Michael Farrell would probably be the first to admit that it takes a very patient, dedicated person to own and maintain a home that’s on the National Registry of Historic Places. As the 30-year resident owner of the Art House (formerly the Elisha Taylor House), a 139-year-old Gothic Revival home in Detroit’s Brush Park Historic District, Farrell has embarked on several remodeling projects.
“There’s never a dull moment,” Farrell said. “It’s like a continuous conversation between you and the house - the house tells you what it needs when it needs it. This house is very special, and it deserves the attention.”
Some of these projects take time to get rolling as homeowners save up for expensive labor and materials and find the right contractor for the job. Making the best choices in each area is crucial, as many historic homes are under the scrutiny of historical preservation commissions, who require restorations to be as accurate as possible.
When the Elisha Taylor House’s original Pennsylvania Slate roof started leaking badly about six years ago, Farrell sought a roofing contractor, a search that quickly became frustrating. One contractor only got as far as putting tarps down over the affected areas before quitting. Another declined after the initial site visit, scared off by the height of the three-story home and its double-pitch Mansard roof. Finally, Farrell found what he was looking for with Right Way Home Services, LLC, a home improvement contractor in Warren, Mich.
Since installing new slate shingles on the roof was cost-prohibitive, Farrell wanted to use an alternative roofing material that captured the classic look of slate. With a recommendation from Right Way Home Services, he chose a mixture of CertainTeed’s Grand Manor and Carriage House asphalt composite luxury shingles in Stonegate Gray. These products and other slate-style CertainTeed luxury shingles had been successfully incorporated into four previous replacements of old slate roofs in Brush Park Historic District.
When placed next to samples of the Elisha Taylor House’s original slate shingles, the asphalt composite shingles were a close match in terms of profile and color. Right Way Home Services presented the proposed new roofing plan to the Detroit Historic District Commission.
“By mixing the Grand Manor and the Carriage House, we were able to demonstrate an accurate replication of a traditional blended slate roof,” said Tim Porcasi, managing member of Right Way Home Services. “The commission was impressed by the look of the shingles and gave us the final approval to use them in the project. These shingles were the only ones we wanted to use because of their high wind resistance ratings. With a roof that high, heavy winds are definitely a concern. I wouldn’t have done this job with any other brand of shingles.”
The next step for the contractor was finding the best and safest way for the crew to access the towering roof and its extra-steep pitch. The roof was too high for ladders, and there was no room to get a boom lift onto the property without tearing up the landscaping. For this project, putting up scaffolding was the best option.
“By the time you get to the top of the roof, you’re a good 40 feet up,” Porcasi said. “We wanted to make sure our workers were safe, so we looked for the best OSHA-approved scaffolding we could find.”
Right Way Home Services began work last December with a crew of 10, led by project manager Patrick Fortress. The crew removed the slate, installed new roof decking and then moved on to replace the home’s integrated gutter system with 24-gauge color-clad steel gutters that have a 25-year Kynar 500 paint finish.
“We would have preferred to use traditional copper valleys and gutters, but the cost was astronomical,” Porcasi stated. “After talking with the homeowner, we agreed that steel gutters and valleys would accommodate our needs at a much more reasonable price.”
In order to accommodate the steep roof and the dormers, the new gutter pieces had to be measured to follow the path of the original gutters, taken back to the contractor’s workshop, bent at the proper angle and returned to the jobsite for installation. The roofing crew also installed black metal open roof valleys to match the black trim of the dormers. Though the replacement of the gutters produced excellent results, it also was the most difficult portion of the project.
“It was such an intricate part of the project, and that’s what made it more challenging,” Porcasi said. “Installing the gutters took longer than we thought. Sometimes, I’d have to split up my crews so I didn’t have the roofers working over the top of the gutter installers.”
Once the gutters were complete, the roofing crew installed a layer of CertainTeed WinterGuard waterproofing shingle underlayment, followed by 50 squares of shingles. All told, the project took 10 days - pretty good, considering the challenging height and design of the roof. Fortunately, the weather cooperated with the crew.
“We kind of got lucky with the weather,” Porcasi said. “We had a period in December and early January, where there really wasn’t a lot of snow or ice, so we were able to get the job done in a timely manner. The worst winter weather didn’t come until February, after we were already done.”
Farrell and the Detroit Historical District Commission are very pleased with the historically accurate appearance of the new roof and the high-quality work and service of the contractor. Farrell has since hired Right Way Home Services to remodel and repaint his home’s gabled dormers and resetting its limestone porch.
“Right Way Home Services did an excellent job - the new roof is absolutely beautiful,” Farrell said. “I prefer to build a lasting relationship with companies whom I know I can depend on because there will definitely be more remodeling projects in the future. I have so much confidence in these guys. They don’t call them Right Way for nothing.”