About 5 months ago I recieved a delivery consisting of 1100kg of coated steel coils. It came as a plastic wrapped package on a pallet that was trolleyed out of the back of the lorry and parked on the pavement just in front of my driveway. My driveway is fairly steep at the beginning, about 10-12 degrees so the pallet truck wasn’t going to make it up there. I’d have to move the coils for storage with the digger.
‘What have I done and where on earth do I start with this?’ was the main thought running through my mind.
This was not what I’d planned..but nevertheless I felt slightly excited. Oh, and very nervous..
How I got here.
The delivery of this package of traditional standing seam roof coils was the culmination of the second major ‘value-engineering’ (or shall I just say change of material and supplier?) task I’ve had to undertake so far on my building journey.
The reason for this bit of ‘value-engineering’ (variation) wasn’t that I’d simply changed my mind or decided to cut costs. I had previously identified a supplier of a simpler metal roofing system that’s designed more for self-builders – I found it at the National Self-Build Center in Swindow. Made by Tata Steel, it’s called Colourcoat Urban. It’s supposed to go together more easily, doesn’t require the same extent of skill, experience and tooling compared with the traditional standing seam roof as it comes as a pre-fabricated kit on the back of the lorry. I’d always planned to do this on my own.
However, the problem arose when I sent off the site measurements for my roof, built according to the Tata Steel details. In return I received a quotation back that was over twice the original pricing I’d earlier been given. This put it fairly and squarely out of the running. And I was now really stuck.
To make things worse, when asked why the price had risen so sharply, I was told our roof needed to be sent out for special fabrication. Because it is a curved roof, it couldn’t be done with their standard materials. This wasn’t consistent with my earlier communications where I’d sought specific confirmation from a technical manager. Why was this so different now? I was told the previous people had overlooked some stuff. I then asked to be put in touch with a more senior manager and received silence in reply.
Alarm bells were ringing, beyond the loud one giving me a headache on the newly hiked price.
Subsequently, I did receive another email from a manager, acknowledging a mistake and taking £5000 off the price, but that was still far more than the original quote and it was now too late. I’d already changed course and wasn’t going back.
The reasons for not going back may seem obvious. But it raises a couple of issues for me that are in my experience quite characteristic of the construction industry. I’ll digress for a moment to explain:
- The first is that the company increases the price by a completely unreasonable amount without apology while blaming it on someone else’s error. (I now know that it wasn’t an error by the previous person, but the one increasing the price);
- The second, which is even more important:
The overall conversation thread.. no, actually, it wasn’t a conversation, I found it one-way, where their implicit approach was:
this is what we’ve decided to give you and this is what you’ll pay..
It seemed to me that as their potential customer, my view on what I actually wanted didn’t come into it. Their price included decisions they’d made that impacted on the design, and thus final look of the product, without giving me a choice.
I’ve had similar interactions with many potential suppliers and professionals during my project.
How could I use a company acting like this and what would happen if something went wrong down the line?
The culmination was that I then spent a chunk of time considering my alternatives – this is the value-engineering bit which I’ll briefly cover too. But first you may be wondering why I was so intent on a metal standing seam roof? We have two curved sections of roof which means material selection is limited. There’s no standard tile roof going on here. So my alternatives came down to:
- change the material to something like EPDM or GRP
- corrugated metal roof
- find an alternative stand seam roof supplier.
With both EPDM and GRP the planners confirmed we’d have to make a new application to change the roof material on our planning conditions. We were now at the beginning of the Coronavirus lockdown and they warned there may be some significant timeline impact. Also, I wasn’t confident such an application would be successful.
GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) I discounted very quickly because I didn’t warm to it at all. I couldn’t find any examples of domestic large area curved roofs I could look at. I wasn’t sure I wanted this amount of glass fibre together with a whole load of resin with what I think are questionable environmental credentials. When I asked around, I heard some opinions, whether correct or not, that it may have a tendency to crack when covering a large expansion built with a timber frame. I don’t know whether this is supported by hard facts, but I would like to know – if you’re reading this and have some experience to know the facts, please let me know.
EPDM, which is basically a single ply rubber roof membrane that is glued to roof boards, was worth some serious consideration. I could also get it in a slate grey, which was probably better than black. It was also going to be significantly cheaper than the metal roof, and a whole lot quicker to install.
I was seriously tempted by EPDM for all of about10 minutes because I was feeling pretty desparate at this point. I’d boarded up the roof in January and it was only covered with temporary roof membrane. It was now the end of March!
I’ve also used EPDM on a flat roofed extension at a previous house to very good effect. I was very easy to install and worked perfctly for our needs then.
The idea of EPDM for this project died on the combination of re-application of planning conditions, aesthetics and possible questions about its environmental status – I don’t even know if it’s properly recyclable. Having travelled around to look at some EPDM installations, I didn’t think it looked that wonderful over large installed roof areas (because on all of them I could see the underlying board joints and any undulations). This is fine for a flat roof nobody’s going to see, but for a curved roof on full view, I just didn’t think it would cut it. It would probably end up looking like a cheap cost-cutting exercise that would impact the value and desirability of our house.
I briefly looked at alternative metal roof systems, in particular the corrugated stuff. This would also work out significantly cheaper than the standing seam alternative (at least in terms of roof covering and general flashings but I never got so far as look into all the detailing costs). This option fell to the wayside because I feared it could end up looking like a converted barn, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it could look very good, but just wasn’t suited to our overall house design. It would also require a re-application to planning.
So traditional standing seam metal roof it was going to be..
Chosing a Standing Seam Roof Supplier
I’d spent the better part of March trying to identify a supplier for the standing seam roof. I remember when we were designing the house we’d received a quotation for the supply and installation of a standing seam roof and the quotation came back at over £30k (probably plus VAT if memory serves me). Given our budget, this was a no go so I knew I needed to do this myself.
Calling the suppliers was an interesting experience. It felt more like an interview than a sales call because these suppliers definitely don’t do online ordering and they don’t usually offer to sell direct. These suppliers typically arrange a supply and fit service where they’ll sell through a local specialist installer. I had to convince them there was a chance I could do this. Having some experience of working with sheet metal in an engineering hobby certainly helped.
I found two companies willing to speak to me, supply me the metals and which were helpful.
What pipped it to the post was that The Metal Roof Company bent over backwards to facilitate it all for me, including making introductions to installers and specifiers so that I could access the support I needed.
Both these companies work slightly differently in terms of how they supply the materials with Metal Solutions also supplying a clip together standing seam roof (like the Tata Steel product) – unfortunately it couldn’t self-curve to our roof radius. Metal Solutions also sell and hire out tools and they supply preformed roof pans for installation.
The Metal Roofing Company put me in touch with Consolv and Belfry Ltd who helped me out with advice, specification, material quantity calculations and all the tools and equipment I’d need. They also put me onto The UK Guide to Good Practice, published by the Federation of Traditional Metal Roofing Contractors.
Thanks to the UK Guide to Good Practice I was also able to find some additional resources like the Copper Alliance’s Copper Roofing – in detail publication which helps by providing instructions on some of the folding techniques like a ‘Dog-eared upstand.’
Without this help and information, there is not a chance I would have been able to complete this job and even then, because my roof is not a standard roof in any manner or form, I’ve had to do a bit of figuring out. One example is how to lift 8 meter long pans made of thin 0.7mm steel sheet 7 meters up onto a roof without buckling them.
I know one of the typical go-tos for instructions on building things is YouTube but I found it incredibly difficult to find the content I needed, and when I did, much of it was in foreign languages. For example, Spengler TV channel was a great help in watching how someting should be done, like an upstand against a wall abutment. Things like external corners though, I’d be on my own.
So I’d found my supplier, got the materials calculated, now I just needed to figure out a way to get these 11 coils of sheet steel onto my roof..as a complete roof.
I didn’t give myself a lot of time to prepare. I’d already been through one of the worst winters in history regarding rain followed by a February where we were hit by four consecutive storms. I’d been trying to finish up some of the roof structure that required lots of plywood sheets – not a good combination with high winds. But since January, I’d had a roof with a temporary cover that really wasn’t up to the demands of torrential rain and 70+mph winds. I was getting stressed so once I’d found the supplier and got the materials calculated, I just needed to get on with it.
It was the end of April now and the 11 coils of steel had arrived, now I needed the tools and machinery. Two days later, I was driving across a country that was in Coronavirus lockdown to pick up a forming machine, a folding machine with metal sheer together with a whole host of hand tools.
I’d just received my ‘Good Practice Manual’ and needed to get on with reading it together with watching some of the YouTube videos I could find.
The first action I had to take was to check out the materials for the sub-roof and modify the roof for the new roof material. This will be covered in the next installment..