After being laid off from his job as a sheet metal worker, George Pfister used his free time to put a standing-seam metal roof on his Terre Haute, Ind., home. 

George Pfister has a new metal roof on his house - and he has the recession to thank for it. Sort of. In early 2009, the 52-year-old sheet metal worker was laid off from his longtime employer - like many other construction workers,  a victim of the slow economy.

But instead of just waiting to be called back to work, Pfister decided to start a project he had been eyeing for a long time: install a standing-seam metal roof on his 100-year-old, aluminum-sided Terre Haute, Ind., home.

“I’ve probably been dreaming about it for 10 years and planning it for about five years,” he said. “With the slowdown, it’s like it’s now or never.”

Since about 2004, Pfister had been stockpiling 22- and 24-gauge standing-seam roof panels left over from area projects. Many of them were 45-foot-long sections that were extra from a school re-roofing where Pfister was supervising the mechanical work.

“They shipped a truckload that was supposed to go to Denver,” he recalled. “Since it cost too much to re-ship, they gave it all away. I had to cut it down to my size (to) truck it to my house.”

To keep water from invading his house while he installed the new roof, Pfister put a rubber underlayment on it.

Yard turned into shop

Equipped with a 4-foot brake and access to a 10-foot and 30-foot one when needed, Pfister started tearing off the old asphalt roof in early spring 2008. His yard functioned as his sheet metal shop.

To save on costs - and practice his sheet metal skills while he wasn’t employed - Pfister would be performing almost all of the work himself.  Because that meant it would take months to complete, Pfister needed a way to keep water out of his 1,800-square-foot house while it was without a roof. Using his local industry connections from his 30 years as a sheet metal worker, he was able to secure leftover rubber roofing and foam-board insulation for the roof’s underlayment.

When he started, Pfister fastened the rubber roofing only at the ridge and weighed it down with rope and sandbags. That allowed him to uncover only one section at a time. He added fiberglass insulation, then put on an inch of foil-backed foam on top of the rafters and sleeper joists and finally, new sheathing.

Pfister explained that the sleepers helped ventilation. Foil was also added to the ridge attics.

The rubber roofing succeeded in keeping water out of the house, he said.

“In fact, a few times I had left it uncovered only to have a shower pop up and I had to rush up there in the middle of the night to cover it up,” Pfister said. “Luckily, it only took a few minutes to pull the rubber back over the top as it was fastened along the edge.”

An up-close look at the chimney flashing Pfister made to keep the chimney dry after the old roof was removed and before the metal could be installed.

Heat was on

The project was slowed by the hot, humid mid-Indiana summer. The roof’s temperature climbed to 160°F sometimes in July and August, forcing him to halt the project.

Since he had only limited experience performing metal roofing, although he had worked as a supervisor in an architectural sheet metal shop, Pfister consulted with other experts and sought out architectural sheet metal and roofing manuals on the Internet. He would eventually install new decking, custom trim, horizontally curved sections and a cupola “for good measure.”

Despite the study and his professional experience, “I still made a lot of rookie mistakes,” Pfister said. More than once, the metal roofing became scratched or dented.

Fortunately, such imperfections were only visible to him - and sometimes, even he couldn’t see them after the roof had been installed.

“One thing you learn from experience is you can’t see most of these scratches and dents from the street,” Pfister said.

In fact, it looks pretty good, he added.

“I have people that just kind of stop me when I’m out on the street and ask me about it,” he said. They comment on the “artistry” of the project.

Those kinds of remarks made Pfister feel pretty good.

“It’s sort of like putting your reputation on the line,” he said. “It worked out as I envisioned.”

The final test was waiting to see how it handled an Indiana winter. Pfister acknowledged that he was a little worried.

“I found myself going out and staring at it with the snow,” he said. The roof easily passed the snow test.

Pfister has one late detail he wants to add to the roof - another cupola. But since he recently secured a temporary job as federal energy-efficiency auditor paid through federal stimulus funds, “That’s on the back burner,” he said.

Now Pfister is using his extra time to earn a bachelor’s degree in technical and vocational education.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail