Roofing solutions and their role in sustainability

Sustainability is the focus for the construction industry in 2022. With governments around the world aiming to reach net zero emissions, the role of the construction industry has come into the spotlight. Currently, this industry is one of the highest emitters of carbon dioxide, accounting for about 40% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. For the UK to reach their carbon goals, it is essential for the industry to move towards sustainable construction solutions. But what does sustainable construction really mean? And what role does your roof design and roofing solution play in lowering the carbon footprint of the industry? Read on to find out. 

Sustainability in the construction industry

Sustainability in construction can take many forms;

  1. The use of recycled and renewable materials to build new structures while reducing energy consumption and the amount of waste produced by the industry.
  2. A proactive approach to recycling on-site construction waste and scrap.
  3. To take into consideration the lifetime emissions of the building and implement design solutions that aim to lessen the environmental impact of the building over its lifespan. Such solutions would include increasing airtightness & reducing thermal breaks so that heat loss is prevented, using renewable technology to lower energy consumption and incorporating high-quality materials to increase the lifespan of the building.
  4. The implementation of off-site construction & MMC (Modern Methods of Construction) to provide better detailing, less waste and reduce travel emissions

The goal behind these measures is to minimise the impact the industry has on the environment to combat climate change and provide a good quality, sustainable building stock for future generations.


Everyone involved in the construction industry is responsible. There are some roles that are particularly responsible such as architects & specifiers, product manufacturers and main contractors. The most effective force for change is when all parties in the construction chain work together with a common goal to make a difference.

Corporate carbon offsetting programs should be viewed with caution and not used alone to mask poor sustainability performance. When used in conjunction with true sustainability measures however, such programs can help to provide extra results.

Roofing solutions and sustainability

The choice of roofing system and the roof design, and even the materials used are crucial in the construction of sustainable buildings as this can greatly help to restrict the environmental impact of the building throughout its lifespan. However, there are other elements that can affect the sustainability of a roof before it even finds its way onto a building, and even long after its installation.

  • Embodied carbon is the amount of energy required in the production of a system, the materials used, and even the transportation and assembly on-site.
  • End-of-life procedure and recyclability of the roofing material confirms how the material is dealt with should the system be replaced.
  • Additional factors such as the supply chain and availability of materials, transport and logistical proximity can influence the overall impact, as does the longevity of the system used

Choice of materials or roof system

For the roof itself, key considerations such as reducing thermal bridging, control of moisture, increasing airtightness and thermal efficiency are all important. In addition, solutions available in the market for solar and green roofs have proved to have a significant impact in the move towards more sustainable construction.

Green roofs and solar panels can be an excellent way of offsetting the carbon footprint of a building and will become more and more necessary as we work towards the government’s future net zero plans. Along with this, such systems can help protect the roof system from the UV attack and abrasion from the elements helping to increase the service life of the waterproofing layer.

Solar roofs Reduce the Carbon Footprint of the Building

Solar energy is one of the greenest forms of energy available in the market today. By including a solar roof, you increase the amount of green energy used and restrict the use of grid energy that is usually created by burning fossil fuels. This helps reduce carbon footprint and leads to a positive environmental impact.

Green roofs Improve Air Quality and Help the Environment

A study shows that green roofs help improve the overall air quality by reducing gasses like sulfur dioxide, nitrous acid and dust particles in the air. They also help reduce the carbon footprint of buildings by lowering the carbon emissions of air conditioning and heating systems in buildings.

Thermal performance

Insulation is a vast topic. One thing for sure is that it’s an innovative and changing market with increased thermal efficiency and fire safety being a major driving forces for change. Obviously greater insulation levels help to keep buildings cooler in the summer months and warmer in the winter months and the reduction of cold structures is important in helping to control interstitial condensation.
Green roofs are effectively another layer of insulation or thermal protection from extremes of temperature and can help to maintain a more consistent temperature in the roof structure.

Products by Nicholson

Nicholson designs and manufactures construction products that overcome common roofing challenges in a repeatable and sustainable way. We understand that careful design is important for any successful roof construction project. Our products are designed to help achieve superior detailing in roof construction leading to long term efficient solutions. Here are some of our products and how they help facilitate sustainable construction.

Nicholson ROOFTRAK® IFP for solar installations

The Nicholson ROOFTRAK® IFP is an integrated fixing point system that enables a thermally broken connection to the building structure whilst maintaining 100% integrity of the waterproofing membrane. The ROOFTRAK® IFP incorporates a piece of the waterproofing membrane into the product at manufacture stage meaning it is compatible with all membrane roof systems. Advantages of the ROOFTRAK® IFP include;

  • Greater utilisation of roof area – A 100% waterproof, thermally broken connection to the structure means solar and renewable energy sources can be installed on virtually any membrane roof, regardless of pitch and even on very exposed roofs where utilisation might not be possible otherwise
  • Zero requirement for ballast – A quantified connection to the structure means ballast is not required. Ballast can have a negative impact by;
    • Increasing the structural requirement to support the weight of a ballasted solar array
    • Adversely affecting insulation over the lifetime of the roof through compression
    • Can produce abrasion and wear of roof finishes
    • Environmental cost of ballast, typically concrete blocks or pavers, transport and installation can be easily overlooked. Ballast not easily recycled at end-of-life.
  • ROOFTRAK® products are also available to help the integration of solar panels into green roofs by lifting the solar array above the green roof. This allows the maximum area of green roofing as well as utilisation of solar array.
  • Thermally broken connection to the structure for handrail balustrade fixtures.
ROOFBOX® Service Penetration Cabinets

The ROOFBOX® range of service penetration units deal with the often-difficult detail that arises when service ductwork, pipework and cabling passes through the waterproofing layer at roof level. It’s common to find that detailing in these situations gives rise to leaks, lack of insulation and air-loss.

The ROOFBOX® range has products that help to overcome these problems with superior detailing and specific attention being taken in regard of thermal bridging, insulation and air -leakage. ROOFBOX® service penetration units have been included on passivhaus constructions and support MMC with offsite construction. Advantages of the ROOFBOX® range include;

  • Prescribed detailing and collaborative approach ensure a long-term successful weathering solution to rooftop riser penetrations.
  • Reduced air-leakage gives better building thermal performance.
  • Off-site / factory production and considered design significantly reduces material wastage and labour compared to site built traditional options.
  • Demountable construction facilitates recycling at end-of-life.

If you would like to know more about anything detailed in this article, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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