Home Renovation Adventures: Restoring a Queen Anne Slate Roof

Most anyone will agree, one of the things that makes Newburgh so special is the architecture. The centuries-old details on Newburgh’s buildings need upkeep and sometimes, complete restorations or renovations. Hans Obel Jensen and Julie Tremblay have been determined to give their Queen Anne the best maintenance they possibly can by restoring not only the original windows but now their original slate roof. Julie has so graciously decided to share their experience. To see more photos, check out their Instagram page.

Who did you use to do the work and how did you find them? Clemco Construction and Restoration, who are based in Ossining. We had been planning the restoration of the roof for some time and had gotten quotes from others but I wasn’t really convinced we had found the right people for the job. I was driving through Garrison and saw so many beautifully restored slate roofs and I thought I’d better find out who did those. Upon returning home, I started googling and landed on Clemco’s website. Tom Clemmens, the president of Clemco, worked full time in Garrison for about 15 years and has restored the roofs of some of the most prominent mansions and churches there. When he came to look at the house, I thought his understanding of materials and historic architecture was unlike that of anyone else I had interviewed for the job.

What are some of the details involved in restoring a slate roof?

I probably told Tom a million times that I wanted the roof to be restored totally faithfully to the original. Our house is a Queen Anne and the slate roof is very typical of that of a Queen Anne. It has so many patterns and shapes of tiles. It’s really quite funky. But the slate was so weathered you could hardly notice all the patterns. Some of those patterns and shapes Tom had never seen in 40+ years of restoring slate roofs. Even though Tom assured me each time that every shape and pattern would be reproduced, I was still puzzled as to how that was going to get done. Tom is a bit of a Renaissance man and has, years ago, invented and made a slate cutting machine. Thousands of slate tiles have been cut on this machine, for our roof, one by one. Our roof has about 8,000 slate tiles and about half of those had to be cut into some shape. Then there’s all the copper work. I had never realized our roof had that much copper. All the flashings have been cut and bent on antique machines that are inside of a trailer parked in front of our house. Every little piece of everything made from scratch. Except for the nails. They did not make the nails. Lol

Many roofs in Newburgh were slate. They were removed and never replaced. Why was is important for you to restore the slate roof?
First, as a sculptor, materials are important to me. I love that the bricks are made of soil, that the lumber used in the house is old growth wood. The window sashes may be “only” 135 years old but the wood used for them maybe 5-600 years old. And the slate, hundreds of thousands of years in the making. It’s beautiful and sustainable. This roof will last 200+ years. I am not a fan of things that need to be replaced every 20-30 years. And the rare craft involved in making it, makes me appreciate it even more.

What can you share regarding the costs of restoring a slate roof?

Well, it’s not cheap, as anyone could imagine. But it may not be as bad as some might think. When you restore a roof, whether you choose slate or another material, the cost of all the carpentry work that needs to get done (soffits, trim, brackets etc), all the flashing that needs to be replaced, the scaffolding that needs to be put up, the labor of putting down whatever; those costs will be the same. So the difference between putting down slate vs another material may not be so big. Our house was a zombie property that we bought at auction for not much. We felt that the least we could do was to give it back its dignity.

Are you worried about taxes when fixing the facade of your home? 

There is a program that gives people on exemption on the taxes on the amount they have spent on home improvement, for I think, 8 years. If you spent 80k, you won’t get taxed on that 80k the first year. Then the second year maybe  80% of the 80k you won’t get taxed on until 10% on the 8th year or something like that. But for us, we look at the big picture. We bought an extraordinary home, in an extraordinary place for not much. Even once we factor everything in, we feel it’s something we feel we can afford and we feel is worth it. Is it perfect? It’s not, but for us it’s definitely worth it.

One Comment

  • Wow, what an incredible journey you’ve shared in restoring a Queen Anne slate roof! The intricacies and challenges involved in preserving such a historic feature are truly commendable.