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Allan Frizzell of roofing specialists Topseal looks at how innovation in roof coverings has taken the hassle out of flat roof maintenance.

Flat roofs have a long history in the UK, and their benefits in terms of affordability and ease of construction have made them a popular choice for buildings in multiple occupation and home extensions. Compared to pitched roofs that can obstruct views, flat roofs are by nature able to keep the height of a building to a minimum, which has contributed to their popularity. Many of the early flat roofs gained a reputation for being high-maintenance, but innovation has led to the development of new materials such as Glass Reinforced Polyester (GRP), which offer better durability. Latest generation GRP flat roof replacement systems can ensure that flat roofs can be refurbished effectively.

Affordable and versatile

Flat roofs are a popular choice as they offer both aesthetic and practical benefits. Their flat profile enables them to keep the height of a building to a minimum, while a pitched roof may interfere with existing sightlines.

From an aesthetic point of view, they are often considered more contemporary looking compared to the more traditional pitched roofs, and are therefore becoming increasing popular, particularly in urban areas or for bespoke ‘one off’ home designs. Flat roofs are also extremely versatile, providing the option for mechanical services such as air conditioning units and plant rooms to be located there, or even for building occupants to benefit from a roof garden or balcony. When it comes to the installation of flat roofs, some traditional materials have been found to degrade more quickly than others – for example, when exposed to the sun – that can reduce their lifespan.

Low maintenance future

The question facing facilities managers and building owners when a flat roof becomes a maintenance burden is whether to repair the damage or replace the whole system with a more modern roof covering.

When faced with that dilemma, a number of options need to be taken into consideration. Firstly, an initial survey of the roof must be carried out to identify any issues, including damage to the surface membrane. Afterwards, there is a need to check that the underlying substrate is sound. Damage to the waterproof membrane is a common issue on flat roofs especially in areas of heavy footfall, which can dramatically reduce the material’s life expectancy.

If the building owner or facilities manager is taking a long-term view of the building’s maintenance requirements, then the most cost-effective option could be to specify a modern GRP refurbishment roof covering. This type of roof covering is effective as it is ultra-low maintenance and in some cases comes with a guaranteed lifetime of 20 years.

Time is money

Building owners also need to factor in the maintenance labour time and cost savings when considering whether to replace a flat roof that has been damaged or started to leak. Frequent repairs can prove too costly, and that is when a more lasting solution would offer better value. In the past, building owners and property managers had been reluctant to have a flat roof completely replaced as it would mean that the building could not be used while the work was being carried out, causing a great deal of inconvenience for residents.

However, latest GRP roof coverings systems allow the building to remain fully operational, because the GRP system is installed over the existing substrate. If the refurbishment works fall under Part L of the Building Regulations, some GRP systems can allow you to upgrade the warm roof properties by installing the system directly onto insulation. Recently there has been growth in demand for GRP as a replacement roofing material as local authorities and landlords have recognised how it provides a long-term, low-maintenance, durable, lightweight solution.

The aesthetics of GRP flat roof coverings also add to their appeal. These are often available in a choice of colours and finishes, including simulated lead and copper, enabling specifiers to retain the appearance of a lead or copper roof without the associated expense or risk of theft.


Flat refurbishment GRP roof coverings offer safety benefits, too. These single-ply membranes remove the need for hot works as part of helping contractors and building owners to meet ever more stringent health and safety requirements on site.

The new generation of GRP flat roof refurbishment systems are set to change perceptions of flat roofs. And, with a growing market for flat roof refurbishments, this means that building owners can be assured of a much lower maintenance roof covering that offers better weather protection and provides a more durable system. For building owners that are seeking a more cost-effective, long-term solution for their existing flat roof, GRP refurbishment systems are an attractive option as a real alternative to the constant repair and maintenance of flat roofs.

Allan Frizzell is technical manager at Topseal.

This feature was published in the March 2017 issue of Housing Management & Maintenance magazine.
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