In the latest of our series, Mat Woodyatt, technical training manager of BMI UK & Ireland, looks at the causes of, and problems arising from, lead theft.
Lead theft is a common occurrence. It is an expensive material requiring a high level of skill to install and what is more, once installed it forms an integral part of the roofing system. Lead flashing keeps the water out of our buildings and once it is removed the system will inevitably fail. But the problem does not stop there. Most of the damage done when thieves remove lead from the roof is not to the lead itself – it is to the rest of the roof. First, they are walking on the tiles. From the moment the thief steps into the roof surface they are potentially cracking tiles, loosening fixings and crushing interlocks. The majority of this damage will be invisible until much later on.
If they break the tiles these days it is not as simple as a straight replacement. Many roofs are fully fixed, with every tile at least nailed once into the batten beneath. When you break a fixed tile in a fully fixed system, first, how do you then remove it and, second and even more awkward, how do you replace it without disturbing the tiles around it? The answer is with difficulty and expense. The thieves will have also certainly have displaced the tiles at the perimeters as well as potentially damaging underlay membranes and timbers. Then, as in the example illustrated, the lead has been chased into the wall. That means the culprits will have also damaged the brickwork or render. An utter nightmare.
And all this is only the initial realisation that the lead has gone. How do we find this out?
Most of the time we have no idea until the rain starts pouring in. So now, not only do we have all of those problems on the roof, but also sodden timbers, damp ceilings and ruined furniture and belongings. It kind of makes you wish there were some kind of alternative to lead doesn’t it? Some kind of weathering material that has no re-sale or scrap value so it would not get stolen and, while we are on the subject, make it perhaps friendlier to the environment and easier to install?
The good news is that such products have been around for years and come with all sorts of added benefits. Of course, you absolutely get what you pay for with lead replacement products and many have been put off by dabbling in the low cost end of the market and having to deal with poor quality materials. This is no reason to dismiss the concept and return to lead and all of the potential problems above. Think again, give the alternatives another try and, while the opportunity will be there to achieve a cost-saving, don’t go for the least expensive; this time treat it as a roofing solution.