(802) 839-6099 • 279 Websterville Road, Barre VT 05641 • jay@southgatesteeplejacks.com

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Most Common Problems

LEAKAGE

Not surprisingly, most serious problems are the result of water leakage. Although any leakage will eventually cause problems, the two places where leakage seems to wreak the most havoc are in the belldeck or in the base of the spire or dome. Such leakage will find its way into the most critical structural parts. Furthermore, since these flat areas are usually not visible from the ground, problems go unnoticed for years. Traditional timberframe structures are particularly susceptible to rotting in such cases because water will collect in their mortices. Often, these timbers will look sound to the casual observer, but will have been rendered hollow tubes by such rot. This will often cause a phenomenon in which a structurally sound spire sits precariously upon a rotted belfry.
Another common problem is rot where the weathervane shaft enters the spire or dome. Often, such spires were built with a central mast into which a hole was drilled to accept the weathervane shaft. On all but the finest steeples, this penetration point was never properly sealed. Over the decades, only a tiny amount water infiltration was needed to cause harm because the water collected at the base of the hole with no way to disperse.
Moderate leakage in the main body of a spire can sometimes last for decades with minimal harm. This is because such water can generally disperse into the open and well ventilated area of the spire. People often see some slate or shingles missing from their spire, and call me for that reason, but usually a few missing spire slate will not have caused problems, and then I will discover unseen problems with the flat areas.


POOR DESIGN

Although we all love to believe that the craftsmen of yore were infallible, it is not so. The raising of steeples with 19th century technology is a wondrous feat, but some historic steeples are poorly built or have design or engineering flaws. One common flaw results in a steeple that leans backwards. This is caused by the fact that while the front of the steeple sits directly on a wall, the back sits on a wood attic truss, and this has sagged over the years. This is a delightfully easy problem to fix. Sometimes, steeples are simply built too lightly to carry their own weight or the windloads. Other problems involve exterior wood parts being installed in such a way that they do not shed rain effectively


FASTENER FAILURE

Since galvanized and stainless steel fasteners were unavailable, the builders of 19th century steeples used iron nails. Not infrequently, a steeple in otherwise good repair will start dropping otherwise sound exterior wood parts as their nails evaporate into rusty dust.


SLOPPY REPAIRS.

It seems that since steeples are difficult to inspect, some amazingly sloppy work gets done. We see paint just slapped on unprepared surfaces ( see painting philosophy) We see sheet metal work that leaks and does not shed water properly at the drip points( see roofing) We see rotted timbers repaired by simply scabbing 2x10 lumber over them. We see carpentry repairs in which bare pine parts are simply nailed up and painted.
Frequently, when a church hires a roofing co. to re-roof their church, the roofers will simply nail their flashing up to the sides of the tower. ( see tower flashing.