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On Closer Inspection: A Roof Story

It was during an unseasonably cold day in April this year that I was instructed to undertake a Level three building survey on a stone cottage just on the outskirts of Maidstone, Kent. My drive to the agents, to collect the keys, took me through a dense forest area. As I was reflecting on the desk top research I had undertaken, the sunlight danced through the branches and flickered off my windscreen. Today’s subject was to be a stone-built cottage which I dated, via historic mapping, to be Circa 1850s. It was located on the edge of a wooded area with houses of a similar nature spaced down the road. An elderly gentleman had lived there for many years and the house needed modernisation throughout.

I arrived at the agents which were located in a small parade of shops with parking conveniently located outside. As the agent handed me the keys they told me, quite proudly, that the property had a completely new roof and that was something that the new owners would not have to worry about for many years. I find it very useful to chat to agents and neighbours about the subject property as interesting information often comes out.

I drove to the subject property and was pleased to see that I could park on the drive. This is a bit of a treat for us surveyors as often we need to park a few streets away from the subject property due to parking restrictions or neighbouring cars parked outside. As I opened my car door, got my tool bag from the boot and glanced up towards the roof, indeed it did appear recent. However, I noted that it was of synthetic slate tiles. We always warn our clients that synthetic slate tiles deteriorate much more quickly than traditional products and therefore ongoing maintenance will be required over the coming years. Perhaps this was an omen as much worse was yet to come.

After carrying out an inspection on the ground and first floor where many defects were discovered, it was time to enter the roof space. I mounted my telescope ladder, placed my mask on and up I went. As I opened the roof hatch there was a light switch. I flicked the switch and as I did the light tube flickered for a few seconds, and then lit up the roof space. It took my eyes a few seconds to adjust, and through the dust that was settling from the opening of the hatch, I saw it. The roof had been ‘insulated’ using spray foam insulation.

Spray foam insulation, which is applied between rafters, has become a bit of a hot potato in the surveying and mortgage world in recent times and rightly so. In fact, many mortgage lenders will now not lend on a property that has had such an application. Many of the foams used are flammable and could help spread fire. Another issue is condensation or undetected roof leaks forming behind the foam which then can rot the timbers. Often this cannot be seen as has been hidden by the foam and by the time it is noticed, significant damage has been done. Unfortunately, in this case, that is what had happened.

On closer inspection it was one of the worst cases I had seen, many of the rafters were completely rotten. Sadly, it appeared that a less than reputable roofing company had removed the old roof covering and instead of replacing the roof rafters they sprayed it with foam, perhaps in a misguided attempt to keep the structure together. We reported to the client that all the roof covering would need to be removed, the rafters removed and replaced, and a new roof covering installed. This would involve the erection of a bird’s nest scaffold system. Unfortunately, the slates that had been sprayed with foam almost certainly cannot be reused which added to the cost.

Luckily this was a pre purchase survey, so it saved our client many thousands of pounds. It goes to show that all that glitters is not necessary gold. It really does pay to get a thorough inspection undertaken by Gold Crest Chartered Surveyors. Click here to book your survey today.