Katie Prestidge, trade marketing manager for JB-RED at roof systems manufacturer Marley Eternit, discusses growing concerns about the quality differences between roofing battens and gives some tips on what to look out for.
Since the introduction of the revised BS 5534 last year, it is no longer accepted practice to grade wooden battens on site, and only those that have been pre or factory graded to the BS 5534 standard can be called roofing battens.
All roofing work should be carried out to this new British Standard in order to meet the requirements of Competent Roofer, Local Authority Building Control (LABC), NHBC and other guarantee schemes.
In theory, the revisions to BS 5534 make things much simpler by improving quality, removing any doubt about what types of battens are allowed to be used on a roof and getting rid of the time consuming and risky practice of grading by eye on site.
However, there are growing concerns that roofers could be using battens thinking they are fully graded, when in reality they aren’t.
Coloured Doesn’t Mean Graded
Our roofing battens were the first to be fully factory graded over ten years ago and the distinctive red colour means they are highly visible on site, so LABC, NHBC and other inspectors can see that BS 5534 graded battens have been used.
However, in the last few years, we have seen a plethora of coloured battens entering the marketplace, which has caused confusion, as not all of them are mechanically fully graded.
The danger is that people see coloured battens and presume they are BS 5534 compliant but, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Just because a batten is coloured, it doesn’t mean it has the high standards of quality that are required on UK roofs – each one should also be stamped to prove it is fully graded.
If you buy a coloured batten that isn’t actually mechanically graded when you think it is, you could be putting yourself at risk of invalidating warranties, like NHBC, or not complying with required standards from local authorities.
In fact, we have heard of cases where building inspectors have been to site and told roofing contractors they are not using battens graded to BS 5534.
More importantly, this poses a health and safety risk. The Health and Safety Executive now recognises that pre-graded 25 x 50 battens that meet BS 5534 can be used as a foothold.
If you’re using a coloured batten, wrongly assuming it meets these requirements, then this is very dangerous because ungraded battens can be weak and vulnerable to breakage.
So what should you be checking for? Don’t go on colour alone, each batten should also be indelibly marked with the supplier, origin, graded BS 5534, size and type of preservative (if applicable).
While fully factory graded battens do initially seem more expensive, they produce up to 40 per cent less waste than ungraded battens, so in the end they are more cost effective.
However, you should also be aware that not all BS 5534 compliant battens have the same levels of quality or grading processes and there are several other factors to consider when buying battens.
The stamp on the batten will tell you where the timber has been sourced from and this is a very good indicator of quality.
We source all our wood for JB-RED battens from trees that are more than 60 years old in the north of Sweden, which is recognised as the best quality timber.
Which part of the tree the wood comes from is also an important consideration and affects the amount of knots or bend in the battens.
Our company uses the sideboard of a tree, which is among the best quality timber and this is why the battens have such a distinctive straightness.
Unfortunately BS 5534 doesn’t state where roofing battens should be graded, only that it shouldn’t be done on site.
Our quality experts believe that grading outside of a factory controlled environment is more prone to error because you are relying on someone checking the product by eye.
In reality, only high speed camera and laser scanning can produce an accurately and consistently graded roofing batten.
We use a sophisticated scanning process called Golden Eye to grade our battens in our factory and this means that 99 per cent of our battens make the standard.
There are no grey areas when it comes to BS 5534, so don’t be fooled by colour.
If in doubt the best way to comply with regulations and protect your own health and safety, is to buy factory graded roofing battens that meet BS 5534 and have been produced by an established supplier with a recognised third party certification of conformity.