Lifestyle Guides

Roof repairs and what to look out for

A cracked tile can lead to leaks

Do you know what's going on under your own roof? The thought of carrying out roof repairs can be daunting but, as with many things in life, ignoring small issues can lead to bigger - and more costly - problems.

The good news is that simple roof maintenance is often a job we can tackle ourselves. For larger repairs, it's advisable to call in the experts - and the right specialist will depend on whether your home has a pitched or flat roof.

Telltale signs of roof damage

There are a number of clues to look out for, both outside and inside your property. Gian-Carlo Grossi, managing director of Roofing Megastore, said: "Most roof damage begins due to a flaw in a particular material, such as individual tiles or lead flashing.

"Keep a keen eye out for any cracked tiles, lifting lead, unsecure materials or other early causes of a roof leak, particularly after a nasty storm. Look for buckling or curling roof shingles, damaged lead flashing - found along joints in the roof or around a chimney - and/or a build up of moss.

"In many circumstances, the signs of roof damage are most obvious inside. A musty smell in your attic or damp timberwork are both telltale signs. If you're concerned that you may have a leak or want a little reassurance, carefully inspect your attic with a torch or replicate rainfall using a hose pipe.

"Gently run the hose at a point above where you suspect the leak is coming from, ideally with a second person inside your loft ready to spot water coming through. Be sure to only use a low pressure and just enough water to make finding the leak possible. You don't want to cause any unnecessary damage!"

Sunny Lotay is the national commercial manager for PermaRoof Commercial, part of PermaGroup, with a specialist knowledge of flat roofing. Mr Lotay said: "If you can see obvious signs of flat roof damage inside your home, such as mould or black patches, then it's likely any leaks may be quite extensive.

"It's expected that flat roofs may experience pooling water, especially during rainy seasons, but this water usually evaporates or drains off within a day or two. If your drainage system is damaged or the gutter system is clogged, it will prevent water from running off the roof efficiently. If standing water is left too long on the roof, it will result in leaks and overall roof damage to the membrane."

Check flat roofing for pooling

As well as these clear signs, more subtle signs to look out for are rips in the waterproofing or blistering, which occurs when the air becomes trapped between the felt layers. Mr Lotay added: "As this air warms up, it can lead to a puncture or the appearance of a blister, which may then split. Should this blister occur on a joint, then water can pass through the roof.

"Finally, if you have noticed odours in your property, there's a very high chance you have mould and mildew. This is something that should not be ignored, due to the fast spreading nature of mould and its risks to health.

"The easiest way to identify mould is by checking for stains, discoloration and black spots on your walls or ceiling. If you find any, you should conduct flat roof repairs and call a mould remediation company as well, to get rid of it quickly and thoroughly."

After the storm

Signs of damage can be most obvious following heavy rainfall and storms. Mr Grossi said: "The first thing to check for is any missing tiles, as these are your primary defence against nightmare leaks.

"Secondly, look at your gutters to ensure they have not been blocked by debris or otherwise damaged by the weather. Although it may seem trivial, blocked, cracked or sagging gutters can cause water to overflow onto nearby brickwork or excessive moisture build-up at the footings of your property."

Read our guidance on checking your roof for storm damage, which also explains the definition of storm damage with Admiral home insurance.

Roofer recommendations

When choosing the right roofing company to carry out repairs, some simple precautions will help you source a reputable firm. Mr Lotay said: "It's crucial to do your research before making a decision. Ask friends or family to recommend if they have had a similar situation, or speak to a local roofing merchant, who will have a good rapport with local roofing contractors.

"Ask at least three roofing contractors for quotes - but do not automatically choose the cheapest option. Your choice should be based on the quality of the advice given and your confidence in the contractor, and always get written quotations.

"Ask questions about the materials they will use and where they will source them, and check the National Federation of Roofing Contractors Limited (NFRC) website. It's the UK's largest roofing trade association and actively makes sure that all its members go through a vigorous vetting procedure before they can become a member."

Mr Grossi added: "Look for reputable qualifications such as the British Board of Agrement or membership of the NFRC. Ask for proof that they have the appropriate level of public liability insurance and if there are any nearby properties they've worked on.

"The contractor should be able to outline an estimated timeframe, which you can compare with references of their previous work. You should also enquire about potential delays such as unforeseen weather conditions, to ensure that your roofer has a complete plan of action if anything unexpected should occur."

Some tasks are best left to professionals

Roof maintenance

They say prevention is better than cure, and a spot of ongoing observation will help keep your roof in tip-top condition. Mr Lotay said: "Flat roofs require more maintenance than pitched roofs, because debris tends to collect on them.

"An inspection should be carried out twice a year at least, preferably in March and October, checking a range of criteria such as outlets, gutters and downpipes, and cleaning out any debris. Make sure there's adequate draining and check flashings."

Rental responsibilities

If you're a tenant in a private rental or a social housing property, your landlord has an obligation to keep the property in a good state of repair. According to Citizens Advice, this includes the external structure such as the walls, roof, guttering, external pipes, windows and doors.

Write to or email your landlord or letting agent as soon as you spot a problem with the roof, keeping a copy for your records. A landlord's responsibilities include making repairs within a 'reasonable' time, giving 24 hours' notice to access your home to carry out the repairs. Take photos and keep a log, particularly if the problem worsens, and follow Citizens' Advice on what to do if your landlord doesn't repair the damage.

Homes with a thatched roof come with a range of special requirements and responsibilities - our guide to thatched roofs explains more. 'Green roofs' are also becoming increasingly popular, but you will need a structural engineer to advise on irrigation and ensure access to mains water and electricity.

Remember that you will need home buildings insurance to protect external features of your property, including the roof, and offer cover against disasters such as water leaks and floods. If you rent out a home to tenants, you will need specialist landlord insurance to cover the cost of necessary repairs.

With more than 20 years’ experience in journalism and PR, I've worked with the BBC, ITV, Trinity Mirror, Metro, MSN and many more leading media, as well as a range of third sector and corporate clients including Macmillan Cancer Support, Visit the Vale and the NHS. A number of my short stories have been published in anthologies and I've written three collections of walking trails in south Wales. Always happiest in the great outdoors, I'm an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion and blog about my hiking and camping adventures at www.girlonthetrail.co.uk. I have two teens and a rescue greyhound called Lionel, who, to my shame, is possibly the world’s worst hiking dog (the teens aren’t much better).

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