Roofing Material: A Weighty Decision!

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I remember one time as a kid when a great-uncle told me about the historic New England turkey drives. As I listened open-mouthed, he told me that New England farmers of the 1800s used to join up in the fall to collectively bring all the turkeys they had raised down to Boston. It was before the days of the interstate and refrigerated trucks, and as he recounted, they would shepherd thousands of turkeys across the countryside over a number of days.

vermont-wild-turkeys

The turkeys would collectively roost on the ridges of country barns every night. “And that, my friend, is why so many Vermont barns have big sags in the ridge line – it was the weight of all those fat turkeys on their way to market!”

To this day I am not totally sure if he was pulling my leg completely about the “historic turkey drives,” but one thing is for sure: there are indeed many historic barns with saggy roofs. In our voyages around New England viewing barns, we very often find sway-backs. That is, buildings where the roof has sagged dramatically under the weight of slate.

The history of our slate industry

Green Mountain Timber Frames has its base of operation right on the edge of a slate valley and it is fascinating to think about the interplay of geography, geology and population movements as it relates to this industry. Slate first gained attention in our area around 1834. The first known barn to receive a slate roof in our area was in 1848. By the end of the 1800s, the slate industry in our valley was booming, bringing in groups of skilled quarry workers from Wales, Czechoslovakia, Poland and many other parts of the world where people had experience with slate.

Before this, our barns were roofed using hand-split cedar shakes.

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Hand split shakes – image courtesy of http://www.nps.gov

Builders would cut cedar logs into 30 to 36 inch lengths and then split them into shingles using a tool called a froe. In some places where there were not readily available streams for early water powered sawmills, builders would forego roof boards completely. Instead, they would heavily brace the rafter system to make it ridged, and then would install strips of wood called purlins spaced up to 36 inches apart. They would then apply long hand-split cedar shakes directly to the purlins.

From cedar to slate

Cedar is a natural, light, and wonderful roofing. Like the planking on an old wooden boat, it would have large gaps when dry. As soon as the first rain drops soaked in however, the cedar would swell and shed the water beautifully!  However, cedar roofs last only a few decades. As the cedar started to fatigue on our earliest barns, farmers began to replace it with slate. What could be better than a local product that will last as roofing for 200 years? What farmer really has the time to replace cedar every few decades?

There was just one little problem…cedar shakes weigh about 400 pounds per 100 square feet. Slate, on the other hand, weighs as much as 1,000 pounds on that same roof surface! On a typical 30 x 40 barn, this means that the new roof weighed as much as 9 or 10 tons. For a barn designed for a lightweight roof, trouble came a-visiting, especially when the heavy Vermont snows also piled high on top of the slate.

before-and-after-barn-transformation

How does geography fit into this?

Here at GMTF, we have recently viewed a number of barns in northern Vermont. These structures were far from the slate quarries and were thus more likely to receive roof makeovers with multiple generations of cedar, followed by lightweight metal roofs (once that industry came into full swing.) We find that, unlike with slate, many more of these northern barns survived with roof-lines in tact.

How do we restore these barns?

There are several building techniques that we use to rehab a barn that was built for cedar rather than our modern heavier insulated roofs.

We find that the old barns with ridge beams faired much better over the past couple of centuries.

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This 1790s frame received slate mid-life, yet look how straight the roofline remained because of the 5-sided ridge beam!

To further strengthen a ridge beam roof system, we sometimes add vertical posts going from heavy timbers to the ridge beam. This transfers the weight straight down and minimizes the outward thrusting forces that otherwise can push the eve walls out.

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In this historic barn, there are posts going up to the ridge beam to further strengthen the structure.

 

As builders became aware of the weight issue, they often added a “queen system.” This is a structural system that picks up the weight of the rafters at mid-span and transfers this weight down to the heavy girt timbers and posts. On many of our oldest barns, we use vintage timbers to create this type of a system.

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This  “queen system” helps to support the rafters.

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Queen systems come in many shapes. This one uses vertical posts rather than angled.

Another method we use to beef up the rafter system is to add collar ties to the rafters. These horizontal timbers create a triangle within each pair of rafters, which is one of the strongest geometrical shapes in nature.

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We installed these old-new collar ties to help stiffed the roof on this North Hero, VT frame.

How can we repair slate fatigue in place? 

On a recent project, we were asked to help prepare the structure of an 1860s house for a new roof. The builders had sized their rafters for a light roof and then installed slate. The sag was tremendous. We did not want to disturb the original plaster of the ceilings beneath the rafter system. Our solution, after the slate was removed, included first adding collar ties in the attic.

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New collar ties stiffen these old, undersized rafters.

Next, we screwed 2 x 4 rippings over the top of the existing rafters and snapped straight chalk lines.

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We used a string with chalk on it to snap a straight line

Here is how it looked after we used this technique on all the rafters:

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Making all these curved shims made us consider going into the wooden boat building trade!

Next, we put new plywood over the whole roof and it was ready for roofing!

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Ready, set, and on goes a new roof!

Restored slate roof by Green Mountain Timber Frames

The finished project has a much flatter and straighter roof.

Conclusion

It is so interesting, as we travel around New England looking at barns, to imagine the various economic, geographical and sociological forces that all played a role in barn designs! We are grateful to have learned from the craftsman of the past who figured out how to properly build roof structures to withstand the various forces that material and weather throw at them.


Want to live in your very own historic barn?
Let us know!

802.774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

  • To learn more about the fascinating history of slate, check out the fantastic Slate Valley Museum in Granville, NY.

The Amos Hodsdon House Needs a New Owner

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We at Green Mountain Timber Frames have a friend and fellow “restorationist” and we are very excited to be collaborating with him on a new project. It’s an incredible opportunity to preserve the “Amos Hodsdon House,” built in 1837.

1904 Hodsdon postcard without text cape house green mountain timber frames

Ben’s story

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Meet Ben Heywood, center

Meet Ben – An Expert in Restoration

Ben Heywood moved into the area a few years ago after a career of preservation and restoration work in the Cape Cod area. Since moving to Vermont, he has become a friend as well as a consultant on some of our projects. He has aided us in assessing the fine details of houses dating from the 1800s. He has a wealth of knowledge regarding trim, window and door styles and the dating of buildings. He has done incredible work restoring original entryways, windows, and cupboards. On a recent weekend visit, I asked Ben how he got interested in restoration.

“I was born in Gardner, Massachusetts, in 1951. There were dozens of abandoned 18th and early 19th century houses in a 40 or 50 mile radius. In the course of many Sunday family rides in the station wagon, my father would drop me at these so I could snoop around. It was arranged that I’d be picked up about a half hour later. All kinds of different architecture… it was great! It took no time at all for me to understand the difference between the handcrafted specimens and the numerous postwar boxes popping up everywhere. I also bought and devoured all the Eric Sloane books by age 16. All this sent me in the preservation direction.”

Ben’s First Home Restoration

Ben moved to Falmouth and purchased his first “vintage” house in 1978 for the price of $1! It was a circa 1815 three quarter cape with a center hall and three fireplaces. It had the original doors, wainscot, finish trim and floors. As Ben told me, “I assembled some buddies and had it down in three weeks. I’ll never forget having to buy a liability policy from Lloyd’s of London as I was young and not yet firmly established. Insurance for four weeks cost me 500 times what I had paid for the house! Most everybody thought I was nuts at the time- until they saw the place restored!”

In the decades that followed, Ben disassembled and restored around 20 period houses. He did restoration in place on another 20!

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Ben completed the restoration of the “Bodfish” house in 1982, which overlooks Cape Cod bay.

In 2008, Ben decided to find one last gem of a house that he would restore for himself as he moved to Vermont and into retirement. Enter: the remarkable house built by Amos Hodsdon in 1837.

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The Hodsdon house, built in 1837

Now, due to life changes and a desire to downsize his construction plans, Ben has decided not to use this house as his own. The beautiful historic Hodson House is available for sale!

And we at Green Mountain Timber Frames want to help our friend find a new family to make this house into their home.

About the Vintage House

After looking at many vintage buildings, Ben decided on a house in Carroll County, New Hampshire, named after Charles Carroll who died in 1832 as the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll County was created in 1840 with Ossipee as its seat. Ben learned this history lesson after his search of Carroll County deeds came up empty. Eventually, he realized that the county lines had changed three years after the deed to the property changed hands from father to son, and so was filed in Strafford County!

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Ben found the gravestone of Captain Amos Hodsdon

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Here is the deed showing the transfer of property from father to son

When Ben discovered the old Hodson place, the house was incredibly unaltered and in good “frame health,” for its age. It had been abandoned for ten years and had been occupied by an elderly couple before that. The kitchen had a typical cast iron sink mounted in what was surely a period dry sink. There was a rusty old spigot and pipe that ran into a tank heated by the wood stove! The last residents of the house had still been carrying water into the house from a six foot diameter dug well with a flat stone cover. Best of all… the house had never had a bathroom!

Ben assembled a crew and began dismantling the frame.

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The roof boards come off

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Here is a 46 foot purlin in the rafter system!

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The exposed frame

The Frame Awaits a New Owner

The frame is down, carefully stored and awaiting a new home. It is available as a complete package, including the beautifully restored trim work, original flooring materials, interior trim and wainscoting panels, the windows, and the entry. Even the staircase is ready to go back in!

Above you can see the tired entryway, and then the doorway after Ben’s incredibly meticulous restoration work.

When the house came into Ben’s caretaking, the decorative fan work over the entrance had been removed and flat boards had been nailed up. Ben studied the “shadow lines,” which are marks and weathering patterns on the wood, in an attempt to figure out through detective work what the original had looked like. Then, in a fortuitous turn of events, a friend discovered this old photograph of the house. It confirmed Ben’s guess at what had graced the entrance originally, and wait till you see what he created!

Cape House Green Mountain Timber Frames

This photo is the best rendition of the entranceway in the background. Oh, and the people in the foreground look fantastic too!!

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Here you can see the incredible recreation of the decorative fan work over the doorway- all based on an early 1900’s photo!

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Ben has even restored all the original windows!

This house boasts roughly 3,700 square feet of vintage living space. The crew at Green Mountain Timber Frames will do a complete restoration of the timber frame itself, and we are looking for someone who has always wanted to live in a beautiful New England style home!

Interested in this frame?

Know someone who may be able to help us find a home for this historical treasure? Please pass the word around that this wonderful structure is available and help us find a new “forever” location for this gem!

Contact us!

(802) 235-2340 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

Cavendish Barn Restoration Update – The Grand Finale!

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We recently completed the restoration and renovation of an historic timber frame from Cavendish, Vermont.

 

The project kicked off when we first visited the frame back in the winter of 2015. We’ve written about this barn frame before, while in the thick of the restoration process, and wanted to deliver the coda now that the project is complete.

The Background

The owners of the frame wanted to save a barn on their property; it was in bad shape and needed to be taken down before it collapsed. We first visited the barn in the winter, dismantled it in the spring, and spent the summer restoring it at the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop.

In late summer, we erected the restored frame on a new foundation.

The Transformation of a Barn

In the pictures below, you can see the entire process – from start to finish. From a wintery day in February when the sagging frame looked tired and in need of some TLC, to the beautiful great room it has become today.

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Our first look at the Cavendish barn in Feb 2015

Dismantling historic timber frame barn

Spring prevails, and dismantling begins!

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A look at the last timbered wall section we took down. Once on sawhorses, we popped out each vintage peg, labeled every joint, and disassembled.

restoring post and beam structure

Restoration begins at the GMTF shop

The image below shows us adjusting the roof rafters to fit the new design of the great room. We pre-assembled the rafters, applied the original roof boards, carefully labeled each rafter and board, and then dismantled the roof before finally shipping the frame back to its home of origin.

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Restoration of new england barn from 1850s

Redesigned frame assembled on a new foundation about 100 yards from where it was first crafted nearly 200 years ago!

After the frame was firmly in place, another general contracting company  completed the project – The Severy Brothers  of Ludlow, VT. The next two pictures show how they used “SIPs” (structural insulated panels). The panels are fastened to the outside of the frame, which provides superb insulating value while showcasing all of the wooden elements on the interior. In the second picture, you can see the front entry taking shape.New barn home made from restored wood timber frame

Cavendish VT Barn frame with insulated panels

Exterior view of front entry with SIP panels

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The re-erected frame, pre fireplace. Note the beautiful ridge beam!

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The fireplace was created with stone found on the farm property

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Sliding barn door into main house

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Large sliding doors capture the beautiful Vermont landscape

Exterior of Cavendish Barn Frame with front entry_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Timber porch entry into the great room

It was truly a pleasure to work on this barn frame. We love it when the opportunity arrises to restore a frame while keeping on its original location! Do you have an historic barn on your property that is in need of attention? We would love to see it!

 

Want to see some other projects we’ve done at Green Mountain Timber Frames?
Check out our completed timber frame projects!

The Leaning Flag Pole of Pisa? – No More –

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Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we do more than save and renovate antique barn homes.  We like to take on a variety of projects to keep things interesting, to help out a friend or to support our local community.

At times, we’ve built gazebos. And we’ve been known to raise a glass and timber lean-to (a glamper’s delight!)

In a recent project, we were asked to help straighten up a leaning flag pole here in our hometown of Middletown Springs, Vermont. The flag pole was originally carved from spruce wood, harvested locally here in Middletown and erected on the town Green in 1947.

Leaning Flag Pole Construction _Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

The pole has stood tall in the center of town for seven decades; but as the wood fatigued, it was starting to look a bit weary. (Apparently one too many Vermont winter winds had sent the pole leaning a little too far to the north.) In any event, our local Community Church – which owns the Green – made plans to set the pole straight, just in time for the Church’s participation in the 2016 National Day of Prayer, and the town’s annual Memorial Day Parade.

We began by releasing one of the steel pins that secured the flag pole to its concrete support frame. Then, we used a lull to lower the pole.

Lull and Flag Pole_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

Below, you can see the lowered pole, with the Middletown Springs Community Church in the background – Dan’s family church.

Lowered Flag Pole_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

This was actually the second time Green Mountain Timber  Frames had lent a hand to straighten this flag pole. About 10 years back, we had lowered the pole and removed four feet of aging wood and put on a new coat of paint. This time around, we cut off another four feet before hoisting the pole up once more – good as a nearly 70 year old wooden spruce pole can be!

Below is a picture of the piece of wood we cut off. You can see the fatigue that caused the pole to tilt four feet out of plumb. Ready for the burn pile.

Cut wood from flag pole.jpg

In just about an hour’s time – and with the help of  two tractors – the slightly shorter pole,  now 46 feet tall,  was raised again.

That is Green Mountain Timber Frames’ shop in the background. Built in 1806, it was originally a Baptist Church. 

Lifting flag pole with tractors_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

Members of the Community Church gathered round the newly raised pole for the National Day of Prayer on May 6, 2016.

New Flag Pole for Day of Prayer_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

And here’s a shot of our very own Dan McKeen and his ‘children’s band’  strumming ukuleles on a float in the Memorial Day parade!

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In this final image, you can see the original strong concrete pillars that secure the pole in place.

Flag Pole with Concrete Pillars_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

Meanwhile, we’re ready with another 70 year solution to the fatigued pole. We are in the process of cutting down and skinning a brand new pole made of local larch or tamarack wood. Within a year, we plan to dry it out and permanently retire and replace the current old timer.

Have a timber frame project you’re considering? Let us know! We’d love to help!

Daniel McKeen & Luke Larson
Middletown Springs, VT 05757

dan@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
luke
@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
Tel: 802.235.2340

Glamping – The Timber Frame Glass House

 

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I’m always looking for a new and exciting timber frames to build, so when the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind post and beam glass cabin came my way – I jumped!

Glamping a timber frame glass house

Why camp…when you can glamp?

GLAMPING:

noun. 1. a form of camping in which participants enjoy physical comforts associated with more luxurious types of holiday. Word Origin. C21: blend of glamorous + camping.

A client of mine recently asked us to help glamorize the tent platform in her wooded Vermont backyard. Using salvaged timbers that Luke and I had on hand, we turned a simple raised platform into a glamper’s dream. The tiny timber frame glass house we built makes for an unmatched camping experience – and will stand for decades to come.

We started the construction by building a frame using reclaimed white oak timber and some leftover hemlock beams. Below you can see the skeleton of the 12′ x 12′ shed.

 

The client had acquired several glass windows and doors. A real Vermonter, she gathered a group of friends to transport the glass panels all the way through the woods to the site of her new glass house.

hoisting beams for glass house construction

We used the two large panels of glass (measuring an impressive 6′ x 8′ each!)  as the sides of the house.
timber frame vermont glass house

Because the structure is largely glass, it presented a bit of a construction challenge. We needed to include enough “wind braces” to make sure that the structure can withstand the howling winds of a New England winter. You can see the cross beams and braces in the image below.

glass house by green mountain timber framesAs for the walls that are not made of glass, we covered them with traditional siding. The final structure is truly one-of-a-kind – made up of 70% glass – and allowing for a nearly unobstructed view of the surrounding woods.

Glamping in a timber frame glass house

My friend couldn’t wait for the siding to be applied so spent the first night in a tent in the cabin.  The black flies and skeeters are wicked bad just now.

Secretly, we’re hoping our client lets us camp out here as well! The temptation of a night of camping under the stars, without mosquitoes – seems almost too good to be true!

Want to see some other projects we’ve done at Green Mountain Timber Frames?
Check out our completed timber frame projects!

 

Spring Cleaning!

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As one of the fist steps in the timber frame barn home restoration process, we power wash all the individual elements of a frame. This includes all the beams, every brace and each board that we are able to save and re-use.

Since winter in Vermont usually means sub-freezing temperatures, the piles of “dirty laundry” tend to pile up, waiting their turn with the washing team. Well, spring is here, and the washers are running!

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Our newest team member, John, washing a thick vintage siding  board.

Think about cleaning your house and the way grime builds up. Now imagine the dirt that collects in the hidden places of a 200 plus year old house or barn! It can be… pretty amazing!

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This 26 foot long top plate has not seen the light of day, or a cleaning, since it was hoisted into place 210 years ago!

Washing beams and boards can be a tedious, wet, and cold task. Yet we also find it very satisfying and even exciting to watch the real patina and natural beauty come forth from underneath the dirt.

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Look at the difference! This American Chestnut timber has received one pass from the power washer on the lower section.

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What a contrast between the washed surface and the dirty one!

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The final product of the cleansing is an amazing color that can not be replicated in new materials.

We do not use any soap in the washing. The water alone is enough to bring out the color. Wood ages as a result of exposure to air and light. While boards exposed to excessive sunlight turn silver, protected wood surfaces take on a beautiful glow.

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It took more than 200 years for this Beech timber to take on its patina.

The Art of Power Washing Old Timber Frames

Washing barn timbers and boards is not just a matter of pointing and shooting the stream of water at the materials. If we let the powerful water get too close to the wood, or if it strikes the surface at the wrong angle, the result is “raised hair” on the surface. Too much power in the spray slightly shreds the grain of the wood, causing the wood fiber to separate slightly on the surface, which can damage the patina and lead to a rough surface. Power washing takes patience. We can’t do too much, yet we must get the surface clean. The distance and angle from sprayer to old board has to be “just right!”

When the timbers and boards are washed, there are still steps to be accomplished. The boards must be dried before they can be stacked or else they will mold. We have to get creative in spreading the boards out to dry! We flip the boards halfway through the drying process. Eventually, we are ready to collect them carefully into piles for storage under cover.

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Vintage boards drying after washing.

The timbers and boards shown in these photos are from the 24 x 26 cape style house that we disassembled this past winter.

Stay tuned as we move towards a full restoration of this wonderful little timber frame! We better get back to work- the pressure washers are calling!

 

Dutch Cape House from c. 1800

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One early morning, before dawn in November, two brothers were readying for an early morning deer hunt. Hunting culture in rural Vermont dates back to the original residents, and continues still. On this particular morning, breakfast was cooked, weapons readied, and excitement no doubt was rising!

I can imagine that the black of night began dissipating, and the hunters hurriedly finished their planning and headed out into the breaking daylight. A chair had been left too close the roaring wood stove and a couple hours later, a passerby saw smoke billowing from the house. Fortunately for those young men, for Green Mountain Timber Frames, and for the future owner of this beautiful timber frame, the fire was put out and the house survived!

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Since that early morning fire, this little house has served the farming community well. When the local grange had to move out of a nearby building, the family that owned this cape generously offered the space. After many community work days, the grange moved in for weekly meetings and community events. The National Grange of the Order of Patrons and Husbandry is a national organization that began shortly after the Civil War. The group works to promote community bonding and education around agriculture.

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This frame dates from around 1800, when Vermont was still a young state. It was placed in a little hollow between knolls with a stream nearby and land was cleared around it for farming. The house was built using oak, chestnut, and beach trees- no doubt the very trees that were cut down to begin opening up fields for livestock.

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This frame has four bents and stands true even after 200+ years and a close call with fire!

It is fascinating to get to study so many local timber frames and ultimately to get a sense of who built these structures many generations ago! This particular house is a Dutch style of timber framing. The bents are close together and the floor joists are built strong enough to span the whole 24 feet of width.

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A clear span of 24 feet makes this an open canvas for future room design.

This little building measures 24 feet by 26 feet. It is perfect for a small cabin or house, for an addition onto another building, or as a small storage or animal barn.

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The posts and top plate are 10 x 10 inches – a solid little house!

A Spacious Second Floor

One of the reasons we fell in love with this structure, and just had to save it, was the spacious second floor. The posts extend quite far above the second floor, creating a tall “knee wall.” There is plenty of head room upstairs.

The rafter system has a five sided ridge beam with braces to the rafters. Unfortunately, the rafters and ridge beam were damaged by the close call with fire and by subsequent roof leaks over the years. We will be replicating the original roof system however and it will once again be strong and beautiful.

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The posts extend up beyond the 2nd floor, creations a spacious second floor living area.

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Here you can see braces strengthening the structure.

The Ingenious Basement

The ingenuity and creativity of the builders of this home are demonstrated in the basement of the house. Underneath the floor system, we discovered a very rugged food storage room or “root cellar” built with rough hewn logs, stone, and brick.

I have no doubt that it was filled with ice from the nearby river before the spring thaw, and that it was filled with squash, potatoes and other vegetables in the fall! Surely, it also was an excellent place to make and keep that hard cider that Vermonters loved (and still do)! It also doubled as a very strong foundation for a wood stove on the second floor. Imagine the original residents filling this little room with the fruits of their labors, and then relishing the food during the bitter winters.

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Let’s keep those garden vegetables and root crops good all winter!

Once again, we consider it such a privilege to cross paths across the span of generations with the pioneers, carpenters, farmers, and families who have built and dwelt in this structure. We are also grateful to the family that saw the historical value of the house and allowed us to disassemble it once it could not be kept up in its original location. The restoration of this timber frame will take place over the future months and it will once again be ready to house future generations.

Interested in this timber frame or another historic property?

Contact Green Mountain Timber Frames at
dan@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com,
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com, or
802.235.2340