Sorting out a Victorian roof can be an expensive game. It is one of those jobs that is seemingly thankless as you don’t get the visual satisfaction of tasks like painting or decorating. It is essential however and if your roof is causing problems then it should be done first! Poor or inadequate roofing can lead to further issues inside the house such as leaks, damp or poor insulation. Early consideration should be given to your Victorian roof repairs. There is little point in spending time and money transforming key rooms within your property if leaks in the roof are creating damp walls and unsightly wet patches.
For these reasons our Victorian roof repair was first on our renovation hit list. In our very first week of living at the property we started to list our roof restore tasks, identifying where the issues were and began obtaining quotations from recommended roofers. [See also: Fix Damp in Victorian Houses and the Common Causes]
The State of our Roof
Visually our roof didn’t look too bad at all when you consider that it has protected the house from the elements for nearly a century. There were a few slipped slates here and there and there was clearly a lot of moss growing in all areas. Parts of the house were literally covered with Ivy due to the previous owners allowing the plants to grow out of control. The Building survey that we had done also proved useful in our Victorian roof repair quest. It contained recommendations from a qualified surveyor and a number of well taken photographs. [See also: 10 ‘Gotchas’ when buying a Victorian House – Knowledge is Power]
It was inside the house however that really highlighted the critical work that needed to be undertaken. Two of the bedrooms had excessive damp patches at the tops of the walls caused by ceiling leaks and the main living room had lower level damp spots (more on this later). What follows is a breakdown of the jobs needed to ensure that our Victorian project was watertight & protected from the temperamental British weather. [See also: Should I Get A Building Survey & Are House Surveys Worth It?]
Blocked Guttering – A Key Cause of Damp
The main gutter on the front of our property was clearly blocked. On a miserable day there was a mini waterfall flowing over the sides of it. Guttering on a property is such a simple concept but it has significant importance . It can be one of the key causes of damp in an old home. What might seem strange is that unblocking a third floor gutter actually resolved many of the damp issues in our ground floor living room. [See also: Remove Stubborn Wallpaper – Stripping Back]
The reason for this is that the overspill from the blocked gutter was leaving the ground below sodden. The moisture in the soil then penetrated the brickwork into the cellar. This moisture then evaporated from the cellar and the only escape route for the vapour was through the living room floor boards. Blocked guttering is cheap to resolve and can be an extremely quick fix for many damp related issues. We employed a guy who does gutters alone. For just £90 every gutter surrounding our property was cleared of debris! The guttering system was once again efficient and not long after our living room damp patches started to dry out.
Victorian Slate Roof – Slipped Slates & Gaping Holes
We are quite fortunate in that our house still has its original roof built from slates. A Victorian slate roof has the traditional look to it in keeping with the age of the property but it does have its problems. Over time slates can slip off or are prone to cracking if you have ever had people up there carrying out works. [See also: Main Living Room Transformation (Before) -Decorating Begins]
We had three significant holes in our Victorian slate roof allowing rain water to pass straight through into the attic. It is important to note that not all slate damage may be visible from the ground. It is far better to take a view from within your attic to find where the problems are. The holes in our roof due to the slipped slates were the cause of our bedroom leaks. Once repaired within no time at all the rooms were dry and ready for decorating.
Chimney Flashing, Flaunching & Pointing
Poorly maintained Victorian chimney stacks can look unsightly but there is a lot more to it than aesthetics. Chimney stacks in need of repair can allow moisture into the property and can even be unsafe! As they are so high up it can often be tricky to work out what needs to be done. In this area you need to get a roofer to carry out a full inspection of your roof. Once they get up there get them to explain their findings and what they see the issues to be. Our chimneys were in a sorry state of repair. We had to undertake a number of activities to get them in shape…
Lead Flashing to Seal the Base
Most Victorian chimney stacks have large sections of lead flashing at the base. This is to stop rain water that is running down the stack from penetrating into the property. From the ground the flashing was not truly visible but photographs provided by our building survey showed a piece of lead flashing swaying in the wind. This is easily fixed by a roofer. The image below shows parts of our Chimney flashing pretty much hanging off!
Mortar Flaunching to Secure the Pots
Another Victorian chimney stack repair task is the flaunching. Essentially flaunching is the bed of mortar on which the chimney pots sit. If your flaunching has failed the chimney pots may be loose and at risk of moving. In our case the flaunching was severely cracked. This meant that the pots could be lifted off and puddles of water were collecting at the very top of our stacks. As you can see from the image below we had this completely scraped off and fully replaced.
Solid Brickwork Repointing
Our last Victorian chimney stack repair job was brick repointing. The picture below shows our brick repointing underway and in a half complete state. So much of the mortar between our bricks had come away making them appear loose and unstable. Traditional Victorian chimney stack repointing is done using a lime based mortar to ensure breathability. Throughout the pages of the Victorian Project you will see that generally we have tried to stick with lime but we made an exception with the chimney stacks due to them being so far away from any living spaces.
Moss Growth Holding Moisture
Between most of our roof slates clusters of moss could be seen on each tier of the roof. Whilst this may seem insignificant moss has a tendency to hold water and also disrupt the flow and draining system the roof was designed to have. It would not be worth hiring someone solely for the removal of moss. If you are taking on a roofer for other works then it should be included in your shopping list. In our case removal of all moss made little different to the roofing quotations we received.
Ivy Invasion & Troublesome Vegetation
Growing Ivy up the side of a Victorian property can be tempting. In reality however it will be of detriment to the house. Ivy will eat into brick mortar, lift parts of a Victorian slate roof and as with moss has the potential to hold moisture in places where it shouldn’t be. Parts of our property were inundated with Ivy, covering the house extension and in places up to the top floor. The plant was huge however and the main stem was more like a tree trunk than a plant. You may find roofers who will remove this for you but generally speaking this is not a roof repair. Our main Ivy problem could be tackled using a reasonably sized ‘A’ frame ladder. To save on cost we decided to fully remove the plant ourselves. [See also: Ivy Invasion – Removal from Bricks, Roofing & Gutters]
Finding a Good Roofer & Our Experience
Finding a good roofer can be a challenge to say the least! Undertaking our Victorian roof repairs provided our first bad experience in the Victorian Project. Our property is on three floors and you will find that to go to this height most roofers will require the use of scaffolding to conduct the work safely. Scaffolding does not come cheap. It can actually be the biggest part of your roofing quotation before any work has been done.
One of the problems with Victorian roof repairs is that unless you are happy to go up the scaffolding towers yourself and you are comfortable with heights you may not be able to check the completed works. You will have to take your roofer’s word that they have done what was asked of them. Another thing to note is that many roofers will favour new roof installations and bigger jobs rather than patching up a few slipped slates. When selecting your roofer do your homework. You want someone experienced in Victorian roof repairs and try to go on recommendation if you can.
What Went Wrong?
We were not impressed with our roofer on completion of the requested work. From the list of roofing issues above we gave clear instruction on what we wanted undertaking. We also asked that the remainder of the roof that we could not see from ground level be fully inspected. Our roofer shut up shop, notified us of completion and when on his way.
Fortunately I did decide to get up there and inspect the work and when I got up top I was disappointed with what I saw. On the chimney stacks the pointing work had only been carried out on areas that were visible from ground level. I don’t know whether this was an attempt to pull a fast one or because he thought that we wanted this doing for cosmetic reasons only. Also a large piece of lead flashing at the base of the front chimney stack was still hanging off and had clearly been missed. Finally, there was debris everywhere! The gutters that we had only recently paid to have cleared were now full of the roofer’s rubbish.
Getting the right Tradesman for your Victorian House Roof
It has to be said that we did not get a good vibe from this particular roofer from the off. General communication was poor and it took him a long time to provide us with a date for when the work could start. We got the feeling that he was continually taking on other jobs that were worth much more to him than ours. So why did you choose him in the first place I hear you ask? We selected him as he seemed to be competent and his price was very competitive. Also we had an imminent booked chimney flue installation and needed the scaffolding towers up that the roofer was going to provide. Had we have not been against the clock to get the towers up and the log burner installation pending then we would have gone elsewhere.
One of the very first lessons we learned on this Victorian project was that bad vibes during quotations and negotiations equals bad work! In fairness to our roofer once we complained and expressed our concerns he did return to the property and rectified our issues until we were fully satisfied.
Victorian Roof Repairs – Getting it Right!
Repairing a Victorian slate roof is one of the least rewarding tasks of your renovation project but also one of the most important. You want to ensure that your home is fully watertight prior to starting any decorating or interior makeovers. There is no point in spending money on paint or paper only for a leak to damage it and spoil your efforts. I our opinion repair rather than replace is always the best way and also the most cost effective!.
Always source a roofer who you trust or that comes on recommendation from friends, colleagues or family. Bear in mind that one of the biggest expenses of Victorian roof renovation is the scaffolding particularly if your property is on 3 floors. When your scaffolding is erected try to combine your Victorian roof repairs with any other jobs that you are going to need the towers for; chinmney flue installation, upper windows etc. This will save you money in the long term. You only want to repair your roof once so ensure that the right job is done first time!