The History Of Lead Flashing

Lead Flashing & Alternatives
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The History Of Lead Flashing

Lead flashing is a staple of many homes, both modern and traditional. It has been used for hundreds of years, and to this day is considered one of the most effective ways to weatherproof certain sections and joints on a structure. In all its years of use, it remains the most popular way to weatherproof a home, with few alternatives proving anywhere near as durable or long-lasting.

But what is the history of lead flashing? Where did it originate from, and what came before it? Have we since discovered products or materials that perform more effectively than lead? These are just some of the questions we will be looking at answers to in this look into the origins and historic developments of lead flashing.


What is Lead Flashing?

Lead flashing, put simply, is a product that is used on many homes and buildings for general weatherproofing. It can be utilised on a number of different sections, joints, crevices, and other parts of both traditional and modern builds.

It is most common on both the roof and exterior walls, where it is utilised far more often than most other available flashings. Alternatives to lead include aluminium steel, and zinc. However, lead’s flexibility – coupled with its sublime durability – makes it the far more popular choice, at least historically.

Areas of a home that can benefit from lead flashing include the aforementioned roof and walls as well as the chimney, sills, drip edges, valleys, pipes, channels, and more. On some homes you may find all of these, while on others fewer cases, but the vast majority of homes will feature some form of flashing, and in most situations this flashing will be lead.

What Came Before Lead Flashing?

Lead has been used for well over 6000 years as a material, and while lead flashing isn’t quite as old as some other examples of lead production, it is certainly a lot older than the vast majority of roofing and building materials that we still use today.

Before lead flashing, house constructions tended to be very simple, with flashing as a product evolving as housing – particularly for the wealthy – became more extravagant and complex. As pipes and coverings between additions such as chimneys and windows became more desired, so too did a need to find the most efficient material to aid in this.

When Did Lead Flashing Start Being Used on Buildings?

Examples of lead first appearing in construction can be traced back to the Roman Era, where there is evidence of lead being used in the construction of aqueducts as far back as the 2nd Century BC. The Romans and their architectural developments played a role in lead becoming more widespread in construction in other countries.

Later, the Normans would utilise lead even further, with the material being found in examples of Norman-era pipework, guttering and, yes, roofing coverings. It is believed that churches – examples of which are some of the oldest buildings in the country – made lead flashing (or at least the use of lead on roofs to protect areas from rain) popular, with the practice carrying over into the construction of equally or similarly extravagant buildings in the Middle Ages.

Have There Been Any Changes to Lead Flashing?

If you are even a little familiar with lead as a material, then you are more than likely aware of the risks that it poses to human health. You may even be nervous about getting into close proximity of this product, and in some cases, you’d be right too.

The construction specialists of today are made to follow much stricter rules when producing lead than in the past, and the UK is exceptionally vigilant when it comes to working with lead. Lead piping was banned from use in this country in 1969, although many professionals had noted toxicity in lead right back when it was first introduced by the romans.

As far as flashing is concerned, the production methods of such products have been changed drastically, with manufacturers taking a number of steps to ensure that both worker and customer are much safer working with lead than in the past.

What Does the Future Hold for Lead Flashing?

This – for some – is a difficult question to answer. The benefits of lead flashing are undeniable, but the history of this product is littered with examples of less positive factors, from the risks of lead poisoning many of those who worked with lead faced historically, to the pollution the production of lead and indeed many housing materials gives off, threatening our already fragile environment.

However, many steps have been taken to minimise these problems wherever possible, especially in the UK and much of Europe. Worker’s safety is now much more of a priority and understanding of lead, how best to handle it and minimise its harm has grown exponentially, becoming common knowledge as resources such as television and internet became more widespread.

Meanwhile, while most products have some kind of negative impact on the environment (although environmental neutrality is a practice that is now being increasingly explored), lead does feature several benefits that set it apart from alternatives. Its lengthy lifespan means it doesn’t have to be replaced anywhere near as often, meaning less of it has to be produced to meet demand. It is also 100% recyclable in vast majority of cases.

With these factors in mind, and the industry still developing ways to be even more efficient, environmentally friendly and safe, we could see lead remain as the superior choice of flashing for many years to come.

Have More Questions About Lead Flashing?

And there you have it – a history of lead flashing. This exceptional product is a must-have for homeowners, with a long and fascinating past. We stock a wide range of lead flashings, several of which have been produced by manufacturers that have been working with the material for many decades.

If you have any more questions about lead flashing, then do not hesitate to contact us – our incredible team will do their best to help answer any questions you may have about flashings, or indeed any of our many products and supplied. Simply call us on 01295 565 565 or talk to us directly using the chat box below.

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