Wednesday 28 September 2016

'Detectives' take to the rooftops to investigate builders' boom era leaks

Paul McNeive

Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30

Leaky roofs can cause a lot of hearache
Leaky roofs can cause a lot of hearache

Many a heart and bank account has been broken by roof leaks, where it can be very difficult to identify the source of the problem. However, new technology has been developed which makes solving these issues much easier.

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Last week I found myself on a leaking flat roof which had defied the efforts of various experts and roofing contractors over the years. The owners had engaged building surveyor Krystyna Rawicz and she in turn had called on Michael Morris of Morris Roofing and Cladding Maintenance. I was invited to observe the new technology in action.

Mr Morris has 30 years experience in roofing and was involved in many major schemes - for example as safety officer and contracts manager for Dundrum Town Centre and Pier C at Dublin Airport. He now specialises in leak detection, mostly for commercial properties.

The problem with large, flat roofs is that once water penetrates the top membrane, it can travel long distances before appearing as a leak inside the building. This was the case in this example, where a combination of heavy rain and a particular wind direction was causing the problem.

The first machine used was a Tramex Dec Scanner, manufactured in Co. Wicklow. This instrument generates a low-frequency electronic signal as it is walked across the roof. The machine detects moisture levels in the roof, allowing the levels to be 'mapped', which the operator can interpret, and indicates the likely track of water in the roof.

Within an hour, the use of this machine provided enough information to raise Michael's suspicions about a building housing plant in one corner of the roof. Another 30 minutes or so was spent examining plans, and photographs of the building under construction. A detailed visual inspection identified a crack in the plinth supporting the plant building, which Morris believed was the source of the problem. A good repair job and the next storm will hopefully prove him right.

Another machine on site was the DC Holiday Detector, which conducts a 'pinhole' or 'spark test', identifying tiny holes in roof membranes. This works on bridge decks with coverings such as asphalt and where the substrate is steel or concrete. This machine works by passing an electrical current through the roof and identifying changes in conductivity.

Other technology used includes 'wet scanners', hand-held moisture scanners, moisture probes and meters. I was interested in a 'bore scope camera', of the type which plumbers might use in examining drains, but which Morris has modified and extended to allow him examine under slate roofs.

Morris is regularly engaged by the OPW and had spent the previous week finding the sources of leaks on a national landmark building. His clients include hi-tech companies, retailers and hospitals and he told me that he is increasingly being retained by architects to certify the integrity of roofs on new buildings, before their clients complete the purchase of the property.

Morris says a lot of roof problems result from poor standards during the boom years. Depending on the use of the building, multi-million euro losses can result where problems arise.

"The problem is that buildings are maintained like Hollywood sets," he told me. "The grass is cut and the windows are cleaned, but occupiers don't think about the roof until it's too late." The answer, he said, "is to regularly maintain your roof - and that's more than just cleaning the gutters".

Crossed Wires In Connemara

There may be pressure on Eir and Electric Ireland to co-operate in rolling out rural broadband, but they could also do a lot of good by working to reduce the tangle of wires and poles that blights Connemara. This really struck me again on a recent drive to Clifden. There are stretches where it's hard to find a field that isn't criss-crossed by wires and poles.

This is presumably the result of decades of one-off housing development, which is another debate.

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