Roofing outside the lines

Ruff Roofers restore the roof systems on historical Peale Center in Baltimore

  • Ruff Roofers craftsmen added a new taper to facilitate proper drainage to the gable roof’s front built-in gutter, requiring each piece to be custom-fabricated.
  • The Peale Center’s rebuilt skylight
  • Workers carefully laid out the standing-seam panels to square up the seams and balance them, so the out-of-square appearance was not so evident.
  • All hip joints were precisely hand-crimped.

Erected in 1814 by Rembrandt Peale, the Peale Center in Baltimore was the first structure in the U.S. specifically built to house a museum. An artist, explorer, inventor and businessman, Peale designed his museum to include a gallery, natural history exhibit and unusual artifacts reflecting his many interests.

Peale shared his family's talent for innovation and demonstrated gas lights in the gallery. A new technology for the time period, people would stand on the street and marvel at the brightness coming from the museum windows.

Throughout the years, the building served the community in different capacities, including a school and city hall. Now, after being vacant for 20 years, the Peale Center has returned to Baltimore's arts scene as a center for Baltimore stories. Working with local storytellers, performers, artists, architects, historians, students, educators and others, the Peale Center produces and shares narratives of the city, its places and people.

In the innovative spirit of founder Peale, the center is being reinvented for the 21st century. In 2017, the city and The Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture, the nonprofit organization that manages the center, secured $2.5 million to renovate the building's exterior, including gable, hip and shed roof systems, and hired Ruff Roofers Inc., Baltimore.

Gable roof

In March 2017, Ruff Roofers began work on the Peale Center. The scope of work consisted of replacing more than 4,000 square feet of double-locked standing-seam tin on three roof areas with Revere Copper Products double-locked, standing-seam Revere FreedomGray® (architectural sheet copper hot-dip coated on both sides with zinc-tin alloy) roof systems.

In addition to the roof system replacements, the cupola cladding, cupola skylight, built-in and hanging gutters, downspouts, chimney caps and flue were replaced, and workers restored masonry on the stone window sills, brick walls and chimneys.

As with most vintage structures, the building's lines (roof planes, gutters, trim, standing-seam edges, etc.) were not square. The gable roof was several inches out of square and bowed at the eave, creating problems with overwashing and poor gutter drainage.

"Perhaps the project should have been called 'making an out-of-square building appear square,'" says Ronald Masotta, AIA, project architect and senior associate for SM+P Architects, Baltimore, the project architect. "The challenge was to take two crooked buildings and make them look straight and historically accurate upon completion without changing the finished appearance or sacrificing performance."

Scaffolding was erected to gain safe access for Ruff Roofers workers who removed the existing roof systems down to the original rough-cut wood plank decks without disturbing interior original plaster and delicate laylights.

"The existing roof profile consisted of roughly sawn skip sheathing up to 22 inches wide with varying edges that still had bark on them, felt paper and painted tin with a 1-inch historic standing seam," says Tim Caldwell, P.E., general manager for Ruff Roofers.

The gable roof required careful layout of the standing-seam panels to square up the seams and balance them, so the out-of-square appearance was not so evident. After computing the required offsets, constant gauging of the panels was necessary to maintain the desired lines. Ruff Roofers workers' careful attention to every detail ensured the finished product would appear square to the casual observer.

"If not aligned properly, the roof still would perform as intended, but appearance matters and having thoughtful, knowledgeable and skilled craftsmen was necessary to provide a finished product worthy of being hailed as top quality," Masotta says.

The gable roof's rear gutter had a significant bow and dip in the middle of the run. After laying out true lines and assessing the drift, workers were able to adjust the fascia boards so the gutter appears uniform when it actually matches the bow of the eaves. Near the ends of the boards, Ruff Roofers craftsmen blended the fascia with the original lines to conceal the adjustments.

"We kept the ends true to their historic lines and adjusted behind the gutter to keep it straight," says Vern Quesenberry, sheet metal superintendent for Ruff Roofers.

Doing so preserved the gutter's overall appearance, and performance was improved because gutter overwashing was eliminated, resulting in less wear and tear on the building.

The gable roof's front built-in gutter also was replaced. Workers added a new taper to facilitate proper drainage, requiring each piece to be custom-fabricated to match the existing conditions and provide a steady taper to the outlets.

"The built-in gutter on the gable roof not only pitched from the middle to the end, but it also tapered along the length as a funnel to the outlets at the ends," Quesenberry explains. "Each piece was custom-fabricated to suit those required dimensions."

In addition, workers rebuilt the chimneys on the gable roof below the roof line.

"Part of that included maintaining the building in a watertight condition while the chimneys were being restored, which required the removal of the adjacent roof panels for the duration of the chimney work," Quesenberry says.

Hip roof

Ruff Roofers workers took special care to lay out the hip roof so the joints at the hips did not create unsightly misalignments when formed. All the hip joints were precisely hand-crimped.

"Layout is crucial to success and gets you started on the right path, but you also must be careful hand-crimping the joints to complete a skilled installation and maintain a sharp appearance and unwavering lines," Masotta explains. "It takes expert knowledge and skilled hands to create a simple line that most people take as a given until they see a hip that is misaligned. Ruff Roofers' neatness is clearly evident on the hip joints."

During an earlier renovation in the 1970s, a mechanical penthouse was added, requiring the use of a cricket. However, the addition encroached into the hip roof eave, creating a wall, valley and hip intersection mid-slope. The junction presented a unique condition that required careful planning and joinery to create a durable, watertight installation. For optimal shingling, Ruff Roofers workers reversed the direction of a joint mid-course as they approached the termination.

Shed roof

On the other side of the cricket, the valley and cricket intersect with the shed roof. Careful panel layout and joinery were required to allow for thermal movement of the different planes so the finished product would not self-destruct under changing seasons and critical joints were not located in areas receiving a heavy wash of water.

"The shed roof had its own issues," Masotta says. "There was a change in elevation that created a detailing nightmare and a potential weak point in the system. Ruff Roofers' recognition of the problem allowed them to reconfigure the cricket slightly during the rebuild to eliminate the change of elevation and weak point."

There also was a window that was too low, and the plans called for the window to be reconstructed, the opening partially infilled and the sill raised to allow sufficient flashing height. The proximity of the new sill still was close to the base flashing; however, workers created sill flashing that also acts as counterflashing that can easily be removed for future roof system replacement.

"That is the type of mindset true craftsmen bring to work every day," Masotta says.


One of the most interesting building features is the cupola on the hip roof. On top of the cupola is an 8- by 8-foot skylight, an access door with a fixed portal and an interior laylight. The laylight was not scheduled for restoration, but it sagged significantly toward the center and appeared in a fragile state.

"The laylight was not part of our scope and it appeared to be on the verge of falling out, so we had to work lightly around and above it to avoid damaging it," Quesenberry says.

Ruff Roofers craftsmen reclad the cupola with Revere FreedomGray flat-seam panels. The cupola's skylight had severely deteriorated around the base, requiring complete rebuilding and tie-in to the existing window frames. Workers rigged a lifting jig under the skylight and hoisted it off the roof so they could refurbish it in Ruff Roofers' off-site shop without jeopardizing the fragile laylight.

Heavy rusting required re-tinning the existing frame. Care was taken to maintain the existing dimensions so the skylight would fit back on the existing cupola. Additionally, workers noticed the existing glass panes and frames were nonuniform and out of square—no two were alike. This required precise stabilizing of the entire frame while reconstructing the base frame in the original, historical profile while successfully splicing into the existing sound frame, making use of the existing frame to the greatest extent possible.

"The skylight on top of the cupola required the most attention to detail," Quesenberry says. "Refurbishing the frame to maintain the original lines meant every piece had to be custom-made. Splicing in repairs required much time and skill to not alter the pane frame dimensions, which were not consistent and required each piece of glass to be custom-fabricated to match its mating location within the skylight."

In addition, the cupola's access door had rotted and required a complete rebuild. Ruff Roofers craftsmen recreated the exact dimensions of the door and portal while improving the joinery that had allowed the door to deteriorate extensively.

Workers laid out the joints on the flat-seam wall cladding on the cupola to align with the access door sill and header while maintaining the original number of panels and joints. The effect not only provided optimum weathertightness for the joinery, it produced a finished appearance with clean, neat lines.

"Ruff Roofers' attention to detail, knowledge of the sheet metal craft and professionalism are visible down to the last detail," Masotta says. "You will notice on the downspouts, Ruff Roofers' custom straps that are stout, yet streamlined."

A fabric of history renewed

Although there was a wide array of challenges, Ruff Roofers successfully completed its work on the Peale Center in January 2018 without incident or injury.

"Completing all the work without incident, especially the cupola and skylight work, and seeing the hip, gable and shed roofs all come together was the most rewarding," Caldwell says. "We intentionally kept the crew size small, about four to six workers, to ensure consistency in quality and appearance."

Thanks to Ruff Roofers' ingenuity with technical attention to historical details, the Peale Center's roof systems, cupola, skylight, chimneys, gutters and windows have been restored, and the roof lines that define the buildings' finished appearance now appear straight without sacrificing performance.

"Once again, Ruff Roofers showed its professionalism in producing a top-quality product," Masotta says. "Its dedication to its craft and its professionalism overcame all the challenges and maintained the historic fabric of a unique and valuable structure for all to observe and enjoy for decades to come."

For its exceptional work on the Peale Center, Ruff Roofers received a Roofing Alliance 2019 Gold Circle Awards honorable mention in the Innovative Solutions category.

Chrystine Elle Hanus is Professional Roofing's associate editor and NRCA's director of communications.

Project name: Peale Center
Project location: Baltimore
Project duration: March 2017-January 2018
Roof system types: Revere FreedomGray® (architectural sheet copper hot-dip coated on both sides with zinc-tin alloy)
Roofing contractor: Ruff Roofers Inc., Baltimore
Roofing manufacturers: Revere Copper Products, Rome, N.Y.
Architect: SM+P Architects, Baltimore


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