Upgrading insulation and the challenge for the roofing industry

Price, more importantly, the lowest possible price continues to be a problem for construction professionals working in every part of the industry. There is nothing new in this, but it is resulting in another more difficult challenge for the roofing sector, one that could have massive implications for the Government’s climate change initiative and manufacturers liable for the final roof design, writes Justin Pitman, sales director for Proteus waterproofing.

Building owners, especially those operating in the retail, education and transport sectors are facing a more uncertain future which is prompting many to unfortunately do the bare minimum when it comes to roof works. They are choosing not to install a new roof even when a roof survey has shown this to be the best option. This is because a new roof typically involves upgrading insulation levels to meet current building regulations resulting in a higher project cost.

While such responses are understandable, it is concerning that building owners are still choosing to use cheaper alternatives without inclusion of roof insulation at a time when the Government is trying to reduce the carbon footprint.

Current Building Regulations state that when refurbishing an existing roof, the minimum insulation threshold of U-value 0.35 W/m²K must be achieved to avoid the necessity to upgrade the roof insulation along with the waterproofing. When this minimum value is achieved, most roofs avoid a condensation issue. If this insulation value is present, a roof can be overlaid with a waterproofing membrane only. If there is less or no insulation in the roof build-up then the roof, where feasible, should be upgraded with roof insulation to meet a minimum U-Value of 0.18 W/m²K.

Owners of properties where roofs do not meet the current Building Guidelines may face further difficulties down the road. For instance, insurance and mortgage companies are taking more of an interest in their investment. Increasingly, Proteus Waterproofing are asked to show that designed and completed roof works comply with the latest building regulations so that owners of properties can obtain mortgages or building insurance. While a waterproofing overlay will stop a roof from leaking, building owners who do not respond to the spirit of the new building regulations may risk much more than just a leak.

Building regulations are open to interpretation. Using a liquid or a single layer of waterproofing membrane for example, which a building owner can choose to classify as a repair under the building Guidelines, is not subject to the same scrutiny and this is understandably causing confusion.

This works for the building owner who believes he has done the right thing economically by saving money by not upgrading the insulation. He may also have a new waterproofing membrane supported by a BBA certificate and have a guarantee of sorts.

However, because the building owner has chosen not to upgrade the insulation, any guarantee will come with a host of “get out of jail free clauses”. This further means that companies such as Proteus must be even more cautious. If works proceed on a repair basis after the customer has been advised of potential problems, then it needs to be clarified they are taken at the owner’s risk. In short, Proteus will take no responsibility for design of the overlay or any defects that subsequently arise on such projects should the roof construction be below a U-Value of 0.35 W/m²K.

So why is this situation happening? Price is clearly a factor when choosing to repair as opposed to upgrade, but there is an even bigger story – building owners and tenants are simply and increasingly not prepared to think long term. When they are made aware of potential problems, most customers are only thinking of today or a short time ahead, when a leaking roof or a rotting timber deck becomes an issue for someone else.

Covid, increasing business rates and rentals are seeing companies prepared to be more nomadic – finding it less expensive to move rather than take on costly repairs or refurbishments. Long-term repairing leases are becoming less popular in line with business uncertainty.

It is a situation that has several implications both for Government’s climate change initiatives and the roofing industry itself. There is already a major drive to introduce higher insulation levels in residential homes and more particularly in commercial buildings, so that the country can reduce its carbon footprint, but if building owners are choosing not to upgrade insulation thresholds – then going green is effectively a non-starter.

With more emphasis on the environment and energy savings you would expect a reverse situation with companies anxious to upgrade insulation levels, but it would seem that a number of building consultants acting on behalf of owners, are more interested in taking the easy option to stop leaks rather than take a longer-term view.

That said, not all buildings are designed to have insulation at current levels. Heritage buildings in particular can often not be upgraded, which makes it difficult for the Government to look at the bigger picture. In such cases the building owner has to find alternative solutions in reducing energy costs.

So, what is the answer? Sadly, there is no easy solution and there will not be one until the Government legislates to ensure that all buildings meet an overall thermal standard. In the meantime, roofing manufacturers have to be cautious and extra vigilant when submitting designs.

In an ideal world quality would be more important than price, but we are still a long way off from achieving that. For the majority of cases, the lowest price will still continue to win the contract – but what is the real cost? Perhaps we may even have to consider demolishing buildings that cannot reach the new green standard – but that is a story for another time.

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