Bad Reputations In the Roofing Department

Flat roofing is not a new, or unusual, solution for domestic or commercial properties. It was, in fact, one of the earliest techniques for creating a simple, hopefully weatherproof, topping to some of the earliest buildings in history. In the warmer climes, where civilisation flourished, the lack of rainfall made the flat roof not only a simple, practical solution, but also provided useful extra outdoor space on even the most humble of dwellings. Cost is a significant factor when it comes to modern roofing solutions and the flat roof option is much cheaper and far easier to construct than the pitched alternative. Estimates suggest that in the UK somewhere around 70 per cent of buildings have at least a small area of flat roofing. However, flat roofs also seem to have something of a bad reputation – but is this deserved?

Flat roofs are constructed using a basic formula: joist, platform, covering and a waterproof covering.

Flat roofs are constructed using a basic formula:
joist, platform, covering and a waterproof covering.

Ageing Housing Stock

Although flat roofing has been a simple solution applied to many large and historic buildings in the UK (palaces, stately homes, churches and cathedrals often combine at least an area of flat roofing in their construction) it was only in the twentieth century, and particularly after the Second World War when a programme of mass housing was initiated, that large numbers of smaller domestic properties were built incorporating the technology. It’s these properties in particular, between forty and sixty years old, that may be responsible for the bad reputation of the humble flat roof. This is partly to do with outdated construction methods and materials.

Construction Techniques and Problems

Flat roofs are constructed using a basic formula: joist, platform, covering and a waterproof covering. In older houses pitch and felt were the most common type of waterproof covering. It’s the failure of the waterproof layer that causes the most problems in flat roofs today and the older the property the more likely it is to experience problems. This is not, however, an intrinsic problem with flat roofing, but simply a matter of ageing and, very often, less than adequate maintenance over the years.

Poor maintenance can lead to small areas of leakage, which can in turn rot the structure of the roof, allowing it to sag, causing pooling and further more problematic issues with water. If this has occurred it’s often the worst case scenario, requiring replacement of the whole roof. However, many householders faced with this prospect make the mistake of believing that a pitched roof will be a better alternative. It is certainly a far more costly option; some estimates suggest that a flat roof is likely to cost ten times less than a pitched.

Modern construction methods have a number of advantages over the traditional variety. This can mean that a replacement flat roof will not only be the cheapest option but will last a very long time indeed. For new builds, the flat roof option is attractive, with modern techniques and materials offering a long-lasting solution and the design itself offering a modern, attractive lines.

What’s New in the Flat Roof World?

The actual building techniques have not changed much; the basic design and construction of a flat roof requires the same components and sections although insulation will be required, in replacement and new roofs alike, to comply with current regulations. The biggest change in the method is the materials used to make the roof waterproof. In addition to the felt and pitch solution, still used and benefiting from the test of time, there are new materials including fibre glass and EPDM, the latter of which often comes with extremely lengthy guarantees. EPDM is considered one of the toughest materials, resistant to foot traffic and highly flexible, dealing with heat and colder conditions equally well.  Specialist firms, such as Marcus Roofing, generally work with EPDM today as their preferred material.

Problem Owners

Maintenance is also key to maintaining the lifespan of a flat roof. Once replaced or built, flat roofs should be inspected at least twice a year, early spring and late summer being the best times to make checks for damage or leaks. EPDM, in particular is an easy DIY repair material, although expert help is also useful. Generally, repairs should be conducted during warm, dry conditions to ensure an effective result. Despite their bad press, flat roofs, if will maintained, can match pitched for performance.

Freelance writer and occasional builder Chris Hoole argues that flat roofs have had a bad press; with modern materials and regular maintenance, he believes they can be a long-lasting, cost effective solution.

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