lead roofing and lead flashings

While not being a huge player in the roofing materials scene lead roofing is still a viable option for some people, and there are some jobs that only lead can do.

Lead roofing

Until the advent of modern flat roof materials in say the last 60 years lead reigned supreme for many flat roof jobs.

Small flat lrad roof
A shallow pitch lead roof showing the rolled joints down the roof.

Lead does not have the visual appeal of a copper roof, but it has a lot of the same attributes.
  • Lead roofing is very long lasting, one of the best roofing materials in this respect. The reason for this is that lead does not corrode, the surface oxidises to a dull gray when it comes into contact with air and this forms a protective layer.
  • It can be used to cover any shape than a builder can build. By it's very nature lead takes well to working around odd shapes.
  • It can be transported to any job in the basic form that it leaves the factory, so there is no workshop fabrication to be done beforehand.
  • Complex work can be done with basic hand tools. There is almost no specialised equipment needed.

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Lead Flashings

curved roofing

The photos above shows the versatility of lead as a roofing and a flashing material. Measured, cut out of the roll fit and dressed into shape all on the roof. Only simple hand tools required.

In the top photo the box gutter against the parapet wall is also formed out of lead sheet. The flashing around the wall and window above are made of of lead.

It is not without some drawbacks though.

  • While being fairly compact to state the obvious,lead is very heavy.
  • Meaning that it needs a stronger roof framing structure to support it.
  • It is hard to transport and more often than not it needs mechanical lifting equipment to get it into position.
  • As a sheet roofing material it is very expensive compared to other roofing materials. Less so for flashings. Custom made flashings for other metal roofs are expensive also.

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Heritage work

lead protective flashing
lead roofing - Lead work on sandstone window sills.
Photo thanks to Dynamic Roofing

Living and working as I do in a very young city I have not come across many conservation issues in my career so writing pages like this is a pleasant education for me. Greg Bradley from Dynamic roofing in Sydney makes these points on his website which will explain the above photo:-

"Lead is increasingly being specified by Conservation Architects and Heritage professionals as a protective covering for sandstone ledges and decorative items such as gargoyles, urns, statues etc. As stone buildings weather there can be a degradation of the stone which can literally crumble away and this is particularly true of sandstone. A a lead capping protects the ledge or roof decoration from further erosion."

Thanks Greg.

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Joints in lead roofing.

Lead comes in rolls of various thicknesses and on any job it has to have joints. Over the centuries lead workers have evolved waterproof joints.

  • The first photo on this page show classic lead rolled joints.
  • They always run down the roof with the fall. (so called flat roofs always have some fall.)
  • The rolled joints are made over a timber former which is fixed to the timber boarding (as it used to be) or ply as we do it now.
  • The lead sheeting on each side of the joint is dressed around the timber, so there are two thicknesses at the joint. They are nailed with either copper or stainless steel nails.
  • This type of joint can also be left not nailed so that it can act as an expansion joint in large roofs.
  • Folded joints like in the photo of the window sill are made a bit like standing seam roofing and then just laid over flat.
  • Welded or sweated joints are made with a gas torch, using the lead itself as a filler material if needed.

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Not lead roofing, a cautionary tale.

A few years ago over a period of time I did about four shop fitouts for a radiology practise.

In the rooms where the X-ray machines were we had to line the inside of the walls with sheet lead to prevent radiation leaking to the rest of the building. When we had finished the lead work I rang the health department physicist to come out and inspect the work before we covered it with plasterboard.

The guy simply asked if we had done it to specs and when I said "of course" he told me to go ahead and cover it up. I thought "crikey he's a bit casual"

He was't all that trusting. When the job was finished and all the machines were installed he had the large machine turned on and directed at all angles, while he walked around outside of the room with what I presume was a Geiger counter to see if the room was safe.

Now wasn't I lucky that I hadn't left a few pieces out or skimped a bit on the joints?

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Please Note! The information on this site is offered as a guide only!  When we are talking about areas where building regulations or safety regulations could exist,the information here could be wrong for your area.  It could be out of date!  Regulations breed faster than rabbits!
You must check your own local conditions.
Copyright © Bill Bradley 2007-2012. All rights reserved.
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