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Last edited 28 Sep 2020
Defects in roofs are often hard to pinpoint. Rainwater entering a flaw in a roof may travel through may different elements of the building before appearing. Water will travel along impervious surfaces such as vapour barriers or structural members, and so defect diagnosis can require more investigative work than for other types of defect.
Some common causes of general roofing defects include:
- The perimeters are vulnerable, even if the roof covering itself causes no problems.
- Weak points can be created where services pass through the covering.
- Damage can be caused by workers operating in the area.
- Damage as a result of making 'improvements'. For example, increasing insulation in a roof space can encourage condensation. If insulation is packed in at the eaves it may prevent ventilation of the roof space. Moist warm air entering the roof space around hatches can encourage condensation especially around gang nail plates on trussed rafters. Converting a roof from a 'warm' roof to a 'cold' roof by installing insulation can cause condensation build up unless ventilation is introduced, which can ultimately lead to the failure of timber roofs.
- Applying coatings to roofing materials such as roof tiles, whether externally or internally, may provide a temporary solution to roof problems, but may reduce the ability of a tile to release moisture through evaporation and may lead to rot in battens and rafters because of trapped moisture.
- Inappropriate design (such as incorrect pitch), the use of poor quality or inappropriate materials, or poor quality installation.
- Blocked gutters may force water above the gutter construction and into the roof timbers behind and below.
- Rainwater can be blown under tiles and run down under slating felt to pond at the eaves.
Pitched roofs in particular can be damaged by wind. In general, small components such as tiles are more susceptible than large units such as sheet material. The popular conception is that the wind will blow the roof covering off, but this will only happen if the wind gets underneath the covering. This is more likely to happen if the roof is pitched at less than 30-degrees.
Wind speed can be increased through:
- Geographical location: Winds on the south coast of England are 25% stronger than those in the Midlands. The highest wind speeds in the UK are found in the north west of Scotland.
- Funnelling: Caused either by natural features such as valleys, or by man-made features such as adjacent high-rise buildings.
A number of general problems may occur in the roof covering:
- Slates and/or tiles fixed with nails, which may fail over time.
- Tiles supported on timber battens which may rot.
- Underfelt may deteriorate with age.
- Where roof coverings are penetrated by chimneys, vent pipes, overflows, extract fans, and so on. Careful detailing around openings is essential to prevent moisture ingress.
- Debris may gather where the roof pitch connects with the vertical surfaces.
- At junctions, such as valleys and perimeter walls, where flashing can fail.
- Properly designed and installed, coverings such as clay, tiles, and slate, will absorb moisture which then evaporates naturally. This will be impaired if moss/lichen builds up on the surface, or if detritus is allowed to build up in valleys, gutters, or down pipes. Therefore, regular inspection should be carried out to detect such issues early.
Problems can occur because of impurities within the slate, either through delamination or surface erosion. If the covering is bedded or pointed in mortar, moisture can penetrate at shrinkage cracks in the mortar, and inadequate ventilation around the slates can prevent natural evaporation of moisture, causing damage to the structure.
Problems tend to occur at the ridges which are particularly vulnerable. Common problems include the growth of moss and lichen, and fungus attack. Warm moist climates are more damaging because they encourage such growth. Thatch is also more susceptible to fire damage.
These are relatively thin and easily damaged. They are prone to warping due to moisture penetration.
Sheet cladding can corrode, particularly at cut edges. Fixings can corrode and fail, and condensation accumulation can cause mould growth and corrosion. Thermal expansion and contraction can cause the failure of joints and fixings.
Ripples or splits can occur particularly where oversized sections have been used or the wrong grade of lead sheeting used. Joints and seams can fail due to poor installation or movement. The deck below the lead roofing can fail, causing distortion of the lead sheeting.
 Structural problems
If the structure is unable to adequately support the loads applied by the roof, then deflection can occur. If the roof members are inadequate, collars have been omitted, or lateral bracing is missing, then a roof may be incapable of supporting the load of the roof covering. If the supporting walls are inadequate, then the load applied by the roof can cause them to deflect outwards.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Conical roof slating.
- Cool roofs.
- Cracking and building movement.
- Defects in brickwork.
- Defects in dot and dab.
- Defects in stonework.
- Domestic roofs.
- Dry rot fungus.
- Failure of cast iron beams.
- Failure of metals.
- Flat roof.
- Flat roof defects.
- Latent defects.
- Long span roof.
- Mitie - drone pest control inspection.
- Patent defects.
- Pitched roof.
- Rain gutter.
- Remedial work.
- Roofing repairs.
- Roof insulation.
- Roof tiles.
- Thatched properties and wood-burning stoves.
- Uplift force.
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