Project Profile: Wood Shingle re-Roofing Restoration of Chowan County Courthouse,

May 15, 2001

of Chowan
Edenton, NC
By John L. Willers
The Chowan County Courthouse in Edenton, North 1) and the interior (Phase 2). Phase 1 is complete and consisted
Carolina, was constructed in 1776, and it was designated as a of restoring the exterior walls and the roof. This article will
Registered National Historic Landmark in 1970. The structure is address the restoration of the wood shingle roof. Specifically, it
not only the oldest public building in North Carolina, it is also will address how the swept valleys, fanned hips, and combed
the least altered of all the remaining British colonial courthouses ridges were designed and constructed to prevent water entry,
in America.1,3 and it will address specific detailing and construction techniques
Restoration is taking place in two phases: the exterior (Phase at the roof of the apse.
Photograph 1—Before renovation. Roof investigation in progress.
November 2001
The Restoration Team
The restoration contract was
issued to HagerSmith Design, PA, of
Raleigh, NC, by the Restoration
Branch of the North Carolina Division
of Archives and History, Department
of Cultural Resources. HagerSmith
engaged the services of George Fore,
Architectural Conservator, Raleigh,
NC; Lysaght & Associates, structural
engineers, Raleigh, NC; and Rooftop
Systems Engineers, P.C., Raleigh,
NC, to assist with various aspects of
the restoration.
Rooftop Systems Engineers, P.C.,
was assisted by Martin L. Obando,
Technical Advisor and Director of
Application Specifications for the
Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau,
Mission, BC. Assistance was also provided by the Restoration Branch of
Interface • 33
the North Carolina Division of Archives and History and members
of the 1993 Courthouse Study Commission of Edenton, NC.
The prime restoration contractor was Progressive
Contracting Company, Inc., of Sanford, NC, whose subcontractor for the reroofing was Preservation Services, Inc., of
Fredericksburg, VA.
The Structure
The roof has a plan­view area of approximately 3,150 square
feet. The construction prior to restoration consisted of a wood
timber roof structure, wooden roof deck, and cedar shingles.
Records indicate that, in 1835, there was an unsuccessful
attempt to replace the wood shingle roof with a more modern
metal roof. Subsequently, several wood shingle roofs were
installed, the most recent being in 1979.1,3
Portions of the timber structure had been damaged by water
entry, specifically the lower portion at the base of the valleys
and various locations at the cornice. Defects in the swept valley
construction were the primary cause of the damage to the timber
structure. Split shingles, resulting in aligned joints from one
course of shingles to another, permitted moisture to enter the
cornice at various locations, resulting in moisture damage. There
Photograph 2—New cypress shingle roof.
assure that there would be a permanent solution to water entry
at the valleys, eaves, and all other details, and the architectural
integrity would have to be maintained.
Shingle Specifications
Shingles were found in the clock tower and in the crawl
space under the main floor. These were identified as 18″­long,
cypress shingles which had been split and dressed, and each corner of the butt had been rounded. Therefore, it was established
that the new roof would be a wood shingle roof utilizing ”old
growth” cypress from which to manufacture the shingles. The
specifications for the shingles were:
”Cypress, 18″ and 24″ long with butts 1/2″ to 5/8″ thick
and tips 1/4″ thick. Shall be No. 1 grade, clear, dense
heartwood (a minimum of 40 growth rings per inch),
flat­grained, no defects. Widths to be random from 3­1/2″
to 5″ except as detailed at hips and ridges. Shall be riven
on the exposed face and may be riven or sawn on the
opposite face with butt ends cut to the shape as shown
on the roof plans. Shingles manufactured from mined
logs are preferred.”
The shingles were hand split by Progressive Contracting
from cypress logs which had been dredged from the swamps of
Florida and Louisiana.
Also, to retard the growth of moss and fungus, it was specified that the shingles be treated with a stain2
forming, non­ambering, wood preservative with UV
inhibitors, fungicide (Busan), and pigments, and be
specifically manufactured as a wood preservative for
application to roofs. Shall be a semi­transparent stain
with a maximum evaporation loss of not more than 4%.
Drying time shall be 48 hours or less. Color to be selected by owner.”
Requirements to incorporate some means of increasing resistance from fire from internal or external sources were waived due
was no evidence that underlayment or interlayment had been
used, except for narrow sections of sheet metal interlayment at
the hips and valleys.
Obviously, no interior renovation could be initiated until
after the roof had been replaced. The reroofing would need to
”Stain: Shall be a paraffinic, oil­based, non­filmPhotograph 3—Typical eave construction viewed from scaffolding during construction. Shows wood deck, edge metal, ice
and water shield at eave only, Cedar Breather, two starter
courses of wood shingles, and the new cypress shingles.
34 • Interface November 2001
to the need to maintain the historic nature of
the building.
This specification was developed following
consultation with Professor Todd F. Shupe of
the School of Forestry Wildlife and Fisheries at
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.
Swept Valleys
The detailing of the swept valleys was a
challenge. No specific details could be found in
any of the industry manuals; therefore, a shingle layout was designed ”from scratch.” After a
brief period of sketching, it was apparent that it
was not possible to layout the shingles and
maintain joints that would be offset by 1­1/2″
while also avoiding the joints of one course
crossing over the joints of the course below.
Additionally, it was not possible to maintain a
minimum width of 3″ (1­1/2″ to each side of
the joint below) at all locations. Further, due to
the reduced slope in the valley, the shingles in
the valley would have to be longer than those
used in the field of the roof.
Figure 2—Swept valley shingle layout showing
placement of sheet metal interlayment. Only one
piece of interlayment is shown for clarity.
Figure 1—Partial swept valley shingle layout. Note
the two different lengths of shingles and note that the
exposure varies from 5­1/2″ to a maximum of approximately 7­3/4″. The second course of shingles has been
shaded for clarity.
The use of shingles with a minimum butt
width of 2″ (1″ radius on each corner) and
with a length of 24″ rather than 18″ would be
required within the swept area of the valley.
This would satisfy the geometric requirements, but it would not be watertight (see
Figure 1). The only way to achieve a watertight valley would be to install sheet metal
interlayment as shown in Figure 2.
Photographs 4, 5 and 6 show the actual
November 2001 Interface • 35
minimum butt width of 3″ and with a length of 24″. Again,
this would satisfy the geometric requirements but would
not be watertight (see Figure 3). The only way to achieve a
watertight hip would be to install sheet metal interlayment
as shown in Figure 4. Photographs 7, 8 and 9 show the
actual construction.
Combed Ridge
Details of a combed ridge are shown in various industry
publications; however, due to the joints formed by abutting
Photograph 4—Swept valley construction. Note the 24″ valley shingles,

which are tapered and have very narrow tips. Geometry of this construction does not permit the joints to be offset from one course to course below;

therefore, the lead ”step” flashing was installed. Also, note the adjacent

18″ shingles. The longer shingles in the valley are necessary due to the

increased exposure required within the sweep of the valley.

Photograph 6—View of completed swept valley.
Photograph 5—Buddy Tate constructing a valley. Note the

18″ shingles approaching the valley, the 24″ shingles within

the swept portion of the valley, and the lead flashing.

Fanned Hips
The detailing of the fanned hips was as difficult as
detailing the swept valleys. Again, I could find no
specific details in any of the industry manuals.
Although there is a photograph in Preservation Briefs 194
of workmen constructing a fanned hip, there are no
details of how they completed their construction.
Therefore, I again began to design a shingle layout
”from scratch.”
Based on what was learned from the design of the

swept valley, layout began by using shingles with a

Figure 3—Partial fanned hip shingle layout. Note the two different lengths of shingles. The second
course of shingles has been shaded for clarity.
36 • Interface November 2001
shield material. This would be fabricated to the
maximum width possible without being exposed
to view.
Next, the second­to­last course of shingles
would be installed on each side of the ridge.
Following this, the second layer of interlayment
would be installed. This would be similar to the
previously installed layer of interlayment, except
that the ice and water shield material would be
installed on the bottom face of the stainless steel
sheet metal. This would avoid exposing the ice &
water shield material to UV rays at the joints
between shingles.
Finally, the last course of shingles would be
installed to form the combed ridge. A single
layer of interlayment would shed any water
entering the joint between abutting shingles at
the ridge; however, two layers were detailed to
provide two opportunities to seal the shanks of the
exposed nails.
Figure 5 shows this detail. Photograph 10 shows
the actual construction.
Figure 4—Fanned hip shingle layout showing placement of sheet metal interlayment. Only one
piece of interlayment is shown for clarity.
Photograph 8—Fanned hip construction. Shingle to right side of hip
has been mitered and lapped; however, the butt remains to be trimmed.
Photograph 7—Fanned hip construction. Note the 24″ hip shingles, which are

tapered and have very narrow tails. Geometry of this construction does not permit

the joints to be offset from one course to course below; therefore, the lead ”step”

flashing was installed. Also, note the adjacent 18″ shingles. The longer shingles

at the hip are required due to the increasing distance as the shingles approach the

hip in the wood deck.

shingles and due to the required exposed nails, these typical
details were not considered satisfactory for this restoration project. Therefore, the typical detail was modified to incorporate
two layers of interlayment.
The first layer of interlayment would be installed once the
tails of the shingles reached the ridge line. The interlayment
would be stainless steel sheet metal clad with ice and water Photograph 9—Completed fanned hip construction.
November 2001 Interface • 37
Figure 5—Combed ridge. Note the dual layers of interlayment.
Peak of Apse Roof
Designing this detail would
involve addressing constraints
similar to those encountered for
the swept valleys and the
fanned hips. Figure 6 shows how
the last three courses of shingles would be installed utilizing
narrow, tapered shingles. As the
construction approaches the
peak, it becomes increasingly
difficult to maintain the
required offset at the joints
between shingles, and the nails
for the last course of shingles
would be exposed.
Therefore, sheet metal
interlayment was detailed here
as well. Figure 6 shows one layer of sheet metal interlayment and
a sheet metal cap that would be fabricated with a vertical flange.
The cap would cover the exposed nails of the last course of
shingles and would serve as the last piece of step flashing along
the wall.
The actual construction is shown in Photographs 12 and 13.
Note that the actual construction involved the installation of
two pieces of concealed interlayment rather that a single layer
of concealed interlayment as detailed.
Photograph 10—Combed ridge. Due to the joints between adjacent shingles and the exposed nails, ice and watershield­clad stainless steel interlayment was installed at two locations within the ridge construction. Also,
note the added layer of ice and water shield that was placed under the first
layer of clad stainless steel.
Figure 6—Plane view of shingle construction at peak of apse roof showing
shingle layout and location of sheet metal interlayment.
38 • Interface November 2001
A ”belt and suspenders” approach was taken relative to the long­term performance of the roof of this
historic structure. This approach was sustained by the
efforts of Progressive Contracting Company, Inc., the
general contractor, and its roofing subcontractor,
Preservation Services, Inc. The beauty and function of
this roof are due in large part to the craftsmen who
installed the shingles, the sheet metal flashings, and
the counterflashings.
The total construction cost of this 3,700 s.f. roof,
as bid in 1997, was approximately $290,000.
Copies of the AutoCAD details are available from
the author at no charge. Please contact the author via
the firm’s website, (
and give your name, the name of your firm, telephone
and fax numbers, and your e­mail address.
Photograph 12—Fanned shingle installation at apse.
Photograph 13—Fanned shingle installation at apse roof. Note the lead cap
at the peak of the apse shingles. Not visible is the lead interlayment under the
course of wood shingles below the lead cap.
November 2001
Photograph 11—Roof of apse before reroofing. Note that the geometry of this
cone­shaped roof is not a portion of a true cone. The circular eave does not
intersect the wall at a 90º angle; therefore, the apex would be located within
the main building. This altered the geometry of the exposed roof such that the
distance from the peak to the eave, as measured along the wall, is greater than
the distance from the peak to the eave as measured in a plane perpendicular to
the wall. This required that the exposure of the wood shingles be constantly
changing along each course of shingles.
1. ”A Plan for the Restoration of the 1767 Chowan County
Courthouse,” Gerald Allen & Jeffrey Harbinson Architects,
P.C., New York, New York.
2. ”Treatments for Wood Shingle Roofs,” Contractor’s File,
Forest Products Laboratory, Texas Forest Service, APT
Bulletin Vol. XXI No. 1 1989.
3. ”A Report on the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse for
the Chowan County Board of Commissioners,”
Courthouse Study Commission, November 4, 1993.
4. Park, Sharon C., AIA, ”Preservation Briefs 19: The Repair
and Replacement of Historic Wooden Shingle Roofs,” U.S.
Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Preservation
Assistance Division, Technical Preservation Services.
Johann (John) L. Willers is
the owner and president of Rooftop
Systems Engineers, P.C., Raleigh, NC
(, a
professional consulting engineering
corporation specializing in roofing
and waterproofing. John is a
Registered Roof Consultant and a
Registered Professional Engineer in
NC, SC, VA, TN, NJ and IA. He is
also a Fellow of the Roof
Consultants Institute and received
RCI’s President’s Award in 1994 and 1995.
Interface • 41