We need to talk about roofs.
The nation’s public sector roofs are in a parlous state, particularly on some of the more functional buildings that underpin the public sector, such as school halls, council depots and departmental offices. Many of the roofs on these buildings are life-expired, and have been patched up more times than they were ever designed to be.
This is understandable. Years of austerity have had a drastic impact on refurbishment budgets. More often than not, what remains of budgets has been channelled into covering only the most pressing of building concerns, with estate maintenance reduced to the bare minimum.
Of course, this situation is not sustainable, and as such, many local authorities, primary care trusts and other governmental organisations are now having to look into options to replace roofs. But this does not have to prove a financial burden. Indeed, by taking into account certain important considerations, it is possible to undertake a roof refurbishment that reduces building operating costs, is guaranteed to last, and can even earn money for the organisation.
Make it save
The first consideration for a new roof, or any part of the building envelope, ought to be energy efficiency. Put simply, a new roof ought to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions drastically, especially when compared with older roofing technology.
There is clear direction from the Government for the public sector to reduce carbon emissions, supported by both public statements of intent and changes to legislation and regulations. But there is also a strong financial imperative for improving the energy efficiency of public sector buildings. Despite recent small falls, energy costs are still predicted to rise by a cumulative annual rate of 3% every year between now and 2030. Measures to reduce consumption will therefore have an enormous impact on running costs.
A new roof needs to perform to the highest thermal standards, taking the orientation, location and operations of the building into account. Similarly, it needs to be planned, managed and installed properly, preferably without too many different parties involved, to ensure that all elements of the building envelope perform to their utmost. Failing to manage a roof installation properly can lead to imperfect or even failed junctions, which lead to greater air leakage and reduced thermal performance.
Beyond this, the installation of a new roof can be an opportunity to dramatically reduce lighting electricity bills, improving the ambience and working environment of the building in the process. Installing modern rooflight technology as part of an integrated envelope solution can help to maximise natural solar lighting inside, without compromising on the envelope’s thermal performance.
Make it pay
The second consideration for a new roof ought to be the earning potential it offers. Linked to the above point about energy savings, installing a bespoke rooftop solar PV system on a roof generates electricity that can be used to offset existing costs, earn incentive payments, or be sold back to the grid.
The cost of rooftop solar has fallen in recent years, and it now offers a rapid return on investment for most building types. There are even options for organisations that lack the capital to invest in rooftop solar PV, with some companies offering fully-funded packages to help unlock the benefits of solar power.
Make it last
The final consideration in specifying a new roof ought to be longevity. With building stock expected to last longer and longer, it is vital that the products used in the refurbishment are guaranteed to last for as long as they need to.
This is important not just in terms of their structural integrity, but also in terms of their performance. Related to our first point about saving energy, the best new roofs will have their thermal and air leakage performance guaranteed alongside the structural guarantee.
Single manufacturer component systems will always have an advantage here, as they are covered by a single guarantee with one point of contact and responsibility. If something goes wrong with these systems, the manufacturer is very likely to take responsibility. While multi-component systems can still have long-term, comprehensive guarantees attached, there is more scope for potential grey areas.
The vast majority of product guarantees will never need to be used, but occasionally components do fail within their guaranteed lifespan. To plan for the potential of this happening, it is important to be confident that the manufacturer will still exist to rectify the problem in future years, especially as guarantees begin to exceed the average age of many manufacturing companies. While there is no firm rule for establishing the likelihood of a company’s existence 20 or 30 years in the future, looking at the size, success and history of the company provides some assurance.
The above list may seem simple when you break it down into three pithy titles, but it’s remarkable how often these factors are overlooked. With the products, technology and solutions on the market today, every new roof should achieve at least two of these fundamental aims.
Get it right, and the opportunities are enormous. Last year, the public sector (Education, Health and Government) spent almost £1.4bn on electricity alone. Saving just a fraction of this amount (and rooflights and solar PV systems could reduce this cost by 90%) would make a massive difference to public sector finances. At these times of reduced overall budgets, and with energy costs one of the few remaining areas that can be cut without necessarily impacting services, this is an opportunity the sector cannot afford to miss.