Flat Roofing – What’s The Problem?

Flat Roofing - What's The Problem?

Flat roofing became popular particularly in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to the simplicity with which it can be installed. Simplicity in building and architectural terms has a great deal to recommend flat roofing, not least on the cost front. Flat roofs are quicker to install and cheaper; for those who possess one, they also have distinct advantages over the pitched variety when it comes to repair and maintenance. However, they have something of a bad reputation and compared to pitched roofing they may not have as long a lifespan. The reputation is undeserved, to some extent, stemming largely from the fact that roofs constructed in the mid-twentieth century were not always built as well as they might have been. Flat roofing from this period can be found in many homes forming part, or all, of the roof of the property. However, as many buildings were constructed en-mass, and as cheaply as possible, the quality of the workmanship was not always what we would expect today. Additionally, poor maintenance over the years can lead to problems with any flat roof. So, if you own, inherit or purchase one of these much maligned roofing structures what’s the best way to deal with flat roofing repairs?

Longer Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is constantly growing for most things, including ourselves these days. Modern technology, new construction methods and materials mean that flat roofs that have been constructed more recently will have a good lifespan. In the past, a rough estimate for the longevity of a flat roof was between ten to twenty years, with fifteen being considered a fair average. Roof Worx says “Proper maintenance will not only prep the roof for the coming seasons, but it can also prevent a high level of damage from developing with time with timely repairs that are made”. This lifespan could be reduced radically by poor maintenance; once leaks appear, if they are not dealt with quickly, water will damage the timber and board under the outer waterproof membrane, leading to sagging, pooling of more water and eventually compromising the integrity of the roof. As the baby-boom generation of flat roofs becomes “roofing of a certain age” even well maintained ones can start to sag in unattractive ways. Faced with the choice of a full on replacement some home owners opt for a new pitch roof, but this option will be more costly. The costs vary but simply by virtue of the more complex construction of a pitched roof, it will be more expensive. Replacing like for like in the case of flat roofing will be far more cost effective and by utilizing modern materials, such as EPDM, the lifespan will be much longer (some manufacturers claim forty to fifty years and the material is old enough to have reached the lower end of that in some cases today).

Bring on the Boiling Tar

Traditional flat roofs and their modern counterparts are constructed in mostly the same way. Joists are topped off with insulating material and a flat deck. Flat here is technically very slightly pitched and some skill is required in creating this slight slope, so expert flat roofing firms, like Marcus Roofing, are recommended for reconstructing a dilapidated roof. The main difference in the modern versus traditional flat roof is the waterproofing materials that are used. Probably the most common type of waterproofing solution employed in the past was the pitch/felt variety. Hot pitch is layered on the decking and felt layered over this; it’s not ineffective, but extremes of temperature (hot or cold) will lead to expansion, which in turn can lead to cracking in the surface material. This type of roofing is relatively simple to repair if you’re happy handling flame throwers and boiling pitch; OK, some exaggeration there, but it’s still a job for competent DIY enthusiasts, at the very least. Modern materials include EPDM and rubber roofing; these have some distinct advantages on the maintenance front being robust, hard-wearing and difficult to damage when walking on them for inspection purposes. They are also far more comfortable with hot and cold conditions, expanding without cracking; UV resistance is built into the materials, particularly EPDM, and patch repairs are less daunting as and when necessary.

Repair and Maintenance Regimes

Badly maintained flat roofs are compromised quickly. However, unlike pitched roofs this type of roof is far easier and much safer to access, even for those with limited abilities when it comes to coping with heights. Regular checks in spring and autumn are recommended and after any more extreme weather. Check for gathering pools of water (moss or dried algae will give a clue in dry conditions) and also check at gutters and around any joins for slight areas of damage. Repairs should be conducted quickly and if you are unsure contact a professional roofing firm for advice or a quote.


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