Roofing, Gutters and Downspouts
This section introduces you to the components of the Luston’s roof, and describes their most common problems and recommended solutions. For a detailed discussion of how the roofing fit into the larger Lustron system, click here.
What Is It?
Lustron created a roofing system of interlocking, stamped, metal roofing tiles, gutters, and downspouts that provide the first level of protection from the elements. The tiles are stamped metal sheets finished with a protective porcelain enamel coating. Porcelain enamel is a close relative of glass, composed largely of silica sand. When exposed to high heat, the ingredients in the enamel melt and fuse into an incredibly hard, inert finish that protects the underlying steel from corrosion.Because it is so durable, porcelain enamel finishes were very popular in the early and mid-twentieth century for use in high-wear applications, such as kitchen cabinets, appliances, and bathtubs.
To make a Lustron roof tile, sheets of light (20-gauge), structural-quality, flat, rolled carbon steel are stamped into the desired size and shape depending on their location. The porcelain coating is applied in liquid form to the metal plates by spraying or dipping, then the coated plates are dried before being fired in massive ovens at temperatures of 1,300°F and 1,600°F for 3 to 5 minutes.
Silica sand and smaller amounts of other ingredients such as feldspar and borax are the primary elements of the enamel coating. These are ground, heated to a liquid state, and poured through chilled rollers that produce thin flakes of glass. The flakes are then ground into a fine powder known as “frit,” mixed with clay and water, and tinted with ceramic pigments to create the liquid “slip” that is applied to the metal panels. Although porcelain enamel coatings can come in an endless variety of colors, Lustron houses were manufactured only in green.
How Does It Work?
In much the same way that the porcelain enamel panels wrap the metal structural framing and strengthen it, the interlocking roof panels form a skin that links and strengthens the system of twelve steel roof trusses.
The lowest row of panels on each edge of the gable are designed to overlap the two integral gutters, each of which arrived at the site as a series five short sections that were assembled from right to left with overlapping seams.
As the first step in the roof installation, these gutters sections were attached directly to the ends of the gables trusses with slot-head, self-tapping screws.
This was followed by the first row of panels, beginning with the smaller end panel on the lower left and then working systematically from left to right and bottom to top. A series of six ridge roll panels cap the roof, held in place by bolts with a cup washer and retainer.
With the exception of the shorter end panels, the roof panels measure two feet by four feet, which allows their edges to align with the centerline of each truss. Each panel is attached to the roof truss system with screws along its top lip and again along the lower front face. The overlapping edges of the panels provide a watertight joint. To provide an extra level of waterproofing, the lowest row of panels were drilled on their lower face and secured to the gutter strap underneath by stainless steel screws with neoprene washers.
The pre-formed gutters channel water to single boxed downspout at the right rear and front left corners of the house. The downspouts fastened to the underside of the gutters with a screw and nut threaded through a small flange inside the downspout. (EM-02-L-60.1) Stability for the single length of downspout was supplied by a decorative 1/2-inch pipe trellis bolted to small flanges on the back side of the downspout, the exterior corner panels, and the plenum panels.
For more detailed information on the panels, their location, and the installation process, you may want to review the appropriate sections of the Erection Manual and Specifications:
Gutters and Roof
- Gutter Installation Plan and Details - EM-02-E-10.1
- Panels-Roof & Ridge Assembly - EM-02-E-20.1
- Roof Panel Installation-Detail of Anchorage - EM-02-E-40.1
- Trellis & Downspout Installation - EM-02-L-60.1
- Master Specifications - 1949 Revisions
- Roof Trusses - Master Specifications-1949 Revisions, See Section F, page 6 for information on assembly.
- Roof Panels - Master Specifications - 1949 Revisions, See Section F, pages 7-8 for materials and installation information.
For information on the structural system of the roofing, you might want to review these sections of the Erection Manual:
- Installation-Trusses - EM-02-C-10.10
- Half Truss Assembly Details - EM-02-C-10.11
- Truss to Wall Installation Details - EM-02-C-10.12
- Truss to Wall Installation Details - EM-02-C-10.14
- Installation-Top & Bottom Truss Spacers & Details - EM-02-C-21.1
- Installation-Top & Bottom Truss Spacers & Details - EM-02-C-22.1
- Truss Wind Brace-Installation - EM-02-C-31.1
- Details-Truss-Wind Brace & Wall Tie-In - EM-02-C-31.10
- Details-Truss-Wind Brace & Wall Tie-In - EM-02-C-31.20
- Details-Truss-Wind Brace & Wall Tie-In - EM-02-C-31.30
- Details-Truss-Wind Brace & Wall Tie-In - EM-02-C-31.40
- Lintel & Porch Post Installation - EM-02-C-52.1
- Lintel & Porch Post Installation - EM-02-C-53.1
- Installation-Truss & False Runner to Lintel - EM-02-C-60.1
Common Problems and Repairs
“In the rain gutter design, beauty has been combined with utility. All gutters are extremely generous in size and fully porcelain enameled which, naturally, eliminates rusting common to ordinary type gutters.” (from “Lustron Homes,” Better Enameling 17 (November 1946): 11)
It’s almost true. Although many Lustron gutters have performed admirably over many decades of use, most owners have experienced problems that must be addressed to keep moisture out of the house and to prevent corrosion. Some may be a matter of regular maintenance, such as keeping your gutters free of leaves and debris. But others can require more complex solutions, which are complicated by the construction of the Roof and Gutters System.
Here are some common problems for Lustron roofing:
My roof tiles need to be cleaned.
The best way to maintain your Lustron roof is with an annual inspection and cleaning. Over the years, dirt and debris can dull the appearance of the shingles by soiling or abrading the surface of the enamel. A simple cleaning can be an effective way to remove years of accumulated debris and reveal the roof surface for a detailed examination of its condition.
If you are going to access your roof, always remember to take the proper safety precautions. The metal panels can get very hot in the sun and they can be extremely slippery. Work with a partner on the ground whenever possible to reduce the number of trips you need to make up and down the ladder. Once on the roof, try to do as much as possible from a sitting position to minimize your risk of slipping and to prevent damage to the roof panels. When you walk on the roof, try to keep your weight over the trusses as much as possible. The trusses are spaced four feet on center, with vertical seams of each roof panels placed directly over the center of the trusses underneath.Start by carefully removing any large debris or hard materials that could scratch or dent the enamel. Once these are cleared, sweep the entire roof with a broom or stiff bristled, natural fiber brush to clear it all organic debris, such as leaves, grass, pine needles, etc.
Pay special attention to any material trapped between the seams of the roof panels.Begin the process at the top (ridge line) and move across the face of the roof, slowly working your way down one side to the gutter. Carefully clear all material from your gutter, using the opportunity to examine the condition of the enamel, metal and seams on the interior of the gutter channel. Ideally, you should clean your gutters at least twice per year to prevent materials from accumulating inside and trapping moisture against the porcelain enamel surface. When you reach the downspout, shine a flashlight down the interior to determine if it is blocked with leaves or other debris.
A thorough sweeping should allow you to examine the surface condition of your roof panels and gutters for dents, chips, scratches, or pitting in the enamel, or larger areas of corrosion that need to be repaired. If there is a significant accumulation of dirt on the panels, smaller areas of damage may be difficult to see and treat. You might want to consider wet cleaning, similar to the process recommended for the exterior panels. Beginning at the ridge line again, rinse your entire roof using your garden hose with low to medium water pressure. Do not use pressure cleaning devices on your Lustron, as this will drive water behind the panels or could result in damage to the porcelain surface. Work on a single row at a time, cleaning the surface of each panel with a mild solution of dish detergent or a non-ionic detergent in warm water. Use a cotton rag or sponge and mild bio-degradable dish detergent to remove as much of the build-up as possible. Abrasive pads and metal brushes could scratch the porcelain enamel, but synthetic or natural bristle cleaning brushes are safe and can be very helpful. Once you have finished your scrubbing, rinse the entire surface with your hose from top to bottom. If you water contains a high concentration of dissolved minerals (also known as “hard” water), you should wipe the surface to prevent spotting, which will attract and hold dirt.
If more significant deposits are present, you may need to take a few additional steps. Most household cleaning products designed for use on surfaces in the kitchen and bath will be safe for the roof panels. A gel-based cleanser (like Soft-scrub) or phosphate-free, non-abrasive powder can assist in removing heavier soiling when used in combination with water and soft rags. Always test any product in a small patch first to determine if could damage the porcelain enamel surface.
Heavy soiling or staining of your panels may require more aggressive treatments, such as chemical poultices, mechanical removal, or the careful application of more abrasive and/or potentially corrosive products. Testing for appropriate, non-damaging treatments is currently underway. We recommend that you delay your treatment of these areas and check the website for updates for new recommendations that will posted as our research is completed.
The seams in my gutters have failed and are leaking.
Since the gutters arrived at the site in five short sections, there are four seams in each gutter that potentially can fail over time. (EM-02-E-10.1) The material used to seal the seams (neither the Specifications nor the Manual indicate what material was to be used), allowing water to move through the crack. If allowed to continue this will eventually cause the gutter to corrode.
To restore the seal, remove any caulk, tar, or other sealant that may have been placed on the interior and exterior of the gutter. It is important to clean the surface to the bare metal in order to achieve the best seal possible. A wire wheel or wire brush will clean the metal and remove any corrosion on the surface. After you have achieved a clean surface, install a bead of high-quality, exterior-grade silicone sealant on both the interior and exterior surfaces of the seam.
My panels have chips, pitting, or scratches in the enamel surface.
Unfortunately, your roof panels can be severely damaged in any number of ways-accidental bumps, dents, and scratches-and roof panels are particularly vulnerable due to their exposure. We currently are conducting research to determine the best means to repair a damaged porcelain enamel coating on a panel, including:
- Applying a new coat of porcelain enamel to an existing panel that has been removed;
- Repairing and re-enameling a panel in place;
- The feasibility of painting a damaged areas on a panel; and
- Fabricating new porcelain enamel panels for replacement
Please check the website in the coming months for posting of our latest research and recommendations for these more serious problems.
If you have damaged panels right now, we suggest the following temporary repair that will help arrest the deterioration:
1. Clean the damaged area of any dirt, oil or debris and allow it to dry thoroughly.
2. Mask the damaged area with tape to isolate your treatment as much as possible, and prevent inadvertent damage to the surrounding panel surface.
3. Remove any visible corrosion with fine steel wool or a steel bristle brush, exposing the bare metal
4. Patch any small holes with Bondo.
5. Apply two coats of metal primer, which will slow or prevent future corrosion.
This procedure should function as patch than can be removed prior to a more permanent repair.
My gutters have rusted.
Unfortunately there is no easy solution to repair gutters that have corroded. The most appropriate solution would be to remove the gutters and replace them with salvaged gutters, or new gutters that were fabricated to match the original. As discussed above, the construction method used makes access to the gutters very difficult. The five gutter sections are attached directly to the ends of the roof trusses, extending under the first row of roof shingles to provide additional water protection. In order to remove the gutters, all of the roof panels above it must be removed. If you have other roofing problems that need to be repaired, removing the roof may be the most feasible option to address a number of conditions at one time, including gutter replacement.
If your problems are confined exclusively to the gutters, there are alternatives that are more cost effective and do not require the removal of the entire roof. If the bottom of the gutter has failed, but the front and rear walls of the gutter sections are intact, a new liner could be inserted into the gutter channel. Contact a local metal shop to assist in the fabrication and installation of a new metal liner on the inside of the gutter box.
Some have attempted to address gutter deterioration by removing original gutters below the lower edge of the roof panels, then attaching new gutters with screws. We strongly discourage this approach. Not only does it damage the original materials by completely removing the gutters, but it creates a condition that permits water from the gutters to flow under the lowest row of shingles and create ice dams. This can cause moisture problems in the soffits as well as the wall panels.Another option would be to create a new gutter that can fit over the exterior of the existing gutter box. Locate a qualified metal shop in your community who can produce a box gutter of the same material, profile and downspout location as the original gutter. Prime and paint the new gutter to match the color of the existing gutter and roof panels. Install the new metal box gutter on the exterior of your existing gutter, placing a high quality silicone sealant in between the two. Attach the exterior gutter with stainless steel screws and neoprene gaskets on the rear wall of both gutters. Although not ideal, this approach will preserve as much of the original gutter as possible, while also maintaining the appropriate appearance.
My downspout has been damaged or removed.
A local metal shop should be able to make new downspouts to match the original in material, dimensions, profile, and attachment based on a sample of an existing downspout and the information on page EM-02-L-60.1 (below).
My panels need to be repaired and/or re-coated.
If you choose to do a major roof repair, removing all of the panels and gutters, you can undertake the most appropriate treatment that will restore the materials to their original appearance and condition. A metal shop can remove the damaged coating and corrosion from the metal panels and gutters, patch any holes or dents, and prepare the surface for a new coating to match the original color.
If you choose to remove the panels, you must cover the trusses with temporary plywood sheeting and tar paper to provide adequate protection from the weather, but also to provide the necessary stability to the roof trusses. Like the wall panels, the roof panels stabilize the structural elements by linking them together. You must install the plywood on the trusses as you remove a few rows of panels. Each plywood panel should overlap the one below it to provide the attic, plenum and insulation with appropriate protection from moisture. Cover the plywood with tar paper. If you go to the effort to remove the entire roof, you also should consider placing more insulation in the attic while you have easy access. It much easier than trying to work through the small access hole in the ceiling of the utility room. Remember to keep the gable end vents clear of any loose insulation. They provide critical air circulation for the attic space.