Last Friday, in one of the Lightning’s C.H.A.R.G.E. events, I participated in a Habitat For Humanity build in St. Petersburg.
This was my second event with Habitat For Humanity – last spring, the Lightning had another C.H.A.R.G.E. initiative with the house-building organization. The first time was part of a ‘Blitz Build’, in which Habitat For Humanity builds two (nearby) houses in one week. On that occasion, there were many volunteers from different companies helping out. I spent the day with a paintbrush in my hand, applying fresh coats to walls, baseboards and doors. Having re-painted the inside of my own house several years ago, I came into that job with at least a modicum of experience.
This build was different. It wasn’t a ‘Blitz Build’, so the volunteer force was smaller. And the day’s job was on centered on one specific part of the house. In addition to the three Habitat contractors on-site, 22 Lightning employees were going to be shingling the roof.
Prior to Friday, not only had I never put shingles on a roof, I had never even been on a roof. I’m not crazy about precipitous heights. This may sound odd, given the position of many NHL press boxes, but while concentrating on doing play-by-play, those steep-drop locations don’t bother me. Neither does airplane travel affect me; maybe it’s got to do with the fact that I’m not hanging out the window of a plane. In the summer before last, however, when my family took a trip to Pennsylvania, we visited Hersheypark. During my eight years working for the Hershey Bears, I had certainly been to the amusement park, which is part of the same corporate family as the hockey team. But when I lived there, I hadn’t yet become a father. This time, with two young kids, the trip was very different. Shortly after arriving, we happened upon “The Flying Falcon”, a ride that lifts up high in the air and then spins in a circle. Each individual “Falcon” wobbles easily from side-to-side and can accommodate two riders. Therefore, I had the “pleasure” of going on back-to-back rides, so each of my kids could experience it. While dangling in the air, I kept my eyes glued to my shoes at the bottom of the compartment so I didn’t look over the edge.
On my way to St. Pete, I was curious about how I’d feel about being on a roof all morning. Upon arriving, I was somewhat relieved to see that the house was a one-story and that the roof did not appear to ascend to a steep point. Before we began, each of the Lightning volunteers grabbed a hammer and a small apron to fill with nails.
Given the fact that we were shingling, much of the house’s exterior was already finished. It had a foundation, walls and a roof. The inside was another story – it looked dark and empty, although we never went in. The roof had a black top onto which the shingles would be secured. The contractors placed a ladder next to the garage and one-by-one, we climbed up.
The first order of business was to attach long pieces of metal around the edge of the bottom of the roof. (I do not know the official name of these pieces, which serve as the base for the lowest shingle). Standing on ladders below the roof, the contractors lined up the pieces and the volunteers, angling on the roof, hammered them in. Not every volunteer ventured down the slope – there were too many of us for the job – but some did. I was one of them. I shuffled myself down to the edge and looked over. It was only about 20 feet to the bottom, which was grass, not concrete. Not too bad. Negotiating a position to actually hammer was another matter, though. We were leaning over (and hammering in) on a downward slope. Plus, the nail did not easily pass through the metal. My first attempt resulted in the nail sliding off the metal, flipping up into the air and landing behind me. On my fourth nail, the hammer slid off the nail and smacked the side of my thumb. Ugh. And it was only 8:10 AM.
Eventually, I got the feel of how to penetrate the metal and was putting the nails into where they were supposed to go. Soon after, it was time to start the shingling. Unbeknownst to me, the shingles came in individual pieces. They had three tabs from top to bottom. The bottom tab had the square shapes that are recognizable on a roof. The middle tab was flat, thin and narrow – we were told that was where the nails would go. The top tab was also flat, although not as thin as the middle tab and about as long as the bottom tab – it would lay underneath the overlapping bottom tab that would eventually be placed on top of it. I was located on one of the long sides of the roof, which, like on most Florida homes, is on the side of the house. We started at the edge of the roof, lined up from one side to the other. Volunteers behind us, farther up on the roof, handed down the shingle pieces. Each piece got six nails: one on each end and two pairs of nails a hammer’s length in from either side.
When one shingle was secure, the next one would line up next to it. When the first row was finished, the contractors told us that the next row needed to overlap not only in terms of the tabs, but also from where the previous row started and ended. Also, the exposed tab of the new shingle was to go slightly past the middle tab of the secured one in front of it. This proved to be dicey. For novices, it’s hard to line that up from the downward angle at which we were working. As we were securing the third row of shingles, one of the contractors ordered us to stop. Our rows were overlapping too much, which would affect how water ran off the roof. We had to rip up part of the previous row, pull up the nails and start over.
To prevent another miscue, one of the volunteers positioned himself at one end and vigilantly checked the overlap as we placed down the shingles. After we redid the rows, the contractors said they would “chalk a line”. At a point above our most recently finished row, they stretched a chalked string from one side to the other and snapped it down on the roof. The residue chalk line gave us a point from which to line up the next row – this time from the top, not the bottom. Pretty cool maneuver.
As the morning progressed, we began to get the hang of it. As the shingles covered more of the roof, we were able to reposition from top-down hammering to bottom-up, which also made it easier to line up the shingles.
I had an afternoon commitment, so my work day ended at the lunch break. But the group finished about 75% of the roof before the contractors told them they could call it a day.
Roofing is hard work. The muscles in my back and legs ached for the rest of the day and my thumb was sore through the weekend. It made me appreciate the skill and craftsmanship of the people who do this work every day, in all sorts of weather. We had the benefit of a beautiful, slightly overcast, cool day. It would have been a different experience doing the job in the middle of August.
As I mentioned in an earlier piece about spending a day at Pinellas Hope, one of the best parts of these events is learning more about the organization. During our morning break, I asked the contractor if this had been an empty lot before the build. He told me that they demolished the old house and started from scratch. It’s easier, he conceded, to just build new than try and find – and fix – problems in a remodel. He then called the group over and explained how the Habitat For Humanity Program works.
Anyone who qualifies must a) be able to handle the mortgage, meaning they have to meet an income qualification that falls between minimum and maximum limits b) donate volunteer hours and c) attend homeowner education classes. This Habitat For Humanity affiliate in Pinellas County requires a potential homeowner to volunteer at least 100 hours working on someone else’s house before even looking at a lot for themselves. Then they must contribute hundreds of more hours working on their own house. All while maintaining a steady income at a paying job. As he explained, the homeowners do carry a mortgage, so the house is not a hand-out. But they get a 30-year interest-free mortgage.
After the break, we met the homeowner. He had been putting in windows, but later joined us top, hammering in the shingles to the roof that would keep him and his family dry during rainstorms for years to come.