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Weather sees inquiries flood in; Peter Fall looks at the problems of gutters in heavy rain.

Byline: Peter Fall

YOU knew that as soon as the Government appointed a minister with special responsibility for the drought, everything would change. The next step was the imposition of hosepipe bans across the bottom third of Britain.

On top of that the BBC's One Show rang and asked if I'd do a bit on the effects of subsidence caused by the prolonged dry weather.

I turned down the invitation as here in the North East we simply didn't have drought conditions!

I could have spoken about a couple of houses showing signs of movement from the effects of adjacent tree roots, but I'd rather brag about how much water we poor folk in the North have compared to the rich kids in the South and they didn't want to know that!

As anticipated the rains came - with a vengeance. The water did its usual thing by finding routes into buildings that it had never found before. We've had reports of water cascading off roofs where gutters had become blocked. We've had flat roofs that flooded because the rainwater outlets blocked and the water built up into a pond then drained back underneath the adjacent slated pitched roof.

An interesting problem last week was a lead-lined eaves gutter which had split and leaked water into the building. These gutters are usually based on stones at the top of a wall, dished in the middle then lined out in sheet lead - common on Tyneside flats and houses built in the late 19th/early 20th Century. Over the years many of the gutters had the lead replaced with bituminous felt but in recent years a number have had the lead reinstated, presumably to give a 60-year defect-free life, compared to the 10-year life of bituminous felt.

Lead is a great traditional roofing material, but the one thing we must remember is it expands and contracts significantly over a 12-month period as a result of changes in the air temperature. To accommodate this you will see lots of ribs on old lead roofs. These are expansion joints to allow for movement. In a long length of lead gutter you must still allow for this expansion and contraction.

Unfortunately, the gutter we looked at hadn't made the allowance.

On long lengths of old gutters we would expect to see steps across, about every 1.5-1.8m (5ft-6ft). Stone eaves gutters don't have the facility for steps, therefore an alternative expansion joint system should be used or don't use lead at all.

Fortunately, we are now able to incorporate a synthetic rubber (neoprene) expansion joint in the length to take up the movement. Regrettably, these owners had run the gutter in a single 3m (10ft) length. They had then tried to stick the lead to next door's bituminous felt gutter lining with a bitumen-based tacky solution. The cold weather had not only shrunk the lead, tugging on the joint, but also made the bitumen brittle. The joint had sprung apart and water had started to seep into the stonework. Last week's heavy rains turned the leak into a flow with the water soaking down into the wall and ceiling of the room beneath.

There are many other materials we use in construction that need to be installed in a manner that allows for possible movement or need to be replaced on a regular basis because the weather turns them brittle - mastic joints around windows and doors, uPVC gutters and rainwater pipes and bituminous felt flat roofs. This spring and summer should be the time we bring them up to scratch.

? Peter Fall, a chartered building surveyor, is a former president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, tel: 0191 284 3467 or go to
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 5, 2012
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