Teapot Cottage! (Julie Horner)
A roof is simply the top of a building built to protect from rain, snow and sun. Most roofs are flat, but even sloped roofs are designed to let water flow towards a drain, or else they would flood and collapse (flat roofs also have a parapet to stop people falling off them). Most roofs are covered in asphalt.
Roof gardens must be secure for people and pets (if accessed). Manchester’s Unicorn Grocery became the first commercial building to install a green roof, which gives habitat to the endangered black redstart bird. Another issue with roofs in a world of high energy bills is heat loss (and also broken roof tiles). Or on a bigger scale – installing a solar panel on your roof to help pay for energy bills.
If you have a broken roof tile, it’s important to get it fixed, so it doesn’t turn into something more serious. But find a reputable tradesman to do the job (it may be covered on your buildings insurance) as working on roofs is very dangerous (accounting for 25% of all deaths in construction – mostly by falling through roof lights and roofing sheets). If someone is mending your roof, keep pets away as they will be spooked by loud noises, and ideally go somewhere else during the time of repair. Then vacuum up all dust, before allowing pets or people to return.
Saving Energy Through Your Roof
Port Isaac rooftops (Cornwall)
See if you can get a grant to insulate your roof, attic and loft, as a quarter of heat is lost in an uninsulated home through the roof. If done properly, this can pay for itself many times (roof insulation should last around 40 years). As long as your loft has no damp or condensation issues, it should be an easy job.
Solar panels are a good idea to save energy but usually are best placed on large buildings like schools as they have quicker payback and can then power a village or town for free (and sell back unused energy for passive income). Visit EC4 to see if you qualify for a grant (not just income-related, some people with health and mobility concerns may also qualify).
SunRoof (Sweden) is an efficient solar roof that people can install that produces electricity, at the same time insulating and ventilating homes. Lightweight and easy to install too.
Creating a Pretty Roof Garden
You have to consider safety for roof gardens, but you can also add tall trees and bushes that give privacy, but avoid hanging things on the edge, unless they are very secure (you may be banned from doing this anyway when applying for planning permission). Make sure all fixings can easily be tightened, if need be, and ensure balconies and terraces are at minimum heights to prevent falls.
If pets access (secure) roof gardens, make your garden safe for pets to know toxic plants and other items to avoid. If it has windows, avoid foliage facing gardens to help stop birds flying into windows.
Growing Up The Wall shows how to grow your own food, if you have no outdoor space. Using special containers (homemade or bought) you can grow food on your roof or up the wall using ladder allotments and growing frames, wall boxes and hanging baskets.
Green roofs were first created in Germany in the 1880s to offer protection from fire, and today offer many advantages from relaxing to growing to offering habitats for wildlife. Most green or living rooms use sedum (a family of 600 plants) to add a natural look, most should be pet-safe if there is a secure area, but check before planting. Ensure all floor surfaces are non-slip and easy to walk on, and that water can flow away. Green roofs in London now cover combined an area larger than Hyde Park.
The Rooftop Growing Guide is by New Yorker Annie Novak, who draws on her experience as a pioneering sky-high farmer to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and trees.
England’s Beautiful Thatched Roofs
England is of course home to the beautiful thatched roof, often depicted in paintings of villages. First created during the Bronze Age, it uses wheat or straw that are bundled together to create a thick roof where rain can not get through.
Most remaining houses with thatched roofs date from the 16th to 19th century, and master thatchers take years to learn their trade. Roofs have to be re-thatched every 25 years or so, which costs thousands of pounds (wire mesh placed over the roof stops birds and creatures nesting in them). The frequent rainfall in England replaces moisture lost, so in dry summers needs watering.
Thatched roofs should be of no greater fire risk, but they do spread quickly. Fires are usually due to bad construction, faulty wiring or old chimneys – keep them clean and maintained. A study found that the main cause of fires from 2008 to 2016 was ejected embers (woodburners installed with low chimneys poses the greater risk). Moss often grows on thatch (mould needs to be stripped). Follow tips from the fire service, to keep thatched homes safe from fire.