A Guide to Repairing Your Roof

By Caroline Rodrigues

1 Checking a roof’s condition

Follow our guide, whether you’re buying a new house, renovating an old one or repairing an unwelcome leak.

Help, My Roof Is Leaking!

If water’s coming through the roof, contact the National Federation of Roofing Contractors to find a local registered contractor – or search for local qualified roofers through MyBuilder.com.

Climbing onto the roof should be left to the professionals, but if you absolutely must, remember that the rafters may not bear your weight. A special roof ladder with wheels to speed it along the tiles without damage and a large hook to hold it in place can be hired from HSS Hire.

How To Check A Roof’s Condition

Whether you’ve noticed signs of damp or just want to pre-empt potential problems, make some basic checks. Stand on the opposite side of the road or in the garden and use binoculars for a closer inspection.

Look out for:

* Loose or missing tiles or slates.

* Sagging gutters and loose brackets.

* Blocked gutters.

* A leaking joint in a gutter or downpipe.

* Defective or missing flashing (the lead or zinc sheet used where the roof adjoins any parapet walls or chimney stack).

* Loose, cracked or crumbly mortar or render.

* Plants growing out of the roof or guttering.

* A leaning chimney stack or parapet wall.

* Evidence of birds or vermin.

Checking From Inside

* From within the loft, check all the main timbers and joints between timbers and wall. Joints should be tight, timbers dry and solid, and there should be no evidence of rot or damage from insects.

* In an old building, when looking up from within the loft, you can see the battens supporting the tiles (unless covered over by felt). If you can see daylight, this is evidence of a missing or damaged tile or slate.

* Damp patches on the ceilings are a tell-tale sign of roof problems.

Flat Roofs

Look out for:

* Pooling on the lowest part of the roof.

* Blocked gutters, or leaves or moss built up on the roof.

* Splits in the roof covering.

* Small repairs can be made to the covering but if leaks have led to structural damage to the timbers, the roof covering may have to be lifted to allow access, and then completely replaced.

2 Fixing the roof

Ideally, you should never venture on to your roof without scaffolding, safety equipment and know-how. But what can you do, and what should be left to a professional?

Quick Fixes

Clambering up to roof height is not recommended, but if you’re brave or foolhardy, here are a few of the simpler tasks a DIYer can tackle.

* Remove any plant material growing out of the roof or guttering, including the roots.

* Clear leaves and debris from guttering (a garden trowel is a useful tool for this).

* Tighten screws or replace brackets supporting guttering.

* Use gutter repair sealant to reseal a leaking joint in a plastic gutter or downpipe.

* Gutter repair tape can fix splits in plastic gutters.

* Replace leaking rubber seals at the joints between lengths of plastic guttering or end stops (or try washing them with liquid soap).

* Paint cast-iron guttering and downpipes to prevent rust. If the putty sealing the joints has dried out, it can be replaced with non-setting mastic (a fiddly task, involving unscrewing the joints so perhaps best left to the professionals).

* A crack or hole in a cast iron gutter can be repaired with glass fibre sheets (supplied as a kit for car repair).

How To Solve A Leaky Downpipe

If the downpipe is overflowing at a joint, it is likely to be blocked. Clear the gutter, then clear debris from the top end of the pipe. If the pipe is made of plastic, you may be able to lift out the troublesome section. Poke with a bent wire coat hanger, or try using drain rods, then flush with water.

To Replace A Plain Roof Tile

The tile will be nailed in place or held by nibs. Prop up the tiles above the broken one with wedges (made from tapering wood scraps), then slide out the old tile on a trowel, lifting nibs clear of the batten beneath. If necessary, wriggle tile free of its nails. Slide new tile into place, hooking nibs over the batten and remove the wedges. It need not be nailed in place.

To Replace A Lapped Tile

On overlapping, shaped tiles, slide row above broken tile upwards, tilt the broken one to release it from it neighbours. Lever it up, releasing the clip. Slide new tile into place. It need not be fixed.

Major Repairs

* Sections of dodgy timber can be cut out and replaced or strengthened with steel plates. If a whole truss or rafter needs replacing, the roof covering will have to be stripped, at least partially, though this does mean the roof can be properly inspected, and any other problems can be dealt with.

* On older buildings, the walls may have spread so that the principal rafter no longer sits securely on the walls. To repair this, the rafters are supported on steel brackets, and new ties are inserted to prevent the trusses from spreading.

* A leaning chimney stack is in need of urgent repair; if it falls it can cause considerable damage.

3 Costs and Materials

How can you find out what a roof repair – or new roof – will cost – and what should you use?

What Should I Pay?

Get at least three quotes from members of the National Federation of Roofing Contractors. To get an idea of prices, try What Price?. Generally, though, roofers charge from around £150 to £230 per day – but this will vary from region to region. Always work on a written quote for the full job though – and avoid paying by the day.

Remember to budget for scaffolding, too.

What Material Should I Use To Replace My Roof Tiles?

The structure and pitch of the roof determine the weight that it can carry, so seek professional advice if you’re changing the covering. For example, concrete tiles weigh more than clay, but if the clay tiles chosen require more overlap, the overall weight could be roughly similar. Interlocking tiles are easy to lay and don’t need to be overlapped in the same way as traditional tiles, so fewer are needed.

Be guided by the roof coverings on local properties, as the wrong choice could stick out like a sore thumb – a good roofer should be able to advise you. Natural materials tend to look best, though they’re also expensive. On period properties, it’s particularly important to use the right material – and you may find that your local building control department insist on certain materials being used, particularly if you are in a conservation area. The best route is to check before you start to ensure your work will comply.

As a general rule, once you’ve factored in fitting, interlocking concrete tiles are cheapest, followed by artificial slate and stone, plain clay tiles, natural slate, shingles, turf, thatch and metal. Compare tile prices at Roof Trader.

* Concrete tiles come in a good range of colours and textures, aping clay but cheaper. Both interlocking tiles and heritage styles are available.

* Stone tiles are lovely but pricey. However, man-made copies can look just as good, if well made.

* Slate is expensive and needs to be overlapped on several sides to make it water tight. Look out for imports, composite versions, or recycled slate (try Sandtoft).

* Clay tiles can be hand- or machine-made. Ideal for period buildings, they come in a variety of shapes, including fancy details such as ridge tiles and finials.

thatched roof* Thatch is the country choice. Long straw can last 15 to 25 years, combed wheat read 20 to 30 years and water reed 40 to 60 years. If you’re in a listed building, planning officers can insist on a particular material, even if that involves extra cost.

* Shingles and shakes are the current darlings of the building trade, used on roofs and as cladding. Usually in cedar, they’ll weather to a silvery finish, or can be treated to preserve the colour and extend their lifespan.

* Metal roofs, such as copper, aluminium, zinc and steel, are long-lasting, impressive choices, good at creating curves and complex shapes.

* Green, growing roofs are supplied with evergreen plants such as sedum, set into a growing medium, with a drainage layer and waterproof liner. They can be supplied for flat roofs or can be used on a slope up to 35 degrees.

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