Eichler: No Walls, On A Slab…. Run The Wires (and Water) On The Roof!

Update: It is raining pretty hard today (Saturday after these photos were taken) and, in fact, the inside of the house is dry. No drips or leaks anywhere (yet — gotta keep an eye on this). Awesome.

What An Eichler Foam Roof Should Look Like

This is what the roof of an Eichler should look like. Or, at least, an Eichler with a foam roof that is a couple of years away from needing recoating.

Aside: Eichler’s, by the way, were a mid century modern design by Joseph Eichler. Mostly post and beam (though not all) with an emphasis on an open floor pan facing the outside with an open to the air atrium in the middle. Sort of Levitt-with-style for the west coast. Eichler owners get Eichler specific spam and there is an entire network of web sites devoted to Eichlers.

Fairly smooth, unbroken, sea of off-whiteness. Reflective. Waterproof. A solid roof over our heads to keep us dry, out of the sun, and warm in the winter (sort of).

Of course, being an Eichler, the roof is much more than just a shelter over the house. Since there are no unbroken walls — just windows — between the walls, almost all electrical and any re-routed plumbing ends up on the roof.

Or, more specifically, in the roof.

Skylights, Vents, Electrical Canals, Oh My!

Thus, as of yesterday morning, my roof looked a lot like the picture at the right.

Big-ass Holes cut everywhere. Electrical conduit canals all over the place.

And wouldn’t you know it! Rain is in the forecast for as soon as tomorrow and most likely on Saturday! Awesome!

Since the original wiring wasn’t really any great shakes, any kind of a remodel — especially a kitchen remodel that involves new appliances — requires moving or replacing much of the wiring.

Which requires cutting through the roof and dropping new conduit into the walls.

Connecting Old Electrical to New Electrical

“But why not just run the wires through the existing conduit?”, you ask.

Because there was no existing conduit! Instead, the original builders would simply lay the electrical wire over the roof, cover it with right angle strips of metal, and then bury the whole thing in the roof.

That is, bury it under a layer of tarpaper, then insulation, then more tarpaper, then tar and gravel over the whole thing.

Which didn’t last long and it really sucks to have a tar and gravel roof in the hot summer sun. So, most Eichler homeowners coat the roof in 3″ to 4″ of very hard foam and then seal the whole thing with a plastic material.

Once the electrician cuts through all of the layers of roofing, then it is a matter of carefully cutting and peeling back the angled sheet metal to patch into or replace the existing cables.


Wire Canal Cut in Sea of Roofing Foam

I like to think of the long canals running through my roof foam as “electrical canals”.

Much of the conduit on the roof is to support lighting in new areas and to run new power from the breaker box to the other side of the house.

And there are a couple of boxes stuck through, ready for future expansion. If we ever were to do solar panels, there is a junction box ready to bring power down to near the breaker box, for example.

All of these “canals”, holes and other stuff is now filled in with foam and the whole thing is nicely sealed.

We’ll see on saturday whether or not the house still keeps water out.

Hot Water on the Roof!

Speaking of water, our hot water pipe (at left) that services the showers and sinks near the bedroom runs across the roof.

And, of course, one of the down pipes (foreground) had to be moved.

Now, who the heck would ever run a hot water pipe over their roof?!?!! Literally on top of the roof!?!?

When most Eichler’s were built, the water pipes were run through the slab directly. Along with the radiant heat.

The two are normally isolated. However, if there were any kind of direct or indirect conductive contact between the two, this would cause the pipe with new water running through it to gradually rot.

This is what happened in our Eichler to the hot water pipe. Since the radiant heat system should be sealed, the water never changes in it and, thus, the oxidizing agents in the water are very quickly neutralized; radiant heat typically does not rot unless their is a leak.

Since tearing into the slab to fix pipes is a gigantic pain in the ass, a former owner simply ran the hot water pipes over the roof. The pipe couldn’t be run along walls as there are floor to ceiling windows on all possible routes from one side of the house to the other (and no crawl space or attic)!

It works OK, save for the handful of nights in winter where it does get cold enough to freeze. I have to remember to leave the hot water at a slight trickle to prevent catastrophe.

And the birds/squirrels like to remove the insulation from the damned pipes. Actually, the squirrels will sometimes fill the insulation with nuts, if they can find a hole.

The next time I have to replace the insulation, I’ll definitely wrap the pipe in a heating blanket.

The adventures of owning a “mid-century modern home”….

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12 Responses to “Eichler: No Walls, On A Slab…. Run The Wires (and Water) On The Roof!”

  1. Jeffrey J Hoover says:

    Eek! a touch of rain coming this weekend…

    BTW- Fireworks at halftime of the football game @ Cupertino High this Friday. (small show, but hand fired!)

  2. DLub says:

    Is there a reason for not burying the water pipe into the foam roof while you’re digging that electrical in? Seems like doing that might help both problems – the edibility of the insulation and the pipe-bursting issue.
    We get birds pecking at our foam roof too, and we head up there with some polyurethane caulk every fall and try to patch up the divots. Didn’t make it in time for our early first rain this year though.
    Also, I notice that you put in flat skylights, as opposed to domed. Other than the domed shedding water differently, what’s the difference? Thanks!

  3. Phoenix Heating Repair says:

    That’s a pretty interesting system… I’d never heard of Eichler homes before coming across your webpage. I have a question, though – why couldn’t you just make two layers on the roof and put the pipes in between (kind of like acoustic tiles, or the floors in a computer center with all the wires running underneath)? Then you could just pick up the parts of the roof you need, put them to the side, work on the pipes, and then put them back on. That way, you wouldn’t have to cut into the roof every time you need to do some plumbing.

    Am I missing something on why this wouldn’t be a good idea?

  4. Andy Boyko says:

    A minor correction: Eichler was a developer, not a designer — the houses were designed by various architects of the era, tuned for cost and reproducibility.

    We just moved to Sunnyvale from the east coast, and living in an Eichler was one of my wife’s criteria for the move. Having endured renovating a 1940’s house back east, one of mine was: let’s rent. From what I can tell, one might be happier as an Eichler renter 🙂

  5. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » No leaks! says:

    […] A couple of weeks ago, our roof was mighty torn up. […]

  6. David says:

    It is a terrible sight, i would not be willing to appear in a place like that

  7. bbum says:

    Bwahahahaha! Stupid spammer. I’d love to have seen the terms of contract that resulted in that comment.

    Link removed.

  8. eichler says:

    Looks like a lot of work! Out of curiosity, were your tongue and groove ceilings caulked prior to all of this roof work? I only ask because i’ve seen a few roof projects like this that shook things up a little bit and resulted in roof sediment inside of the home. Hopefully it was a ‘clean’ project for you (at least inside).

  9. bbum says:

    For the uninformed, eichler ceilings are made of really thick redwood tongue and groove planks. Over the 40 or so years, the planks tend to dry out and shrink slightly. Thus, the spacing between is enough to allow gunk on the tar-and-gravel roof to fall or be pushed through.

    Unfortunately, our ceilings were not caulked. Fortunately, they did have the proper layer of paper on top unlike some.

    That, combined with the utter destruction in the house, has meant that all the areas with roof incursions were areas that were also torn down to the slab. Big mess anyway.

    (And, yes, that last comment is semi-spammy. Trying to drive traffic to a bay area Eichler “for sale” network. But it is also a spot-on question and a definite concern. Clearly, a network that has at least a bit of a clue.)

  10. Olivia says:

    I was elated to find this description of your home! I do not have an Eichler home, however my home does share MANY of the same characteristics as yours, including a flat roof, tounge in groove ceilings, slab foundation, and plumbing gone wrong in the slab. I am convinced a lovely insulated box could be built on the roof to accommodate new plumbing, but people keep telling me no. I am in Sacramento and am not sure how my climate compares with yours. Do you have problems with hot water or any other info you can offer?

  11. Cupertinoeichler says:

    We had our cold water line moved onto the roof when it sprung a leak in the slab…water gets hot in summer. Have to go over the roof to not destroy the radiant floor heating….leak was next to the manifold!

    Our t & g ceiling/roof isn’t caulked…it rains bits of tar cinder when people are on the roof.

  12. Eichler: No Walls, On A Slab!. Run The Wires (and Water) On The Roof! says:

    […] bbum’s weblog-o-mat: […]

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