Signs your flat roof needs replacing

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Could your flat roof be trying to tell you it needs to be changed?

When it comes to buying or living in a home with a flat roof, some people are unsure what to expect. You might have been told that flat roofs can be a big problem or risk – but, elsewhere, there are firm beliefs that flat roofs can stand the test of time when installed correctly.

The materials and the method used by the installer can be the difference between a flat roof needing to be replaced after five years and a flat roof lasting over 30 years.

It’s common for properties built in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s to come with a flat garage roof attached to the property using bituminous felt. At the time, this was a new method of attaching a flat garage roof, so issues tended to emerge during the installation process. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for homeowners to start complaining about failing felt roofs.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and the market offers a huge range of flat roofs. The technology of flat roofs has evolved somewhat, and so increased the guarantees that are available.

This article will detail not only what flat roof options are on the market but also what possible defects you may come across and when you should consider replacing rather than repairing your own flat roof.


Design and installation

If you have had a modified bitumen felt roof installed for over 20 years, you have benefitted from an extremely exceptional lifespan for this type of roof. One would imagine that it must have been installed with a lot of care and attention and been subject to minimal foot traffic during its lifecycle.

It’s not uncommon for a felt roof to last only just over two years before it needs to be replaced. For many homeowners who opt for a felt roof, they can feel as though they have found themselves with a leak no sooner than they have had the roof installed.

If the roofer cuts back on materials, time or effort when installing a flat roof, this could significantly compromise the roof’s long-term resilience and reliability. Many homebuilders even prefer to forgo flat roofs and instead choose a tiled pitched roof for lower-level extensions and garages.

Indeed, a pitched roof can be guaranteed for longer than many types of flat roof, while a good provider of flat roofs can be a lot trickier to find than a tiler. Therefore, what are the key signs to look for when diagnosing a flat roof? How would you know whether it needs replacing or repairing?

Here is a list of particular defects that could call for a flat roof replacement. However, keep in mind that, in nearly any of these circumstances, it would be advisable for you to call in a professional to survey the roof before you have a new roof installed, as the issue might be minor.

Tears, splits, cracks and exposed timbers

These issues are probably the easiest for the untrained eye to spot. Indeed, the majority of call-outs occur as a result of the homeowner noticing any of these problems on their felt.

Naturally, if a felt roof is left for too long with a split or crack in the felt, the chipboard or ply board will absorb a lot of water and risk turning to mush. This would make the roof unsafe to walk on and also cause its surface to become uneven.

In turn, this will prevent the flat roof from working at its optimum level and so could result in problems to other parts of the roof. The best move would be for you to contact a professional as soon as you notice the problem, as there may be a repair available.

However, if you can see splits or cracks spread across the whole surface of the flat roof, then it is likely too late for this damage to be fixed. In this situation, you should have the flat roof replaced.

In any case, note that the longer the structural timbers are exposed, the more expensive your bill will be should they require your attention. For this reason, contact your roofer as soon as possible.

Adhesion failure, bubbling and blistering

Another defect that you can notice without needing to be an expert in flat roofing is blistering and bubbling. This results from an adhesion failure in the roof, and the bubble can fill up with trapped air or water.

If caught early enough, this problem may be repairable. However, if it is left for long enough and the blisters grow large enough, the roof will need replacing.

Another potential issue is that of the blisters popping and consequently causing a hole in your flat roof. This will typically happen if, when the roof was initially installed, there was an excessive amount of moisture – perhaps directly caused by poor ventilation, but often resulting instead from poor workmanship and poor insulation.

Ponding, poor falls and small outlets

These can all significantly reduce the lifespan of a flat roof. Over time, if water is left standing, it will cause irregular stress on the felt roof and may result in cracking. This will lead to water penetration.

If your flat roof is ponding, respond quickly. For example, if you live in the most populous city of North East England, you could call on the services of roofing contractors in Newcastle. You may have a blockage or need to have the pitch/direction of the water flow altered as the roof is replaced.

Organic growth

Though moss, lichens and algae may not seem like major problems, they signify that your roof may be lacking some attention, regular maintenance and inspection.

The fact that they are there indicates an unwanted retention of water on the flat roof. If this problem is left untreated, it could be extremely damaging – this is not an issue to be taken lightly.

If you are unsure why moss is growing on your roof, have it checked over. While this moss might not actually reflect any serious problem, if you inspect the roof early enough, you might pick up on an issue early enough to save yourself having to get that roof replaced.

Adjoining walls and upstands

Checking these and having problems with them effectively addressed could be the difference between your roof remaining watertight and water instead pouring in. Making sure that the felt is correctly chased into adjoining walls and sealed correctly on upstands could arguably be the most important stage of verifying that your flat roof is of the right condition.

Unfortunately, too many properties tend to leak water due to cowboys having used silicone or flash to seal off the join. The felt should run up the wall, be chased into the pointing between the brickwork and re-pointed back over. If the roof has not been correctly installed in this way, there is a very high risk that you are going to encounter issues.

There are, of course, many other possible defects and other areas and causes of failure with a flat roof. However, the problems described in this article are among the most common. It is important to choose a reputable installer to take on your flat roof project.

If your existing flat roof does need to be replaced, an EPDM rubber roof can prove an especially resilient replacement. Findley Roofing & Building can handle the potentially complex task of installing EPDM roofs which are guaranteed for 20 years and have a life expectancy of up to 50.

If you would like a flat roof fitted in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, Sunderland, Teesside, North Yorkshire, Cumbria or Scotland, you can get in touch with Findley Roofing by phoning 01914 173 422. You can also see some of Findley’s flat roof installations on the firm’s YouTube channel.

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