Protect your roof over winter: signs you need to act

With the rising cost of energy, some might find it a relief that it’s been such a warm winter so far. But while it might be unseasonably warm in parts of the UK right now, when winter does come in hard – your roof must be ready for it.

This is especially important for heritage properties with traditional roofing. And the reason is a bit counterintuitive.

You see, the old fashioned way of building a roof is notoriously hard-wearing. Slate tiles can outlive the building they’re attached to, and Kent peg tiling is one of the simplest and therefore most resilient types of tiling in the world. Unlike many modern methods and materials, heritage roofing can keep going through battering winds, heavy rains, ice, snow, and even extreme heat – for years on end – without showing any sign of fatigue.

But this resilience can mask underlying problems, and even the most bullet-proof materials will eventually succumb to the effects of weathering. And when hard-wearing materials fail, they generally fail hard, too.

It’s extremely important to closely monitor your roofing over the winter, or during any period of extreme cold and wind, or heat. Here’s why:

The impact of extreme weather on roofing

Let’s start with heat – which has been a strong feature of the recent UK climate.

Heritage roofing materials like clay tiles and slate are generally impervious to UV rays. But they can still soak up an awful lot of solar energy during the hottest days of the summer months, causing subtle (but not insignificant) material expansion. If the nights are particularly cold in comparison, the material will contract.

Over the course of many hot days and cool nights, this cycle of expansion and contraction can cause gradual weakening of the material. It can also cause the tiles to wiggle loose, ready to be blown off in a strong gust.

Extreme heat can cause cracks in clay, and force layers of slate to come away. This is usually a result of persistent weathering – the heat is just the final nail in the coffin, so to speak.

Winter extremes

The UK experiences wet winters, with ice and snow in the coldest months. While clay and slate are great waterproof materials for roofing, they’re still naturally porous, absorbing some atmospheric moisture, without letting it leak through.

If water does penetrate, and is allowed to freeze – it expands. Usually, this isn’t an issue, and the centuries-old roofing still working today is a testament to this. But over time, consistent freezing and thawing can take a toll, weakening the tiles and causing slow damage.

And of course, winter can be stormy and windy, adding further risk of tiles being dislodged.

Snow is a concern for heritage roofing, especially heavy drifts. If your roof does become covered, here’s a way to clear it.

It’s really important to make sure your roof is winter-ready, especially after the UK’s hottest summer on record, and the unusually strong storms that took hold over the summer, too.

Here are some signs to look out for.

Signs of potential roofing damage

Inspect the roof

If you can’t get up there, have someone look for you. Check for any damaged or loosened tiles, depressions, moss – and be sure to check the guttering, too. Clogged gutters should be cleared as soon as possible, to give rain and meltwater a clear path away from the property.

Check the flashing around chimneys and windows

Flashing is a weak spot in most roofing, where edges join brickwork, chimney stacks or windows. Strong winds can loosen flashing – but so can extreme heat, and the freeze and thaw effect.

Check the loft

Look for moisture and damp patches that could be signs of a leak.

Watch out for ice dams!

An ice dam is a build-up of ice on the eaves of sloped roofs. They occur when heat escapes from poor loft insulation, melting the snow in contact with the roof, and then freezing into ice. Over time, the ice dam grows bigger because melting snow has nowhere to go. The weight can build up, damaging the roof.

Do not attempt to use salt to clear ice, as it can corrode metal parts quickly. Instead, use a deicer spray – but make sure the gutters are clear so water can flow freely.

What to do if your roof becomes damaged and starts leaking

If your roof becomes damaged and starts to leak, you should first contact your building insurer to check if you have emergency cover to mitigate the damage. If not, do everything in your power to stop the damage getting worse in your home. Move items to an unaffected area, cover carpets and furniture – and put down buckets to catch leaks.

If you’re able to temporarily cover the affected part of the roof, then only do so if it’s safe.

Does insurance cover winter roofing damage?

Sometimes, emergency callout is covered – but the resulting damage and repairs may not be.

That’s because, in general, insurance does not cover wear and tear. This can be a common result for claims on heritage roofing, because of that aforementioned resilience. But let’s say a roof in a good state of repair, with regular recorded maintenance, has tiles blown off in a storm – this is generally covered by most buildings insurance policies.

If you’re in doubt, check your policy or chat to your insurer.

Heritage and conservation roofing contractors, since 1984

Tenterden Roofing is a talented group of conservation roofing contractors, based in Kent. See our latest work on Instagram – and contact us for a quote at [email protected].