A building with curves in all the right places has seen Andy Rowlands win the NFRC’s ‘Roof of the Year’ award. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to the west-country builder about his company and the stunning project.
It’s been a double celebration for Andy Rowlands this year because, whilst the company that bears his name is celebrating 25 years of trading, the Herefordshire-based business has also marked its silver jubilee with the annual National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) Awards ‘Roof of the Year’ accolade.
The sweeping and dramatic curves of Quintain House made for a project like no other, and Andy had to call upon all the experience that four decades of tiling has earned him, but given that he combines his business with an active role in the NFRC, and is a qualified teacher and assessor into the bargain, it is any wonder that he found the time to fix the nearly 60,000, hand-cut Marley Eternit Acme Double Camber clay plain tiles that the job required.
We caught up with Andy on a project that also promises to be a stunning showcase of his skills when complete – a multi-million pound Landmark Trust restoration of a historic 15th century hall house perched amidst the imposing hills of Monmouthshire. “There are parallels with what we’re doing here in that we often get called in to do the jobs that most other companies wouldn’t have the technical expertise to do”, he declares.
“The Welsh valley on this stone roof prevents some challenges but in terms of scale and complexity I’ll probably never see anything like Quintain House again.” It took Andy and his eight strong team over a year to complete the roof on what would stand as a unique three bedroomed Gloucestershire home.
“As soon as we saw it we knew we had to be a part of it,” he recalls. “I was quite lucky in that we had quite a good relationship with the architect already, and managed to get an interview with the client, and talked him into us doing it.”
The prestigious awards were held at Westminster’s Park Plaza Hotel and Andy and his team had not long been sat down, having already collected the prize in the Roof Tiling category, when they were called again to the stage.
“I actually had no idea there was a ‘Roof of the Year’ award, to be honest, so it was certainly a shock, because it obviously follows that I also had no idea that we were nominated for it!
“It’s certainly something that puts us on the map as a company, and Marley are very keen to publicise the project themselves, so we’re getting plenty of good exposure from it.
“In truth we have probably been involved in a number of projects over the years that would almost certainly have got us at least nominated, but we’ve always concentrated on just getting on with doing the job for the client, so it’s not something we’ve considered previously.”
So intricate was the roof design, with dramatic rises and falls in the sub-structure, that it was initially called into doubt whether the build could be completed in the traditional way.
“When you’re faced with a design like that it’s important to ensure that it functions just as well as it looks, so we worked very closely with the architect on getting every detail right,” continues the proprietor of Rowlands Roofing.
“The undulating waves across 820 square metres of roof meant that the battens themselves had to be curved and bended. There were cut down from a 25mm thickness down to 13, 12, 9 and 8mm sizes to facilitate that shaping, and then stacked on top of each other to provide the required height.
“Because the pitch at some points was as low as 21° degrees we also had be very careful about water-tightness, whilst it quickly became apparent during the course of the build that we would need to constantly evaluate and change the scaffolding as progress was made.”
Clearly this is a project that would challenge the skills of any craftsman but Andy’s extensive skillset, and encyclopaedic knowledge of all things roofing, has already made him much in demand across the west of England and Wales.
“In the area we operate we get to work on a number of heritage projects and old buildings are always very good at throwing up surprises,” he explains.
“I do think that helps when you’re working on a project like Quintain House because they require you to think on your feet. In order to effectively channel the water to the lowest point of the roof we had to make use of an EPDM rubber gutter, for instance, and that was a solution we came up with when we were well into construction.
“There’s a great deal of variation in roof design across our catchment area. Hereford is simultaneously in the middle of everywhere and the middle of nowhere and, although we’re only 50 miles from Cardiff, Bristol or Birmingham, that does mean you have to travel to keep busy. I also teach in a college in Caerphilly and Wales has been fertile ground in finding work for us over the years.”
The 15th century Monmouthshire property where Andy Rowlands skills as a roofer are presently employed is a demonstration of the expertise of the tradesmen tasked with the transformation of a building of historic importance.
Next month Professional Builder will profile Richard Preece, and the team at I J Preece & Sons, who are working with the Landmark Trust to turn buildings who have fallen into a sorry state into luxury holiday homes.