Lead flashing is a roofing material used for decades in roof cladding and roof flashing to prevent water from seeping through roofs in Australia. You’ll often see lead flashing around chimneys, skylights, roof windows, and other types of roof penetration. However, there are increasing concerns about using lead in roofing materials, including health risks associated with lead exposure and its environmental impact.
Let’s explore the use of lead roof flashing in the construction industry and look at other flexible flashing materials that offer lead alternatives.
A Quick Reminder – What is the Purpose of Flashing?
The purpose of flashing is to provide a watertight seal in various parts of a building’s roof and other areas where water penetration could be a concern. Flashing is essential in preventing water damage, leaks, and moisture-related issues like mould and rot, creating a weather-resistant barrier system so that all water runs off the roof and out of harm’s way.
Water damage is the enemy to the structural integrity of your building. However, besides the risk of building damage, the buildup of mould and rot can also have negative health consequences for you and the other people who live in your home.
That’s why the right flashing is integral to your roofing system.
What is Lead Flashing?
Lead flashing is a roofing material used as an impervious material installed to seal joints in roofing and building construction. Lead is a soft and malleable metal that is super easy to work with, making it a popular choice for roofers and builders as roof flashing. Lead roof flashings are durable and resistant to corrosion, meaning that this sheet metal lasts a long time, even in harsh weather conditions. Further, the lead sheets can be cut and formed into various shapes and sizes to closely fit roof contours.
All this makes lead flashing a fantastic flashing material on the face of it – it’s no wonder why lead-based metal flashing has long been used in building projects worldwide.
What Are the Harmful Effects of Lead Flashings?
When discussing the harmful effects of lead flashings, it’s important to remember that the risks aren’t usually tied to its use as a building material when properly installed and maintained. However, since lead is a toxic metal, exposure to it can pose risks to both human health and the environment.
The main concerns with lead flashing come from handling, installing, disposing, and degrading the material. Contractors and workers who handle lead flashing during installation or maintenance can be exposed to lead dust and particles. Breathing in these particles over a long period can lead to health issues, such as damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system. Lead exposure is particularly harmful to children, as it can impair brain development and cause behavioural problems.
Environmental contamination is another concern. Lead from flashing can leak into the environment due to weathering and corrosion, contaminating soil and water. This contamination can harm plants and animals in the ecosystem, which can end up in the food chain, posing risks to human health.
Improper disposal of lead flashing is a problem too. If disposed of incorrectly, this can also contaminate landfills, soil, and water. Following local regulations and guidelines is essential to safely dispose of lead materials to minimise environmental risks.
Lastly, there’s the issue of staining and streaking. When exposed lead flashing oxidises, it can cause staining and streaking on roof surfaces and nearby materials. While it’s not an immediate health risk, it can be an aesthetic concern and might lead to increased maintenance or replacement costs.
One way to reduce the streaking effect is to add copper.
What is Copperised Lead Flashing?
Copperised lead flashing is a copperised lead sheet, meaning it’s a lead-coated copper material. The added copper doesn’t affect the lead’s characteristic softness. This coating gives the lead flashing a greenish or bluish colour, similar to what copper looks like as it ages.
Copperised lead flashing is generally considered safer for use in construction than pure lead, as the copper coating helps to limit the release of lead particles into the environment. However, it’s still made of lead, and the lead is no less toxic.
The upshot is that while copperised lead flashing may be safer, we should still use alternatives where possible to avoid any of the risks associated with lead flashings.
Wakaflex As a Lead-free Alternative
Wakaflex is a lead-free flashing alternative that’s been gaining popularity in Australia. There are several reasons why people are adopting it as a substitute for traditional lead flashing.
Since Wakaflex is lead-free, it eliminates the risks associated with lead exposure, which, as we’ve explored, can be harmful to both people and the environment. By choosing Wakaflex, you’re making a more eco-friendly and health-conscious decision.
Practical Advantages of Wakaflex
One of the major selling points is its flexibility. Wakaflex is made from a polyisobutylene (PIB) compound with an aluminium mesh, which allows it to conform to different shapes and surfaces easily. This flexibility makes it super easy to work with, whether sealing around chimneys, roof joints, or any other area requiring a watertight seal.
Another great thing about Wakaflex is that it’s lightweight, making installation quicker and easier than traditional lead flashing. This pain-free installation process can save time and labour costs, making it a more cost-effective option in the long run.
Wakaflex is also UV-resistant and can withstand harsh weather conditions. This resistance means it’s durable and long-lasting, even in Australia’s often extreme climate. So, you can have peace of mind knowing that your flashing will hold up over time.
Use Cases For Wakaflex
Since Wakaflex is so versatile as a roof flashing material, you can use it in a variety of applications.
Comfortably use Wakaflex for:
- Roof joints, roof protrusions and abutments
- Chimneys and roof penetrations
- Skylights, solar panels, vents, and pipe flashing
- Ridge and valley flashing
- Wall and roof junctions
- Exposed flashing and concealed flashing
At EvoBuild, we’ve played a significant part in bringing Wakaflex to the Australian market and see ourselves as drivers towards a lead-free future for the roofing industry.
It seems that our customers are totally on board with Wakaflex as a fantastic alternative.
In fact, we’ve sold enough Wakaflex flashing to flash from Sydney to Perth and back again – that’s over 1 million rolls – and we only hear great things from our regular customers.
To find out more about how you can use Wakaflex as a lead-free flashing alternative, contact one of our team today.