent. Finally, the Cobra Ridge Vent is installed, giving this old farmhouse a way to vent off the excess heat and moisture. Mid State chose the low-profile vent to keep the roof’s ridge profile as close to original as possible. “Other ridge vents would have stood out too much on this home,” explains Kingsbury.

As you can see from the photo, there is virtually no way to tell that there was significant carpentry done at the trim edges of this home. But you can certainly tell that the new roofing system was well designed, professionally installed, and ready to withstand all the challenges that mother nature throws at a home on the coast of northern Maine, just a few hours drive from Canada.

Somehow you get the feeling that Colonel Shaw would be impressed that the integrity of his family’s summer place is still intact, while the inventions of modern times are keeping the old place warmer and safer for generations to come. Jan Whalen, the home’s current owner and a great granddaughter in the Shaw family, is completely satisfied. “We’re ecstatic with the look of this new roof, even some of our traditional-minded neighbors have commented on how ‘original’ it looks,” she says. “Here in Stueben, Maine, that means a lot!”