Thursday 17th March 2016 was really windy. I worked that day outside stocking the tar boilers for ToughRoof flat roof repair crew in Toronto. It was a really powerful old factory experience. More than once I could feel the steam from the tar boiler sticking to the skin on my face. Yes, its an amazingly dirty job where even one drop of roofing tar can destroy an outfit. The stakes were high.
Roofing tar is not tar at all, and hasn’t been for many years. Its ‘bitumen’ which is a by product of the oil industry and the oil sands in particular. I gotta believe there’s some place somewhere between here and Alberta that’s ten square miles wide and twenty feet deep full of bitumen. I can picture this wasteland. In one corner near the railroad tracks there’s a tiny shed where a two man team makes twelve pound blocks for the roofing industry. One never considers a thing like this until they get up close and personal with a flat roof-repair team breaking up the big blocks of bitumen to make liquid for hot application on the problem parts of a leaky flat roof.
The black sticky goop is kept VERY HOT between 500 and 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The guys try to keep the sludge below 600 degrees else the material could catch fire.
I was careful to stand awkwardly as far away as possible from the bucket, and yet still continue nervously filling the pail. I was desperate to avoid ANY liquid splashing onto my pants. Tar never comes out.
As the hot tar is hoisted up the roof, the other members of the roofing team come into play. There are few jobs in Toronto where such a diverse crew of people work together so efficiently to solve a physical problem with a building in such a short period of time. These guys are all different and do different jobs to achieve one waterproof result in less than four days.
Hoisting up hot tar onto a flat roof
The hot buckets of tar are hoisted up the ladder by a couple of guys you can’t see behind the ladder man. This young lad has a tricky job as he has to tell the guys behind him to pull and stop pulling, and then tip the ladder back while simultaneously dumping the five gallon bucket of hot tar bitumen into the wheelbarrow-like cart that moves the liquid to the problem areas up top, on the roof of the building.
When I got up top I could see the whole team in play. The ladder man in the lynch pin – his is probably the best job to have too because it’s relatively clean, important, and the most interesting because its in between the two worlds. He can keep his eyes on what’s happening below and take part in what’s going on above.
Sweeping roof leak clean of debris
The sweeper man certainly stood out in his lime green hoodie with a cherry red toque on top. He’s the rope puller I spoke of earlier. When there’s no hot tar to hoist he’s on the broom, cleaning and sweeping the areas that are about to receive the hot tar treatment.
Second up is Rocco, who drips Varsol onto the old seams to rough them up so the new mixture will stick better. The varsol evaporates away before the third part of the squad arrives with the new membrane and hot liquid bitumen to seal it into place.
The roof was leaking around the edges. The building owners were complaining that they could see water running down the walls when it rained outside, and water was pooling inside on the floor. That’s quite common, apparently resealing the roof perimeter is a frequent fix. So once up on the roof, I saw the guys were moving the mixture over to the far corner and using it to soak a white cloth paper membrane that they ‘sealed’ all along the edge of the structure.
Maybe they posed a little bit, but the third part of this elite roofing team didn’t slow down or engage with me when I came over to them. Its because they were busy with the bitumen. They were making a good roof seal while the sun was shining and the tar was hot. They barely even looked up from what they were doing to notice me.
Although you can’t see it in these still pictures, this pair of veteran flat roofers have real talent, and have real good technique to work all day and not get covered in the sticky stuff. Their cars and houses must smell like bitumen though. The smell is pervasive.
Meteorologically speaking it was a very complicated day, and downright cold up there exposed on the roof. It was windy. Working outdoors is harsh bro.
I preferred to work below at the boilers keeping the bubblin’ crude well-stirred and warming my hands over it haha.
I also fetched materials and supplies.
And special ingredients.
Rocco doesn’t smile very much. I asked if he liked the smell of the tar (it has a very strong odor) and he said it smells like making money. Well said bro.
Falling in-line, at attention, etc.
The day is done off I go.
My work here is done.
Bye for real now. If you need your flat roof resurfaced call Tough Roof and tell them Raymi sent you.