Dave Stewart of Milton-based company RCC: The Roofing Specialists explains how flat roofs have changed
RCC (Roofing Contractors Cambridge) has been going for 53 years – 16 of those in Milton – and Dave Stewart has been involved in the roofing business for 32, starting out as a felt fixer.
“Traditionally, we used to do ashphalt and felt roofing,” said Dave, “and then we’ve gone over now to mainly doing Sarnafil single ply, which is a PVC membrane bonded down – or mechanically fastened – and then hot air welded together, and is probably about 70, 75 per cent more work. We do another product called Prokol, which is a polyurea hot sprayed solution that we put on to roofs, podium decks, balconies...”
Dave previously worked as a flat roofing installer, or “on the tools,” as he puts it and has picked up the majority of his skills along the way – like most of his staff.
“At one stage we did do the metal sheeting and slating and tiling,” he said, when asked whether the company has ever deviated from flat roofing, “ but we don’t really do that now. It got so competitive we decided to drop it.
“We like to think we’ve got a key set of skills with the flat roofing. It just makes more sense to stick to what you know and you can provide a better service, rather than dabbling in all different sides of the building trade.
“You’ve got to have someone pricing it who knows and understands it and what’s better than blokes who’ve been up there themselves?
“A lot of the time we actually price jobs in a different way; we price them from the point of view as if you were standing on the roof and doing it yourself.”
What else is unique about R.C.C.? “I think we like to work as much as we can on a trust basis and we don’t like to get too contractual,” explained Dave. “We can get very contractual, but a lot of our repeat business from some of the main contractors is brought on, we think, because they like the way we deal with the projects and the way we deal with them.
“It’s a very friendly type of situation where we like to think that if we look after you and give you the right service, then you’ll come back to us.”
Asked where most of their jobs are, Dave replied: “We like whenever we can to work in the Cambridge area, and it’s nice to be able to do local stuff. We’ve done quite a lot in the science park over the last few years, but we do work in London, we do work in Suffolk, Norfolk and we have done further away than that.”
Cambridge is obviously booming at the moment, in terms of new developments and houses being built. “We don’t get much with the houses,” noted Dave, “purely because they tend to be slate and tiling – there are lots of flat roofs over on the Trumpington side, near Addenbrooke’s, but we haven’t done a lot there.”
The roofing expert continued: “We do quite a bit of work for the university; we worked previously on the early stages of reroofing at Kettle’s Yard and have got some work starting there soon.”
Dave went into more detail regarding the type of work carried out by him and his team, six of whom are based in the office: “If it’s refurbishment work, we’ll be stripping off the existing flat roof coverings and putting new flat coverings on. If it’s waterproofing, we use something like Sarnafil.”
Discussing the future of the business, which now operates from a striking new wooden building where a collection of portacabins once stood, Dave added: “Previously we always had each person doing a bit of everything; now we’re trying to get to the stage where some people are pricing all the time and someone’s running the jobs on a day to day basis.
“My son works on the tools – he’s learning the trade. My daughter’s learning accountancy, so she works in the office. My wife works in the office as well. There is so much more to do now, in terms of paperwork and admin, than there used to be.
“Flat roofing has come such a long way. You’d be looking at anywhere between five and 15 years, if you were really lucky, for the lifespan of a roof. That’s with the products I originally learnt with.
“With the current materials you are looking at life spans in excess of 30 years.”