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Roofers urged to engage in climate change battle

17 Dec 21 The National Federation of Roofing Contractors is urging its members to get more up to speed with green technologies because, although they might not realise it, they are key to defending against the impact of climate change.

The report is available via nfrc.co.uk
The report is available via nfrc.co.uk

A report by the University of Southampton, commissioned by the NFRC (National Federation of Roofing Contractors) Charitable Trust, explains how the way the UK builds and maintains its roofs will be critical to how we adapt to a wetter and warmer climate.

Roofing technologies can: cool the temperature of a building as well as the surrounding environment; store and slow the rate of rainwater runoff before it even reaches the ground; and generate renewable energy on site through solar photovoltaic panels.

However, according to the NFRC, the UK roofing industry has skills gaps in the design and installation of new technologies. “The industry must therefore embed and invest in green skills throughout the existing and future roofing workforce,” the report says. “Green skills can be used to help promote new entrants to the sector.”

It continues: “The roofing industry must review current apprenticeship frameworks to ensure they integrate the green skills needed by the sector and that these are available nationwide.

Roofing contractors should consider diversifying their business and upskilling their workforce to include green technologies. For example, roofers should take advantage of the uplift in Part L and off er Built-In Solar PV installation.  

“Designers should consider the reflectivity of the materials they are specifying when designing building types that are at risk of overheating.”

The report finds several ways that roofing can contribute to the built environment’s resilience to climate change, including:

  • Conventional (consolidated technologies). These are technologies that are consolidated in the market currently in both the residential and non-residential sectors, such as enhanced levels of insulation and improving airtightness.
  • Cool (highly reflective coatings). A cool roof is one that is designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a conventional roof, typically flat or low sloped. A reflective paint, sheet covering, tiles or shingles can be used to achieve this.
  • Green (vegetated). These are ballasted roofs that cover a conventional roof (typically flat) with a waterproofing later, growing medium (soil) and vegetation (plants)
  • Blue (vegetated with enhanced stormwater attenuation capacity). These are roofs that are designed to slow the drainage of rainwater collected above a roofs waterproof element, unlike conventional roof’s which allow rainwater to drain quickly away from the roof.

The report says: “When considering the two greatest risks posed to the UK from climate change, flooding and overheating, it is clear these technologies can help mitigate the  effects. Roofs, particularly green and blue roofs, have the potential to address the impact of flooding both at the individual building level and the wider neighbourhood scale, through water attenuation. This should become a key issue for planning in cities where roofs must act as a rainfall run-off attenuator.

“These technologies can also be used to contribute to the reduction of overheating risk and cooling demand during heatwaves. The research found that well-insulated roofs that were air tight and had enhanced night ventilation and a medium/light coloured roof, can significantly reduce the risk of overheating, even over the long term.”

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NFRC is also calling on the government to: fast-track proposed changes to building regulations relating to net zero homes; to provide financial incentives to property owners to retrofit their buildings; and to put pressure on local authorities to incorporate roofing technologies that help to build climate resilience into their planning policies.

Patrick James, professor of energy and buildings at the University of Southampton, said: “Over the next century we expect the UK to have warmer and wetter winters and hotter and drier summers, with more extreme weather events such as torrential rain and heatwaves. Through modelling built forms across 15 cities in the UK, over three different time periods, we are able to highlight characteristics that increase risk to help decision makers build resilience.

“We must all do our bit to build resilience for these changes to our climate, but what this research shows is that roofing has a key role to play in this. We found that in all locations, a well-designed roof with good ventilation and a medium/light coating can significantly reduce the risk of overheating.

“Evidence from the research community has highlighted the benefits of roofing technologies such as green and blue roofs, notably to reduce flooding risks, as well as providing many other benefits including enhancing biodiversity, reducing the urban heat island effect, and cutting down pollution levels.”

NFRC chief executive James Talman said: “This research shows that roofs have the ability to build resilience to climate change—whether that be as simple as helping to reduce overheating through greater reflectivity, protection against the cold through enhanced insulation, generating electricity from the sun through rooftop solar PV, or reducing the risk of flooding through attenuating water in blue and green roofs.

“Whilst the evidence is clear, many barriers remain. The roofing industry is already experiencing a skills shortage and an ageing demographic, so unless we invest in green skills now, we won’t have the people we need to be able to deliver this critical work. Furthermore, there are also significant policy barriers—outside of London, the UK is far behind many other countries when it comes to encouraging green, blue and cool roofs, and this needs to change. The government must also introduce a proper retrofit policy, to replace the failed Green Homes Grant, to encourage homeowners to upgrade their homes.”

The full 56-page report, Building resilience of roofing technologies in a changing climate, is available here.

A six-page summary is available here.

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