The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Barn roof

Old barn

I decided this spring that it was time to either figure out how to replace the barn roof or to tear the whole thing down.  Honestly, I covet that flat, sunny growing space, but Mark has pretty much convinced me that it would cost as much to dismantle such a huge structure as to fix it up so that we can use it (and I do need more room to cure sweet potatoes), so we started saving our pennies.  Rather than going on vacation, this year we're going to be buying tin and hiring someone (or multiple someones) to clamber up to the top of the huge pole barn and get it back in shape.

Leaking roofWe've been trying to find a dependable local guy who doesn't mind walking half a mile through the muck to the job site --- no luck so far.  The barn was built to dry tobacco, which means it's absurdly high, and I really don't want to climb up there (or to see Mark in such a precarious position.)  Do you have any ideas for how to find someone crazy enough to work in our weird environment other than to keep trying out every handyman we meet in town?  How much do you think someone would charge to do that kind of job?  How many days do you think it would take?  I know there are specialized roofing companies, but I suspect they're going to balk at the working conditions.

Meanwhile, I want to go ahead and order the roofing metal so that we can drive it in the next time the ground is dry enough.  Sometime in the last decade, the previous owners of the property stuck new tin on top of the central section of the barn, and that area (nearly) doesn't leak, so I think we can just replace the two rows of tin below the good section.  Of course, roofing tin needs to overlap, so you should really start at the bottom of the roof and work your way up rather than at the top and work your way down.  Do you think it'll be feasible to pry up the bottom of the top tin to slide new tin underneath?

Triangulating roof

I'm also just a tad bit confused about how large the roofing panels are.  A hasty measuring session in the pouring rain shows that the barn is roughly 45 feet long by 36 feet wide, and the roof extends a bit further in each direction.  Each row of tin has 26 panels in it, so I suspect the tin is the same 24 inches wide that the tin off the old house was, but how long are the pieces?  Short of climbing up in the rafters and measuring the barn height, I figured I might be able to get away with some photographic math.  If the horizontal distance from the center of the barn to the edge of the roof overhang is right around 19 feet, it looks like the height from that line to the peak is roughly 8 feet, which would make the tin on one side of the barn about 21 feet long.  These measurements would make sense if the original builders used three sections of 8 foot tin, overlapping each one a bit to prevent leaks.

Tobacco barnAssuming my math isn't wrong, I'm thinking we need 104 pieces of eight foot by 2 foot "corrugated ribbed steel roof panels," aka "5V tin."  Presumably we need a bunch of roofing nails or screws too, and I'm tempted to go ahead and have gutters installed on each side to take advantage of that amazing rainwater catchment opportunity --- we could be capturing 48,000 gallons of water every year if we had the facilities.  I think channeling that water somewhere other than the forest garden would prevent the current gully erosion and waterlogged conditions, and free water is nothing to sneeze at.

We're still very much in the planning stages, and I'd love to get some expert advice before we spend such a huge lump of money.  Any amateur or professional builders out there who can check my math or tell me where I'm barking up the wrong tree?

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock well watered with minimal work.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Yes, you can "under" lap the tin from the bottom. My brother just finished a patch job on one of our barns where he had to cut off Approx 8 ft of tin at the bottom and go under the old with the new. I would also recommend using a washer-head screw like this: ( I just used them on a chicken coop and they worked great.


Comment by Mike Tue Sep 6 09:48:26 2011
That's the kind of screw we used on the roof of the East Wing, and they worked very well (although expensive.) Glad to hear we won't have to replace the middle section of the tin!
Comment by anna Tue Sep 6 10:08:20 2011

Howdy, We live in Missouri and have used White Industries for all our metal questions and roofing. They are very helpful:

Comment by Ruthlynn Tue Sep 6 11:53:29 2011

Enormous? Sunny? Sounds like an end to your power outages to me.... solar barn roof

Of course, that is a serious chunk of change to do it. But think of the KW you could pull off that...

Comment by Eric Burke Tue Sep 6 11:57:04 2011

Have you considered selling the barn wood? I think it's a pretty hot commodity. You might even be able to have someone dismantle it in exchange for keeping a portion of it while selling the remainder and making enough to build a new metal barn.

Sarah in Boulder Creek CA

Comment by sarah Tue Sep 6 12:28:06 2011

Ruthylynn --- I think we're going to go with our locally owned hardware store to source the tin, partly just to help him out, but also partly because we need to match the same kind of tin currently on the roof or we'd have to replace the whole thing rather than just two thirds of it. From their website, White Industries seems to specialize in more modern house tin rather than the old-fashioned barn tin. Thanks for the suggestion, though!

Eric --- I've only barely saved up enough to replace the roof --- it would probably take until the barn fell down to save enough to make a solar roof. :-) I figure collecting rainwater off of it would make the project increase our self-sufficiency at least a bit and would work as a much cheaper alternative to solar roofing.

Sarah --- I was actually pondering selling the wood instead of fixing the barn, but when I looked into it, it sounded like we'd only get about $1,000 for all of the wood, and that's if we took it apart ourselves. I don't think all of the time required to deconstruct the barn would be worth it! Now, if someone was willing to take the barn apart themselves and give us enough money to build a smaller, more manageable structure, then I'd be interested.

Comment by anna Tue Sep 6 12:39:43 2011

I just had a metal roof put on our little cabin in PEI (Canada), 650 sq. ft. It was a simple job, pitch of about 3 to 4 and was a shed roof (like half a roof). It was ordered in squares (or 100 sq. feet) and the metal cost $100/square (though I think everything in Canada is much more expensive). This is probably the "house" metal roofing though (it was colored). The labour was $900 for 3 guys and it took less than a day, but it was an easy roof and all the roof was done. That was pretty cheap for labour. Where I live (West) it would have probably been 3x. They used screws with rubber washers so it won't leak. It is my understanding that the metal company cuts the roofing panels to the size required (custom) so all roofs/panels are different.

Maybe you could ask locals/neighbors who they use. That's what I did as I did not know anyone there and I was a gal by myself and everything went very well. Also, my local Home Hardware had a list of reliable contractors in the area and that's where I found the roofers.

I would highly recommend the rain barrels. Nothing like soft rain and it's free. I'm with you about the heights. :) If you figure out the pitch of your roof (search Google) there should be some easy instructions on there for doing the math for what you will need. Best of luck with the project.

Comment by Heather Tue Sep 6 16:12:52 2011

Make sure that the wooden structure is OK. If part of the frame is has decayed, it might not be worth it putting a new roof on.

If you want to work on the roof yourself, wear a safety harness. If you are working on one side of the roof, throw the line over the roof and fasten it on the other side on a pulley with a brake so you can lower the person down gently in case of a fall. Get a line that stretches a bit so it breaks falls somewhat gently, or get a line with a shock absorber.

Don't know about the US, but over here a contractor would be legally required to perform work on that height from a cradle elevator. In your case you'd probably need one on tracks to even reach the place.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Sep 6 16:49:43 2011

The person you are buying the material from will probably know of some people that may be willing. I'd keep trying anyone you can find but make sure they are insured incase there is an accident you don't want them to sue you.

I like the gutter idea because you can direct the water where you want to prevent erosion. The only negative I could see with rain barrels is that they would not be used very much since you are able to get water from the creek (which is also free) and it's pressurized by your pump to work with your sprinklers (less work for you.)

Comment by Brian Tue Sep 6 17:28:00 2011

Heather --- Thanks so much for sharing! It sounds like the price of your tin is right in line with what I've priced our barn tin at --- the 8 foot by 2 foot panels you can buy at Lowes, for example, are $16.50 apiece. If the labor's in the same ballpark, it sounds like we might should plan on spending around $2,300 on the labor.

House tin is much more variable than barn tin. The latter seems to come in 8 foot and 12 foot lengths (and various widths and ridge patterns.)

Roland --- Excellent point about the structure. I'd been assuming that since the ridgeline was okay (it's under the good tin), everything else is mendable, but maybe we should find a way to get someone to really check it out before buying the tin.

Brian --- The bonus of collecting rainwater is that we don't have to pump it, which saves energy and money (although not all that much.) I figured I'd probably use the rainwater for things that don't need much pressure, maybe moving my wringer washer over there, finally setting up the drip lines to irrigate our berries, etc. But even if we just channeled the water to a designated wetland area or something, it would be a bonus!

Comment by anna Tue Sep 6 19:50:39 2011

Around here I can purchase metal cut to length. It does not come in standard lengths of say 8' or 12'. You order it in one inch increments. Just make sure the corrugated rib pattern matches your existing metal or tucking it under the old metal will be impossible. As for selling the barn, tobacco barns are good for lumber reuse. Dairy barns have so much white washed lumber in them and tobacco shed do not, so that increases the value some. The trouble with selling your barn is access. They will need to bring in a crew of men and equipment and trailers to haul it all in and out.

But the barn dismantling crews bring up an other idea I had. I am planning on asking a barn salvage company about buying used metal roofing from them. I would assume they must save metal roofs as well as lumber and timbers.

Maybe you could find some salvaged metal and save a few bucks. You still need someone to install it though, and the installer will grumble about salvaged tin.

Comment by Justin Wed Sep 7 05:39:33 2011

Proceed with caution! I'm a contractor up here in New England. Their are alot of old barns up here - they can be very expensive to save once they get past a certain point of deterioration. From your pictures it is hard to tell how far gone it is, like you said poison ivy inside is not a good sign.

I would just hate to see you send reinforcements to a losing battle.

Comment by Bill Wed Sep 7 07:07:49 2011
Are there any Amish or Mennonite communities in your area? They do quality work at very reasonable prices.
Comment by Debbi Wed Sep 7 08:00:38 2011

Justin --- Good point that lack of access would make it much tougher to sell the barn wood. We actually have some free tin from Mark's mom (Thanks, Rose Nell!) but the V-pattern is wrong, so we'll need to use it with new construction.

Bill --- I'm always so glad to hear from an expert. Sounds like we really do need to get someone out here to look at the structure before we buy the tin.

Debbi --- No local Amish, but there are some Mennonites about an hour and a half away. That might be too far, but you've got a great point that they're just the type of labor pool we should tap into.

Comment by anna Wed Sep 7 15:45:28 2011

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