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Living the high life - with tiles; house d o c to r with Peter Fall of Clear Building Survey.

House doctor Peter Fall looks for problems up on the roof.

ONE of the joys - or burdens - with my job is that I do a fair bit of travelling. Nothing exotic, but certainly my surveys take me to the four corners of the UK.

Each region has construction methods that are slightly different to the next. Not just methods but also materials. It's all to do what local materials are at hand.

Having said that, in recent years, a typical new house type in one area is often repeated across the country. I have to be careful not to drift off and start wittering on about Kentish cob walls or Mundic blocks! Instead, I must stay with North East forms of construction. There are, nonetheless, variations within our own region. The north of the region is influenced by Scottish Border construction and to the south of Teesside we have completely different Yorkshire construction.

Take pitched roofs. You might think our pitched roofs are finished in slates or tiles. Mostly yes, but we have a few thatched roofs and a number of corrugated asbestos cement or galvanised steel roofs.

The variations are in the types of slates and tiles. Look hard and you will see that not all of our slates are the same colour or the same thickness and size. Originally our slates were from local quarries, but the advent of canals then railways meant the ubiquitous, better quality Welsh slate was cheaply available. While it flooded the market, it didn't usurp the green Lakeland slate on our better homes but it caused the demise of the other supplies.

When Welsh slate became uneconomic, our houses turned to tiles. We still needed slates to repair older roofs but many owners turned to tiles when replacing them. On terraced properties, this gave a problem in connecting the new tile roof to the old slate roof. There are many awkward joints apparent on rows of terraced homes. This difficult joint, together with their cheaper cost saw the introduction of the "fibre cement slate".

In early versions, fibres were asbestos. A specialist contractor is needed to dispose of them. The fibre cement slate might be cheap but after a few years it looks cheap! It doesn't have the weathering qualities of natural slate, so cheap imported slates arrived from Spain and now China. As a result the fibre cement types have taken a back seat.

It's a similar story with tiles. The common original tile was the pan tile made from baked clay. Almost semi-circular in section and folding over each other with one curved up and the other curved down, they were simple to install. This was overtaken by the plain tile, sometimes called a Rosemary tile; a small flat tile with a hooked end called a nib, which hangs over the tiling batten on the inside to stop it sliding down.

In the late 30s and 40s, we saw a significant influx of Flemish tiles. More elaborate than the Rosemary and, as they rely on a ribbed joint at each side, they can be laid thinly across the roof, avoiding the overlaps needed by the other tiles and slates. The building boom of the 50s to the 80s introduced concrete tiles. Cheap, in many styles they swept all before them until the fashion was to be twee again and back came pan tiles and plain tiles!

All of these may be just an adornment to you but to the surveyor, they each have their own problems. Natural slates have a life of well over 100 years but their fixings are lucky to see 80 years. It's the same with the pan tiles but Flemish tiles and concrete tiles can be ready for replacing in 60 years. Add to this the different weights and ability of water or snow to sneak through and you can see the roof finish can present many problems.

Peter Fall is former president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He is managing director of Clear Building Survey, tel: 0800 072-9003 www.clearbuildingsurvey.co.uk
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 22, 2009
Words:678
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