A hole in the roof

My home, my nest, is getting an overhaul.  And it has a hole in its roof.  The truth is, we put the hole in on purpose, which is a little counter intuitive.  But we have our reasons.

Our home is a post-war building with very little insulation, and little or no ventilation, so we are installing a new roof on top of the old roof to improve the building’s ability to keep itself and it’s occupants warm and dry.

We decided not to simply replace the shingles, for that only solves a portion of the building’s challenges.  We have chosen to improve how the whole roof system works for the building.  We decided not to build a whole new nest; we are making an investment in this one.  She has lots to give us yet if we look after her.

So the whole in the roof…

There is a part of us that would love to make massive changes to the building.  We realize that the space gained with an addition will not be needed in less than a decade (kids are 12 and 14).  We also don’t have the strength to organize ourselves for a big reno.  We also don’t wish to put our money in a big reno.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to treat ourselves.  We chose a skylight to light up the stairwell and serve as a solar chimney on hot days.  So our contractor cut a hole in the roof.

As we stood in the stairwell today, the kids and I looked through the roof out, over the neighbourhood, right through the fresh air.  In the evening it is covered with a tarp, but as we move up and down the stairs we can hear the hum of the city.  When it rained last night, it sounded like we were sleeping in our tent.

As I was falling asleep last night listening to the rain I realized that roof has an important job.  For our species, we need to have somewhere warm and dry, our shelter, to survive.  The very roof we choose to build on our shelters reflects our life conditions.  Our home was built in a time when energy  to heat homes was abundant and cheap.  Energy is more scarce and more expensive and we are compelled to improve our building.  Our context changes and we eventually change too, and our structures, our physical habitats, with us.

It took a hole in the roof for me to realize that the new roof is really about, at a family scale, fixing our nest, our family habitat.  We are doing what we need to do to make sure the building functions well.  We are also moving beyond pure function and sorting out as a family how we can ‘dress up’ the building so it conveys our style, our identity.

We have a chance to put our mark on our nest.  As we come and go from our nest, we come and go from a place we have created for ourselves.  A home can pull on the heart strings and we are choosing colours and materials that pull on our heart strings.  We are also adding to the neighbourhood’s identity of itself. Collectively with our neighbours, we make our streets and neighbourhood.  Everyone’s choices accumulate to a feeling about our place and our collective identity.

When we chose to put in a skylight, it felt gratuitous.  But I am glad we put the hole in the roof.

Every time I travel the stairs I will be able to see the neighbourhood, the treetops and the stars from a new vantage point.