Beware roof batten false economies

20 July 2017

SR Timber trading director Shaun Revill warns about false economies in roof batten purchasing within the roofing and building trade

Never has the old adage “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” been more applicable to timber roofing battens.

It is no coincidence that since the UK voted for Brexit last year – when the value of the pound took a nosedive and the cost of some imported materials from abroad went up by as much as 20% – we have seen a rise in ungraded timber coming onto the market masquerading as the real deal.

It’s cheaper for a reason: it probably doesn’t meet the British Standard.

When costs are rising, it’s understandable that every penny matters for roofing contractors.

As a business, we have been able to take steps to sharpen our pencil in a number of ways. This is because of the scale of our production at our own sawmills and the strong relationships we have been able to forge – even up to government ministry level – to ensure an abundance of raw material to be sawn into graded roofing batten.

So let’s be absolutely clear: using ungraded material where graded roofing battens are required or specified is a false economy. The obvious one is cost.

A roofing contractor may indeed save a couple of pennies per length on the amount of batten required for a specific job or a whole roof; but that saving pales into insignificance against the cost - that he would have to bear - of having to strip and re-roof a property if a building inspector should identify that an incorrect or substandard material has been used.

Then of course there is the safety aspect. Correctly graded roofing batten is a minimum of 25mm in thickness (the British Standard stipulates a minus tolerance of zero and a plus tolerance of 3mm).

We are seeing instances of supposedly graded batten as thin as 23mm, which fails the British Standard requirements in dimension before you even start to look at other aspects of quality.

While I’m on the subject, one of the other tell-tale signs of non-compliant roofing batten is the size of knots that are visible to the eye.

The rules on knots can be quite complicated, but there is a useful rule of thumb. Essentially, any knot that is bigger than half the width of the batten (and that appears on both sides of the face of the batten) fails to meet the standard.

Those with a keen eye for these things also know that grain is a dead giveaway: batten with a straight-grained wood is strong wood, but the more the grain slopes, the weaker the piece will be, until it becomes unsafe to use. These are just two of a long list.

As well as a false economy and safety, there’s also the duty of care to bear in mind as a contractor has to ensure that the product is safe for its specific use.

There’s no shortcut on this, as any materials used on a roofing project should correctly meet British Standard 5534:2014, and these materials are only available from companies that have sufficient controls and the documentation in place to prove it!

Whichever way you look at it, if you get offered a lot cheaper price for what you think is graded roofing batten, remember the sentiment of another old adage: “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”.