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By at home

roof top_and_chimney_26_10_12Keeping your home safe and dry would simply not be possible without a roof, but equally a leaky roof could spell disaster. We tell you what to look out for when it comes to keeping your property in tip-top condition.

With summer now in full-swing and the sun shining, the shivers of winter may seem all but a distant memory. However, it’s no time to get complacent – now’s the perfect time to give your roof its annual check before the autumn leaves begin to fall. No part of your home faces harder wear and tear than the roof, which is alternately scorched, rained on and frozen during the seasons – sometimes all in the same day! At first, it may seem pretty much impossible to even think about taking on a project as big as roof maintenance yourself – especially if you don’t have a head for heights. But there are a few things you can do to monitor its condition, which don’t involve teetering at the top of a ladder, before calling on the services of a professional roofer.

Prevention plan

The most obvious sign of a leaky roof is water pouring into your house. But, in an ideal world, you’d want to stop a leak long before it was able to create so much damage. And having a yearly (or even a biannual) roof check-up can stop that from happening in the first place.

Attack the attic: Up here, you can get right up under the roof to look for signs of trouble. Roof leaks tend to be pretty sneaky, dripping a little at a time, so that any problems can go undetected for years before you see any evidence of a leak inside your house. But one thing you can be sure of is that left undetected, the drip will get worse. And by the time it shows up as a dirty grey patch on your ceiling, it may have already caused dry rot, fungus and insulation damage, which may require major repairs or even a new roof. A good time to inspect your roof is right after there has been a heavy downpour. In the attic, you’ll be able to see any signs of wetness, rot or mould. Wet spots may not appear directly under the faulty tile. Water travels down to its lowest point before it drips, so you’ll need to trace the signs upwards to find the source.

Go to ground: Inspect the area around your house for roofing materials. Roof tiles, for example, can be loosened during high winds and fall near the house.

Check the chimney: Pay attention to where it meets the roof. If you find water seeping from your chimney, you can be pretty sure you’ve got a leak. Also, inspect any other roof penetrations, such as vents, fans and skylights, looking for telltale cracks that have started in the sealant.

Look for leaves: A build-up of leaves and debris in the roof valley (where two roofs join at an angle) can cause water to pool and leak through the roof. Keep an eye out for debris building up on the roof and clear it up as soon as you can. What’s more, debris that’s left to sit on your roof for a length of time can lead the wood frame to rot. Gutters filled with leaves and debris, and clogged up down-pipes, allow water to back up, which can cause leaks in the roof. Gutters should be cleaned regularly and downpipes checked for rubbish and clogging.

Repairing leaks

The most common cause of a leaky roof is the flashing (an upstand of metal, such as lead, zinc or copper at a wall or roof junction used to stop water from getting in) around the chimney, vents, fans and skylights and lining roof valleys and eaves. Often the sealant material used with the flashing – or the rubber used for sealing pipes – dries out as a result of exposure to the elements. The simplest way to repair these types of problems (and holes) is with roof and gutter sealant, which is available from most DIY stores at about £3 a tube. Clean the area first, before applying a thin layer of sealant. Rusted and corroded flashing can also cause leaks, but this can be repaired easily by first removing the rust, then painting it with rust-resistant paint. However, seriously deteriorated flashing and vents will need replacing as soon as possible.

Choosing a reliable roofing contractor

Nothing beats getting a personal recommendation when finding a contractor, so if your friends or family are happy with someone they’ve used recently, they could be a good place to start. Failing that, when you’re looking for an industry expert to repair or replace your roof, go to a body such as The National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC). Its website (www.nfrc.co.uk) lists reputable businesses bearing the TrustMark logo by location. Once you have a list of local contractors, evaluate each one carefully – a professional roofer will happily provide any information you require. Ask to see examples of their work or read testimonials from former clients as well. If these all look atisfactory, ask for them to give you an estimate in writing.

Selecting your materials

The covering you choose for your roof will depend on a number of factors. Pitched roofs tend to be tiled with slate, concrete, clay or metal. If you live in a conservation area, you’ll usually have to pay more for local traditional tiles. For instance in the Cotswolds, you may need Cotswold stone, or in Wales, Welsh slate. You can expect to pay about £60 per square metre for Welsh slate, compared with about £23 per square metre for foreign imports. So, if the average roof is 70 square metres, a full re-roof in Welsh slate will cost more than £4,200 – without labour costs.

Synthetic slate is much lighter, cheaper and less fragile than real slate, and can be made from a variety of materials, including ceramic tile, wood fibres or cellulose.

Clay tiles are very resilient and are able to withstand the elements. The one drawback is their weight; they do require certain structural standards to be met for the frame of the roof. They have a great life expectancy, with a minimum duration of between 40 and 50 years.

Concrete tiles display all of the benefits of clay tiles but with an added advantage of being available in an even greater number of styles. These can really look the part at a fraction of the usual expense.

Sticking to your budget

Expect to pay between £4,000 and £6,000 for a brand new roof on a terraced house and more for detached properties. With jobs this size, it’s a good idea to have a contingency fund, as unexpected problems often arise, majorly boosting costs. If you’re really concerned about the quality of the work, you could withhold part of your payment until after it has rained – this will really test the quality of the workmanship. Only when you are satisfied with the finished work should you then pay off the final outstanding balance.

Don’t forget your gutters
How to look after your gutters and keep them in good condition

Do regular inspections Bad guttering can cause a host of damp problems within a building’s structure. If the gutters are not properly maintained, it can result in water running down the side of the building. However, problems often aren’t visible unless it’s raining. So the next wet day you get, check for potential problems such as blocked downpipes, sagging gutters and leaking joints. Also go upstairs to see if water is pooling on flat roofs. Cleaning your gutters step-by-step

  • Stop the top of the downpipe with an old towel.
  • Don’t allow debris to fall in; if it wasn’t already blocked, it will be now.
  • Clear debris with a trowel and scoop it into a bucket.
  • Once they are empty, remove the towel and pour cold water down into the gutter at its farthest point from the downpipe, or use a hose.
  • The water should flow straight to the downpipe and away.

Realigning the gutter
If water pools in the gutter then it is sagging and needs realigning. This is normally caused by loose gutter brackets or a drooping roof fascia. Refix any loose brackets. In extreme cases, the whole gutter may need realigning.

Picture credit: Shutterstock

This article was first published in at home with Sarah Beeny in August 2012. [Read the digital edition here]

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