Infinity Roofing historic roof restoration: Milwaukee’s Jenkins Mansion

New Berlin roofing company rises to challenge of re-roofing Victorian mansion

Milwaukee historical roof restorationRe-roofing historic homes always presents unique challenges—from working on steeply sloping roofs to using materials and techniques consistent with the era in which the structure was built. A perfect example of how Infinity Roofing handles such work is the Jenkins House roof restoration.

Although known today as the Jimmie and Mary Jenkins House (for Milwaukee auto dealer Jimmie Jenkins, who purchased it in 1998), the storybook mansion was originally built in 1874 for Doctor Fisk Holbrook Day (1826-1903), a prominent local physician and amateur geologist. During that time, it was known as the Sunnyhill Home.

The 5,200 square foot home was built in part to house Day's impressive collection of paleontological artifacts. Built with cream brick in the high Victorian Gothic style, it is distinguished by a 4-story tower at the center and a steeply pitched mansard roof. Today, it is the only remaining major 19th-century mansion in the Wauwatosa area. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1980 as Sunnyhill Home (NRIS #80000169).

Restoration of Historic Mansion’s Roof a High Point for Infinity Roofing

Although most of the work Infinity Roofing does is for contemporary homes and businesses, we also roof historic homes and churches. Wherever possible, our goal is to use materials consistent with the home’s architecture and the era in which it was built.

With historic buildings, a roof isn’t just a protective layer on top, it’s almost always an integral part of the building’s architectural character. If the roof is visible to passersby, any restoration work should recreate the original roof as closely as possible. If it’s not visible, trying to recreate history is an unnecessary and expensive approach—especially if better or more cost-effective solutions can be used.

On any historic renovation project, there are "hoops" to jump through. In this case, the existing roof had a mix of cedar shingles hand-cut into diamond shapes and 5x cedar shingles. The Historical Preservation Society needed details on the roofing materials that would be used and how the project would be handled, while the owner was understandably concerned about the potential for costs to balloon out of control. After numerous meetings with the owner and both local and national historical societies, it was decided to re-roof with 5x Western Red Cedar 5x shingles (aka "fivex"). Typically 16" in length, these shingles are known as 5x shingles because they overlap with 5" of exposure on each shingle. All the shingles used on this project were Blue Label #1 Select grade 5x cedar shingles. 

The project was managed by two of Infinity Roofing's senior team members with extensive experience installing cedar shingles and over 15 years of experience bending and welding copper sheeting. All the worn out copper flashing was replaced with 100% copper flashing replacements custom cut and formed on-site. The entire project was completed in 14 days with a crew of 8. 

Historic Roof Restoration Project Overview

Milwaukee historical roof restoration

Taken before the restoration, this photo shows the original, worn out roofing on the Jenkins house.

Milwaukee historical roof restoration

Work in progress on Jenkins house.

Milwaukee historical roof restoration

Close-up shot of cedar siding and copper flashing around a dormer window on upper level of house. Materials used: Blue label #1 Select grade, premium edge cedar shingles and 100% copper flashing.

Milwaukee historical roof restoration

Close-up photo of copper flashing installed around chimney and surrounding cedar shingles installed by Infinity Roofing.

Milwaukee historical roof restoration

Overhead view of Jenkins house with completed roofing and flashing installation.

No Shortcuts in Bringing Historic Homes Up to Code

One of the biggest challenges with historic renovation work is completing the work in compliance with building codes. Obviously, building codes today are far more stringent than they were in the 1800s, so it’s inevitable there will be extra work involved to bring a historic building up to code.

Before starting a roofing job, we always assess the ventilation in a home’s attic space, the type of gutters and their placement, and the condition of the soffits to ensure the entire roofing system will meet building codes and protect the house through the extremes of weather we get in southeast Wisconsin. In this case, there was little in the way of a ventilation system, and we corrected this issue before the roofing work began.

Unfortunately, many roofing contractors don’t ensure there’s adequate ventilation, don’t properly account for ice and water protection, and in some cases don’t even adhere to the building code. Not Infinity Roofing. Whether it’s an 1800s mansion or a 1970’s ranch house, we always educate homeowners on what’s required for a roof to meet building codes, then offer options for how to best accomplish this.

Request a quote on reroofing your historic home, church or other building.
Rarely do I write reviews but in this case I decided to make an exception. A few of weeks ago I met with Danny an estimator with Infinity and was quite impressed. The depth of knowledge he shared, the advanced technology used in arriving at an accurate estimate, and his providing several options for consideration was much appreciated. I received four estimates for a new roof and while Infinity was not the lowest they were darn close, second lowest (understand we're not always comparing apples to apples). Clearly I was most comfortable with Danny's knowledge, professionalism and presentation of materials.
Michael Halstead
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