When Richmond, Calif., builder Pete Kasten accepted a last-minute commission to renovate a third-floor bedroom and bath in a historic 8,000-square-foot home north of the Golden Gate Bridge, he knew that the impending late-winter rains had the potential to wreak all sorts of expensive havoc on the site. The job - part of a regional event to showcase the work of residential designers - called for tearing off an existing 15-by-36-foot roof, beefing up the framing, and installing a new membrane roof and floating ipe deck. The new deck was to be flush with the bedroom floor and separated from it by a bank of accordion-fold glass doors, creating what the designer described as an "indoor-outdoor retreat."

To reduce the risk of flooding, Kasten arranged to have a local abatement contractor enclose the space above the deck with heavy shrink-wrap film, a material typically used to weatherproof large objects like boats, RVs, and modular home components. This, he hoped, would protect both his work area and the rooms below, where other contractors were...

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