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Green Talk: Richard Aldred

by Matt Downs

Greenscape puts the questions to Richard Aldred (MSc), Sika UK Roofing Market Manager, discussing his path into the sector, the importance of designing and specifying the right solution for each project, and why the UK should look to Germany when it comes to incentivising green roofs, plus so much more …

Greenscape: What was your path into construction and to your current position?

Richard Aldred: I have spent a total of 17 years in the construction industry, gaining experience in everything from laying a roof, to surveying an existing one, to building strong relationships with clients within the roofing industry.

My journey started as a roofing labourer directly after finishing my school education, later progressing into an estimator role, which as well as estimating involved surveying and project management. Following this, I became an Area Technical Manager (ATM) for a flat roof waterproofing system manufacturer, which involved being the point of contact for architects, surveyors and contractors for single ply, bitumen, green roofing, and solar solutions on roofs in Fife, Tayside, Aberdeen, and the Highlands. During this time, I gained my Master’s degree (with Distinction) focused on Construction Project Management from Robert Gordon University, and then joined Sika in 2020 as a Regional Manager – Scotland & North East England (Refurbishment).

I progressed to my current position as Sika UK Roofing Market Manager soon after joining the company and was able to take all the skills and experience I’ve gained over the last 17 years and offer a unique view of the market from various perspectives.

Exeter-based roofing contractor, Progressive Systems, assisted by Sika, took on the task, of installing a roof to withstand the harsh seaside conditions with an immaculate finish for The Liner project.

Could you tell us a bit about Sika, the company’s green roof offering and the types of projects you get involved with

Sika is a global market-leading roofing manufacturer that, having launched a complete Green Roof package in June 2021, is now able to offer specifiers a full spectrum of roofing technologies. 

The new systems provide solutions for three types of green roofing build-ups – extensive, intensive and biodiverse – which are available as part of a complete, high-performance package from Sika, as well as providing a compatible waterproofing element for the roof – whether this is hotmelt, reinforced bituminous membrane, single ply or cold-applied liquid solutions.

A key benefit to Sika offering both the waterproofing system and the green roof solution is that our roofing experts can provide a specification for the best suited overall system depending on the project’s and client’s requirements.

Offering countless benefits, green roofs are becoming ever more popular among those looking to build for a sustainable future, so it is great that Sika – a firm that values sustainability – is now able to offer this product at a time when the green roof market is showing fantastic growth in the UK.  

With regards to green roofing, how is the sector performing and do you anticipate growth in this area considering the government’s climate change targets?

The UK Green Roof Market First Assessment report (2017), produced by livingroofs.org in association with GRO and the NFRC, indicated year-on year-growth of 17.1%.

Furthermore, the recent publication of the Manchester Plan, coupled with the established London Plan, speak extensively about the important role green roofs play in improving our environment and reducing our impact on our water drainage systems. COP 26 has also been a real talking point in the industry with regards to the importance of more sustainable products and solutions.

To meet targets and build for a more sustainable future, specifiers will have to increase the use of sustainable products in buildings and consider green roofs as a means of managing stormwater.

Because of the Government’s climate change targets, and strong growth predictions, we too anticipate growth in this market and have already seen that the demand for a green roof is increasing daily. A large proportion of our new build enquiries are heavily focused around requiring technical support to provide a green roof element, as well as the need for the right waterproofing solution for their project.

Sika launched its complete Green Roof package in June 2021.

With this in mind, what more should the government be doing to incentivise green roofs in towns and cities throughout the UK?

Many governments in European countries are doing a fantastic job of incentivising the use of green roofs, for example with tax breaks.

Germany, in particular, is really leading the way having had a big impact on the growth of green roofs in their country. According to The European Federation of Green Roof Associations’ 2015 report, there was a green roof stock of 86 million square metres in Germany in 2014, with another 8 million square metres added every year, compared to the UK’s 250,000 square metres.

Germany has the greatest share of green roofs within Europe. It would be great to see incentives similar to those Germany offers here in the UK so that we too can grow the market in the same way. 

We seem to be experiencing more severe weather patterns on a more regular basis now – is the message around the role that green / blue roofs can play in reducing the impact of severe rainfall getting through to specifiers and developers? 

Managing rainfall is now a mandatory requirement, with legislation changes putting real pressure on local planning authorities and specifiers to prevent flooding, for example through the implementation of stormwater attenuation systems. The idea of these systems is that they manage water flow at the source by temporarily storing stormwater for a period of time, rather than causing flooding further down the watercourse or sewer network.

Reducing the impact of severe rainfall has become a need not a want, especially in built-up areas lacking space. Because of this we have seen a significant uptake in specifier and developer enquiries about green and blue roofs, so I feel that the message is getting through, but that there’s always room to build on the many benefits a green roof system can provide. 

How important is it to keep raising the profile of green roofs, as well as focusing on the importance of best practice when it comes design, specification and installation?

It is very important that we keep pushing this agenda and work to boost the efforts of others, such as the GRO association, who published the Green Roof Code of Best Practice in 2021. Incorporating Blue Roofs and BioSolar applications, it seeks to raise awareness on the benefits of green and blue roofs and covers best practice in terms of design and installation. Being members of the GRO, I sit on the technical committee for Sika and ensure that Sika contributes and follows this best practice.

At Sika, we always seek to provide a bespoke specification as well as stringent on-site support to ensure the specification is followed. Because we are able to provide the full spectrum of roofing technologies from one trusted brand, including both the waterproofing and the green roof, we are able to examine the full roofing system during a final inspection, conducted by one of Sika’s on-site field technicians. This means the roof is fully guaranteed before the green roof goes down. Lending invaluable expertise and technical support throughout, the Sika roofing team provide a full service, from initial design, technical calculations and specification, through to installation and final inspection, ensuring the customer gets a green roofing system that works and meets their exact needs.

Is there a danger that building owners and other specifiers aren’t aware of the various options available and important differentiations when specifying a green roof? – Is there enough awareness that a green roof is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution? 

In some cases, the visual benefits of a green roof can overshadow the practical benefits. This can lead to a lack of technical understanding of the different systems available and how they are beneficial to different projects’ needs.

As a green roof is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution, our first line of questioning at Sika is there to understand the purpose of the green roof, which then enables us to provide a detailed specification on the most suitable waterproofing system, as well as the most suitable green roof system. 

What are some of the more common mistakes designers and installers make when it comes to green roof projects?

It is clear a green roof has been poorly maintained because of its visual impact, which always evokes the question, ‘was that the most suitable green roof system for that project?’ This leads to one of the most common factors of a green roof that is missed during specification –and that is how will it be maintained? Of course, each green roof system requires different levels of maintenance that designers and installers must plan and budget for. It is important to understand green roofs are living structures that need care and attention. 

In the UK, we see a lot of extensive green roofs with no substrate installed. While this a lighter and cheaper way of providing an instant green roof, irrigation and general plant health is much more complex, especially on increased pitches. Therefore, at Sika we ensure a minimum of 50mm substrate is installed, which ensures sufficient water retention and provides nutrients allowing the green roof to look good all year round. 

Sika intensive green roofing system with sedum at the Innside hotel by Meliá Newcastle.

What are some of the myths that exist around green roofs? Is there one that particularly annoys you?

There are many myths that exist around green roofs, but the one that particularly stands out for me is that they can attract seagulls, which in turn can cause damage or disruption. While no formal studies have been carried out to date, anecdotal evidence shows that a building with a green roof is no more attractive to a seagull than a standard roof. However, if the green roof is not maintained, it provides an environment that seagulls can nest in. As such, where this has occurred, it is often down to poor maintenance rather than the presence of a green roof in itself. 

If there was one roof that you could green anywhere in the UK, which one would it be?

There are many roof constructions across the UK suitable to support a green roof, with flat roofs in particular lending themselves to be an ideal area. However, not all are so easily upgraded, with some presenting a greater challenge in terms of the existing surface, architectural structure, or weight distribution. As such, rather than choosing one roof I’d like to see go green, my hope is to see a greater number of suitable roofs taking advantage of the many benefits a green roof presents. 

Can you tell us about a green roof project you’re particularly proud to have been involved with…

One of the most notable projects I have been involved in was the design and specification of an incredibly complex green roof that was supplied and installed on a UNESCO heritage site 100 miles off the west coast of Scotland. This location, although beautiful, was in fact what made the construction so challenging. Being so remote, materials had to be brought by sea, while people were brought to site via helicopter. The green roof was designed to fit in seamlessly with the complex and delicate biodiversity of the island, which masked the visual impact of the structure and added to the overall function of the building. It was a challenging but highly rewarding project to be a part of. 

We’re hearing a lot about material supply and pricing challenges throughout construction – is this the biggest challenge affecting the supply chain currently? If so, what would your advice be to installers? 

For Sika, green roofing as a market hasn’t been massively affected by these challenges, aside from increases in fuel and wages, spurred by labour complications. This is mainly because all of Sika’s green roof components are manufactured here in the UK, so there are less miles travelled to site, limiting strain on the supply chain. 

My advice to installers is to prioritise communication; this is key for us to be able to plan and prepare suitable materials for their projects.

What other challenges do you feel are currently impacting the supply chain?

Supply and pricing volatility is still a feature in 2022, with added pressure from the continuous growth of the construction industry and further pressures regarding skilled labour shortages across the building spectrum. However, we are well placed to manage these challenges as a global manufacturer. For example, we are fortunate to have had the skills and resources to react quickly and responsibly to many of the challenges we have faced. We have also greatly benefited from our manufacturing and Research & Development facilities being local here in the UK. This allows us to react exceptionally quickly to shortages by testing and approving alternative raw materials or sources when needed – all while still being able to leverage that global purchasing power Sika holds. These benefits have meant we’ve largely ensured continuity of supply.

If you had one piece of advice about working and progressing within the construction sector, what would it be?

The construction industry in the UK is full of opportunity at the moment. At Sika, there are lots of roles that contribute to a positive impact on the industry, such as R&D technician, onsite field technician or product engineer. As someone who started their career as a roofer and is now in a position to help Sika identify trends and maximise opportunities in the roofing market, I can attest to the fact that there are many rewarding jobs available, as well as many opportunities to grow and progress. 

What have you learned about your role and construction in general whilst operating during the pandemic? Are there lessons you’ll take forward with you?

The construction industry is a vital part of the economy and even in such difficult times, work has been required throughout. As such, I’ve learnt that being adaptable has been the key to allowing us to carry on working. Utilising digital platforms has also played a vital role, having been imperative for keeping in direct contact with our customers day to day but also when launching new products and introducing new members to the roofing team to them.

What can we expect from Sika going forward? Any new developments to look out for?

Sika has invested heavily in product innovation of late and this year will see some exciting new launches. Some will have a sustainable focus which will interest the specifier market, while others are aimed at offering benefits for the contractor and roofing operative, such as quicker and easier installation, or more choice available for every budget and performance requirement. 

Our 2021 green roofing offering launch is gaining rapid traction in the specification market and our planned launches this year are designed to complement this. We are mindful of the increasing requirement for more sustainable products, and our product mix for roofing now reflects that ambition. We’ve also had to look at our training offering and are continually building on Sika’s online Knowledge Centre. This platform is where we host knowledge articles presenting technical know-how, research results, and other expert findings, as well as access to our online training platform and webinars. We’ve also looked at hybridising some of our training modules, whereby a proportion is delivered online. This is something we’ve successfully trialled with our bituminous training and are looking to roll out across our other courses.

www.sika.co.uk/greenroof

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