Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Evolution of the Flat Roof; House Doctor Peter Fall Looks at a Success Story in the Building Industry

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Evolution of the Flat Roof; House Doctor Peter Fall Looks at a Success Story in the Building Industry

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Fall of Clear Building Survey

CHATTING over drinks with industry colleagues last week, one said: "I enjoy your column but I wish you wouldn't concentrate on buildings going wrong. Every now and again, can't you show how we get them right?"

On reflection, she was correct but that's the nature of the column - after all you don't go to the doctor to tell him/her you are feeling fine, do you?

Anyway, that made me put my thinking cap on to consider which of the problems I see less of these days.

Perhaps one of these might be the flat roof.

When they were built, our older buildings, say those that are more than 80 years old, would have their flat roofs covered with sheets of lead, copper or even zinc.

Each of these was a heavy and expensive metal sheet that required the skills of specialist tradesmen to correctly lay them. However, they did have the benefit of longevity, rarely giving problems for the first 100 years.

All of that changed with the development of the bituminous felt roofing sheet. This was a lightweight and cheap means of covering flat roofs that could be applied by semi-skilled operatives who mostly could be trained on the job. The industry embraced the bit felt roof with both hands, to the extent that in the 60s and 70s almost every house that was built had a bit felt flat roof somewhere.

Unfortunately, longevity was not built in and the industry failed to recognise that bit felt flat roof construction needed careful design, perhaps more so than the traditional slate or tile-finished pitched roof.

The result was frequent leaks, many of which were slow and steady causing major decay within the roof structure before the leak was recognised internally.

One problem with the early bit felt roofs was the quality of the material itself. The bitumen degraded in the sunlight and the cloth reinforcement couldn't resist the constant expansion and contraction of the roof surface. …

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