Furious, frustrated, fuming...confused! Yep, that about sums up how I'm feeling at the ineptitude of "professionals" after seeing something that I discovered last week while painting our bay window. You know what the strangest thing is? It's not even on our house.

Last week, while up on our lower back copper roof, I was talking to my neighbor about some painting she recently had done (by a good contractor that I had a chance to chat with). During the conversation with my neighbor she said, "Should I be concerned about the nails coming up through the roof?" Puzzled, I asked her which nails she was worried about, and she mentioned that she had seen some coming up while looking our from her back bedroom window.

Both our upper and lower roofs are one large shared area, so I walked over to her roof to see what she was talking about, and I was simply blown away by what I saw.

It's a little difficult to discern from the photo, but yes, your eyes do not deceive you. What you're looking at are sheet metal screws put right through the copper standing seam roof material and screwed right into the wood sheathing beneath. I was FLOORED!

After stammering for a second or two, I got my words together and let her know that someone, likely through a complex combination of stupidity, ignorance, and sheer laziness, has more or less sabotaged her (which is actually "our") roof.

I quickly worked through what had likely happened and came up with a logical (well, logically stupid) and probably correct reasoning for the recent appearance of these screws.

This wasn't always a copper roof, it was actually shingles when we moved in. When it was shingles, it was easy to climb up on this single story roof, place a ladder from the shingles to the upper roof ridge, then climb onto the upper roof from there. Here's a view from our bay window that shows the shingles we once had.

We thought this all worked great until we noticed a significant amount of water working its way up and under the shingles. The slope of this lower roof is too low for shingles to properly shed water during snowy conditions, so the water was damming and backing up under the shingles and into the ceiling of the sun porch. This was actually part of the problem that ended up in our massive kitchen disaster.

Back in 2007, we coordinated with the owners of the house next door to have a new roof installed. I really wanted to do the job myself, but after breaking my collar bone, I was reduced to a sideline role of watching people work on my house and doing something I felt completely confident that I could do. It was not easy, I assure you, especially as I watched the contractors make a mess of the project (I'll fill you in on that another time).

Shortly after having the copper roof installed, and after my wing had completely healed and I was allowed to fly again, I setup the ladder to get up onto the upper roof, as I had always done. What I didn't take into consideration was the new, smooth copper surface.

In physics terms, the coefficient of friction on the copper is far lower than that of asphalt shingles. In English, the copper is WAY more slippery than the shingles. As I ventured onto the upper roof, and when I was nearly at the top of the ladder about 10 feet off of the copper roof and about 20 feet off of the ground below, the ladder started to slide out from under me.

Let me tell you, this is one of the most helpless and horrible feelings in the world. I felt the ladder start to go and I made a split second decision to scamper onto the roof. As the ladder fell I lunged forward to grab the edge of the gutter.  Somehow getting my right foot on the bay window roof, and then using the gutter I had installed as something of a pull-up bar (if it had been the old gutter it would have just pulled off of the house), I somehow hooked the falling ladder with my right foot, spun myself around, found my way onto the upper roof, and grabbed the ladder in time to catch it before it fell all the way down. I wish I had it on video, because I still don't know how it all happened. I just know I had a moment where things could have gone very very wrong...but luckily didn't.

That heart attack inducing event occurred about five years ago, and neither I, nor Wendy who was inside and heard the calamity, have forgotten that incident or how much worse it could have been. I got lucky, I know this and I don't take it for granted.

After that slip and near fall, I put together a brace of sorts that I assemble each time I need to get into the roof. The brace attaches a platform to a few 2x4s that wrap under the roof's eave. It's a great system, very sturdy, and has secured my venture onto the roof dozens of times since my life-flash-before-your-eyes experience of a few years ago.

Alright, back to the original point of this post. It seems the person my neighbor hired to service her AC (which is up on the roof) may have had a similar slipping experience as mine. About a year or two ago I noticed that her gutter had been bent with the crease going away from the house. I've always wondered how that happened, since things like that don't often happen on their own. My guess is that her contractor had a similar fall and ended up hanging on the gutter and bent it. After that incident, I'm willing to bet that he decided on a more wreckless and destructive approach to securing his ladder, and rather than building a brace, getting someone to hold it while he climbed up, or just getting a longer ladder and going up from the side of the house, the contractor decided he'd just screw six sheet metal screws through the roofing.

Can you think of a worse "solution"? I can't. I told my neighbor that I was simply shocked, and if I had seen the idiot doing this, I would have probably flipped out on them. This roof was several thousand dollars to have installed, and it would last 100 years or more with proper maintenance. Yet this moron puts six screws through it at just a few years after it was installed because he didn't bring the right ladder or didn't have a helper to hold the ladder for him?

For a few reasons, I'm blaming the anonymous AC guy. Other than a roofer (and I highly doubt a roofer would ever do something this stupid), the AC guy is the only person I believe she had up on her roof. Beyond this, the guy used sheet metal screws. Who else would have used sheet metal screws other than an HVAC guy? Makes sense to me.

This right here is a prime example of why I don't like to hire people to work on my house. If it's not their trade, they often don't care, and you're left to put the pieces back together when they leave a mess.

So now I'm doing a bit of research for my neighbor to figure out the best way to repair the issue. I contacted a roofer friend to get some advice, and did a little bit of searching on the Internet. Though she could use a little bit of sealant, it's only going to last so long before it starts leaking, and she won't know it's leaking until water is in the house. The best thing will probably involve soldering two small patches directly to the roof, making a fully water tight patch that will last as long as the roof. A more agressive approach would actually be to unhook and completely replace the affected panels, but that's an expensive approach and one not entirely necessary.

Our neighbor will ultimately hire someone to fix it and ensure water isn't seeping into the house, but if she hadn't said anything to me, who knows how much damage it could have done and how long it would have gone undiagnosed? Though a roofer will correct it, and our neighbor will pay for it, the fact that anyone has to spend time or money on investigating and fixing this issue is basically criminal.

What do you think about this ridiculousness? Have you ever hired someone to take care of your house in some way, only to have them damage something unrelated? Or do you think I'm totally overreacting? Let me know how you would handle a similar situation.

Comments 35


8/21/2012 at 10:29 AM
This is just one of the many reasons why I do not like hiring contractors...
So true...so true. I like finding reputable contractors when I need one, but I tend to scare them off since I hover the whole time they're there. It does let me weed out the bad ones by WATCHING THEIR EVERY MOVE! :-)
8/21/2012 at 10:55 AM
When we were putting in a skylight over our stairway last summer at the same time as we were replacing the roof, my carpenter doing the interior work dropped one of the ceiling studs after cutting it and it fell all the way to the stairs below him. I was at home working that day to keep an eye on things and I'm glad I did. The stud cracked the step at the nosing and dented another step. He certainly would have come back if I'd noticed it after he left, but because I was home and heard the noise, I came and saw that the stair was cracked. Fortunately, they replaced it and stained a new tread to match the older ones, but I was still pissed that one of my treads is no longer original.

Ugh, I can only imagine. When we had our gas line replaced the guys were making only good sounds from the basement, but it was still killing me. If I had heard a crash/smash, I'm pretty sure I would have just sort of freaked out.

But hey, at least the skylight ended up looking great. I do feel your pain on the stair breakage. I'll pour one out for your lost tread.
8/21/2012 at 11:00 AM
OMG, that's terrible (and the ladder story is terrifying - I hate heights). I was going to suggest some copper patches. Did you save the old downspout, and would it be a good gauge to hammer out flat and solder into place? (I was thinking that the patina would be a close match.)

The only copper roofing around here is on the state capital building and a couple of the Victorians in the historic neighborhood a few blocks from my house. But I know it's crazy expensive.
It's actually such a small patch that the majority of any cost will be for labor, probably just a few dollars for the copper. But your thought on the patina definitely makes using our gutter an option, great idea.

The copper was an extreme luxury for us, and something we only did since it is so visible to the back yard. There are a few houses in our area that have put on copper over the whole roof. Those must have cost at least $30,000 to do. I can't imagine.
8/21/2012 at 11:08 AM
My heart just sank after reading this post. I've been there myself and know the feeling of frustration and helplessness, especially since there were no witnesses to this crime. The ineptitude never ceases to amaze me when I hear/read about stories like this. And you're not overreacting.

When my husband and I decided to take on the task of remodeling our kitchen, in our previous home, we decided to hire a dumpster for our construction waste. The dumpster was delivered without incident. However, when the time came to have the dumpster picked up the driver must have caught a corner of our deck (adjacent to our driveway) with his truck and as a result, ripped off the deck attached to the side of our house! This occurred while we were at work, so there were no witnesses to this crime. Since this was the entrance we used to get into our home, imagine our shock when we came home to quite a mess. Looking at the evidence, it was clear to us what had happened. After many calls back and forth with the company and not getting anywhere with them, I decided to enlist the help of a lawyer friend. She helped me draft up a letter that I sent on to the company president. The whole matter was quickly addressed and I received a settlement check to help defray the cost of replacing the deck and steps. Subsequently, I found out (through those numerous calls) that the driver picking up the dumpster happened to be the president's son and had some previous driving infractions, including a d.u.i.! I think the president, aware of his son's driving record and through the aid of a carefully crafted letter, probably caved from the guilt.

It's too bad there isn't some way your neighbor couldn't hold the AC company accountable for this damage. I know it would be a long shot, but might be worth a try. I hope it all works out for her!
Oh my, I can't imagine coming home to a deck torn off of the house. That's impressive negligence right there. That's quite fortunate that the company was willing to play ball, even if it did take some effort. This is exactly why it's always good to have a lawyer friend or two.

The biggest problem here is that I'm sort of guesstimating on the HVAC company's role, there's just no telling. Too much time has elapsed (as evident by the corrosion on the screws). I think it will work out, it's just a pain.
Karin K
8/21/2012 at 11:20 AM
I'm sure you can't legally name the HVAC Contractor here, but sending a letter, even just to say "I'm a DIY bogger and I know what you did" might scare them straight. OK, doubtful, but it might at LEAST make them think twice.
Karin K
8/21/2012 at 11:21 AM
Uh, make that "blogger".....at least I didn't add an "o".
I'd name them if I could, that's for sure! Sadly we just don't know who. But I'd gladly write them as strongly worded note letting them know I'm a DIY blogger and booger (it's true, I am one, so your typo wasn't far off)! :-) There's nothing I like better than ranting from a soap box, though I'm sure I would just come off as a loon.
8/21/2012 at 12:12 PM
There are very angry words going by in my head right now. The ignorance of some people is astounding. I'm glad we're not planning on hiring anything out unless absolutely necessary, either.
Like I said in an earlier comment, sometimes you need to hire out, and that's okay. Just watch them like a hawk and don't care if you feel like you're making them uncomfortable. Worst case, you get to catch them when they're making the mistake, not find it afterwards.
8/21/2012 at 1:30 PM
We once had a AC repairman come to fix our AC. The fuses had blown and instead of properly replacing the fuses, he decided a long socket would do the job just as well. It didn't and nearly burnt down the house as a result of his slipshod work ethics.
Ugh, that's just horrible. Glad it didn't actually burn down. What a maroon.
8/21/2012 at 3:50 PM
What a terrible situation. I'm pretty sure I'd document the damage and contact the AC repair company and try and get some compensation for the damage. If they were the only ones up there, then they must have done it.

And you really should figure out a safer way to get on the roof...maybe handrails or something. Otherwise somebody is eventually really going to fall off and get terribly injured.
Our situation and bracing for getting up on the roof is quite secure now. There's no way I'm leaving that to chance after my harrowing experience. I can practically skip onto the roof now (ok, maybe not skip, but carefully climb and feel secure).
8/21/2012 at 7:49 PM
Two reactions -- wow, I can relate to SO many things in this post; and no, you are absolutely not overreacting!!

My husband fell from a ladder several years ago and while he was badly injured it could have been ten times worse (like brain damage instead of just a messed up face and jaw). It was a different situation than yours but it involved a not-adequately secured ladder -- a big mistake he won't make again. I'm glad you've figured out a safer way to do your climbing, and it's a miracle that you didn't fall.

We also put a metal roof on our house a few years back -- not copper but painted steel. Like you we were having problems with the shingles and water intrusion so decided to go for the 75-100 year roof instead of another short-term fix. And yes, it was very expensive and if anybody put nails or screws into it I'd go ballistic. Of all of the people we've hired, this roofing company was the most professional and we're highly satisfied. We could have paid less and almost got rooked into using a less-experienced company, which in hindsight we think would have been a disaster.

We do almost everything ourselves because we're rarely pleased with others' work, and we do watch them closely if we have any doubts about quality or knowledge. We've learned from the few times contractors "claimed" they knew how to do something (usually outside of their narrow area of expertise) that their confidence in their abilities isn't always justified.

Our most expensive and extensive project was the installation of an elaborate water garden. If my husband hadn't managed that project closely, there would have been a ton of mistakes made. As it was he did all of the plumbing and wiring himself to ensure it was done right.
Good, I'm glad to hear from you and so many people that I'm not a nut.

It's frustrating that you have to invest so much of your own time when you hire people to do the work, but if it's the way it needs to be for a job to be done well, I guess you just need to factor it in as an additional expense.
8/21/2012 at 10:10 PM
It is unfortunate, but true, that every time (except once) we have used professional contractors we had some kind of major mistake on our hands. Sometimes we were able to catch it before it affected the end result, sometimes we had to live with it. My husband, bless him, is the original Handy Hubby. But we are not getting any younger, and sometimes we have to hire out-- like the roof :-), or our recent paver patio project. I like your roof set up - it is something like my husband has put together-- I am sure it is safe.
By the way, the one contractor who knew what he was doing, and didn't even cash the first check until the job was done ( 4 days for a kitchen in Northern Virginia) was Joe Silva., a real gentleman and professional. We got him through Tart Lumber, which was recommended by Washington Consumers Checkbook.
Thanks for the good contractor recommendation, those are always very helpful.

I figure, when I do a job myself I make plenty of mistakes, but it's my house, so I make sure to fix them. When a contractor works on the house, they're just as likely to make mistakes, but the question is whether or not they feel the need to fix them. It's not their house, and it's more time they have to spend, so only the good ones do it.
Kathy S
8/22/2012 at 7:01 PM
I admit I'm not a DIYer by any stretch of the phrase (and I mean ANY) which is why I hire certified, licensed professionals. I trust in the authorities who gave them the qualifications. If the contractors do something shoddy I unfortunately won't know about it until I see something wrong like a leak or nails poking out or what have you -- none of my friends or coworkers are DIYers either. Your neighbor is fortunate to have you around!
Your point on not knowing what is wrong with professionals perform the work is exactly the problem that faces millions of other homeowners every day. I don't want to be a pain or sound like I'm always sounding the "Oh know, sketchy contractor" alarm, but sometimes it is necessary.
8/22/2012 at 9:36 PM
You're wise to take extra measures with your ladder. I frequently use our extension ladder to paint our two-story house and go on the roof, and use several safety techniques. If the legs are on the lawn, I pound 2 stakes in the ground next to the bottom rung to ensure the bottom won’t slip out. At the top, I’m always careful to have at least one hand on the ladder, even when painting. Regarding contractors, it always amazes me that even good ones often do some aspect shoddily—often a very easy thing. I just used a reputable roofer who did a great job replacing our whole roof. But inexplicably, one of two bathroom fan ventilation ducts was wedged into the exterior cap, which was off center of the roof hole, in a way that was not airtight. A quick check in my attic afterwards easily revealed how this would leak humid exhaust air into the attic, something many homeowners might not be able to see. My first complaint resulted only in someone duct-taping around the connection (when I could not be home to watch). Finally, after my second complaint, they fixed it the right way—pulling off and centering the exterior cap over the hole, replacing the shingles around the cap, and securing the duct correctly into the cap. Doing it the right way took one person only 30 minutes so why didn’t they do it right the first time?
I just think it stinks that you have to keep on people to do stuff the right way. It's obviously much more effective to do it right, but people tend to be lazy so often. As you know, it's just frustrating for you when you know how it should be done, but it's damaging for people who don't know right vs wrong.
8/23/2012 at 11:25 AM
My complaint actually stems from the closing of our house about a year ago. My new job paid for my wife and I to look at houses so after looking at 20+ houses we picked one and did the entire closing process via email. The inspection report was very thorough and pointed out everything that was wrong ~65 pages (mostly good stuff). Above our covered porch he noted some of the siding was rotting. When the guy hired to replace/paint all rotted siding he didn’t even get on the covered porch to find these problems. I found them after a couple of months of home ownership and I was using my leaf blower to get rid of all the debris on the roof. I blew off a couple of pieces of clapboard siding not to mention two of the window sills were rotted as well (stick my finger through). He left his number with my realtor saying if any problems were found give him a call and he would come out. Well I did just that and he refused to fix it, even after I said I would pay for the materials but not his time, and got super offended when I said he was negligent. I don’t understand why so many contractors lack integrity, can’t show up on time, or refuse to admit that they aren’t an expert at everything. As a result of their exorbitant rates, and spotty workmanship I try and do everything myself, which so far has worked out pretty well.
One think I learned about our home buying process is simple. I will never allow a current owner to hire someone to correct an issue that was identified during inspection. I will always ask for money at closing or money off of the house. Other than the fact that I will probably fix it myself, you just can't trust someone that the current owner is hiring because a top quality job is typically not their concern.
8/23/2012 at 1:54 PM
I'm a pretty avid DIYer and have rarely contracted out things. The one thing I did turn to the "professionals" on was the installations of our new furnace and air conditioning unit. It was installed in February and took them nearly 18 hours to complete the job - lasting fairly late into the night. They pushed through to make sure we had heat pumping through our house on a cold winter's night. As they left, they mentioned that it may smell for a few days as the pipe insulation and some of the sealant off-gassed. It did smell but we took their comment at face value.

Two days later, our gas company was making the rounds doing a random check on meters and noticed a gas smell outside our house. My husband told them we had just had a new furnace installed. They told him to take the baby and go to the neighbor's house while they checked everything. Turns out the installers didn't fit one of the pipes correctly and we had gas leaking both inside and outside of our home. The HVAC company was called out and worked with the gas company to rectify the situtation.. But talk about scary!
HVAC is one of those things that has me totally puzzled. I understand that HVAC can be difficult, but the extent that HVAC pros go to in order to ensure a DIYer doesn't attempt HVAC work is bordering on the absurd. It's almost like they have something to hide, they they're just trying to protect their jobs. I think it's because there is nothing particularly special about it, and they know this issue.

Sure there are certifications, training, etc. But the industry protects them as much as their unions do. HVAC component vendors do not honor warranty issues unless it is installed by a verified contractor (in these cases, verified only means they paid the supplier money for their proprietary training). Often they've made the devices almost plug and play, but they force the hand of the consumer. It would be like a clothing store not allowing you to return a shirt that has had it's sleeve fall off if you don't use someone who has been certified in putting on your clothes for you. In other words, it's ridiculous. And to my knowledge, it's the only trade in the residential market where this is the case.
8/25/2012 at 7:13 AM
What's with the orange staining along all the standing seams? What's the shiny silver stuff at the head of all the seams? An incompatible solder or patch at each seam leaving a galvanic corrosion stain where the water washes around the seams?
I haven't paid much attention to the orange, since it's on our neighbor's side and isn't happening on our side, but I think you're right, it has do with the solder where the roof meets the wall. I insisted on a large bit of copper flashing during the install on our side of the work, so the solder you see doesn't exist on our side of the roof. The roofers that did the whole install made so many mistakes and obviously had no clue about disimilar metal interaction. So disappointing. We may need to contact the original GC about this, as something like this should clearly be something they vouch for.
8/26/2012 at 10:14 PM
Could you just solder-on a copper patch, with just a blow torch, flux, and solder? I would think that this would be the best, longest lasting, and weather-tight solution, although you would SEE the patches.
I think that's pretty much exactly what needs to be done, and is the best and most cost effective solution. I don't think seeing the patches is much concern here, so it's perfectly acceptable.
Andrew Zdyrski
9/11/2012 at 6:18 PM
3/12/2018 at 4:49 AM

It is a true shame when contractors leave properties in such a dreadful state. This is why it is sometimes necessary to put on the gloves, get out the hammer and do some work yourself.

As you touched upon, when selecting roofing materials it is vital that you consider the pitch/slope of the roof. Otherwise, as with these shingles, you may find that the water simply isn't able to flow.

With our roof shingles we always recommend a pitch of 10° of more. Tiles and other roofing sheets tend to require a similar level of slope in order to allow rain, snow and other environmental waste flow off easily.

Thank you for sharing your experience and inspiring others to take on DIY projects themselves. There have been some truly incredible projects take place due to these insightful articles.

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