Lead vs lead-free flashing: Things to consider

Lead has been a traditional part of roofing for centuries. There are various benefits in using lead for construction projects, including its malleability, anti-corrosive nature and longevity. However, lead is also highly toxic, and there are strict rules to follow when handling roofing lead. 

The development of lead-free flashing has made considerable strides in the roofing industry. Here are a few things to consider if you are trying to decide between lead and lead-free flashing. 

Lead in traditional roofing 

Lead can last up to 500 years, and more than 95% of it used in the building industry today is made from recycled materials – so, lead is far more recyclable than many of us might realise. The longevity and durability of lead mean it rarely needs replacing, and virtually no lead is wasted. 

Lead is also an attractive roofing material. Period buildings typically feature lead-lined roofing to give them their classic old-worldly character. Lead has been used in traditional roofing processes for centuries because of its characteristics, such as malleability and longevity. However, lead, if released into the environment, can be extremely harmful to life. 

As eco-conscious homes are becoming increasingly popular with new buyers, alternatives to lead materials have been introduced. Smart technology, renewable energy, and the materials used to build the house all contribute to a property’s environmental impact. 

Dangers of working with led

Long term exposure to lead can result in multiple health repercussions – including detrimental changes to blood, the nervous system, kidneys and an increased chance of infertility. Roofers have to follow strict guidelines to prevent these harmful effects. 

Lead-free flashing 

Lead-free flashing is non-toxic, but is still incredibly durable and malleable. It is a flexible solution that can be moulded to suit any project and stretched by up to 50%. The material can be cut easily with a knife, shears or scissors – meaning it is still easy to handle.

Lead-free flashing is also far cheaper and less dangerous to work with, without the risk of lead exposure. Roofers can spend more time handling the substance and perfecting their work. It’s not susceptible to thermal movement, and there is no priming needed to secure bonds. 

While you may get a slightly different aesthetic when using lead-free flashing, from a practical and performance standpoint, you won’t notice much difference. Typically, lead-free alternatives won’t last as long as traditional lead solutions, but you won’t need to worry about your flashing for a number of decades. 

Both lead and lead-free flashing are effective roofing materials. They each have their benefits and disadvantages. However, lead-free flashing is undoubtedly safer to use, more affordable and easier to apply.