A £40 million investment, 13 roof areas, eight different roof levels, and a steady stream of visiting students to keep happy throughout – the University of Reading (UoR) Library’s complete refurbishment was a large and  challenging project spanning three years. Originally opened in 1964 and later extended in 1985, the library’s internal and external revamp was designed to increase space, improve facilities for individual study, provide better access and security across the building, and improve energy efficiency.

In addition to a new-build Café extension, a new entrance canopy, a new ground-to-roof level lift and stair core extension – each featuring a new flat roof area – there were also 10 existing flat roof areas refurbished, coupled with the replacement of windows and re-cladding of the building’s exterior. Following a competitive tender based on an outline specification, Owlsworth Roofing, Sika Sarnafil single ply flat roofing specialists, impressed with the level of detail included in their quote and were awarded the contract by main contractor ISG.

Once on site, Owlsworth Roofing carried out extensive investigations on each of the existing roof areas to confirm the structural deck, identify the precise roof build-up, assess the extent of any entrapped water and determine the most suitable method of refurbishment. In total, there were four different structural decks – concrete, plywood, profiled steel and profiled aluminium – which required eight different specifications using various combinations of strip and recover, overlay, new build, varying thickness of flat board insulation and cut-to-falls insulation.

All works were installed by Owlsworth Roofing’s Sarnafil-trained employees by applying the most suitable modification of Sarnafil’s standard details, to ensure compliance with their technical guidelines. However, certain areas of the building needed management and operatives to think outside the box and come up with some novel solutions to installation challenges.

University of Reading, Roof refurbishment

Careful thought and innovative detailing were also required where the new lift and stair core cut into the existing building and presented roofing challenges on five different roof areas at four different levels. On each of these roof areas installation of the new roof coverings had to be programmed in to suit the progress of the new structure and careful sequencing between builder, cladder and flat roofer at each level.

While many roof refurbishment projects see the roofing contractor start at one end of the building and work towards the other, on this project – with 13 different roofs on eight different levels – that was not possible. With old plant being removed, new plant being installed, the new lift and stair core affecting five separate roof areas on four different levels, the external cladding providing perimeter edge protection to many roof levels and just one single hoist location to serve the entire building, consideration of logistics and careful planning and coordination between different trades and the main contractor was critical.

The complex multi-level, multi-roofed building presented Owlsworth
with a multitude of further challenges. However, thanks to high levels
of workmanship and some extremely non-standard detailing, as well
as innovative use of Sika’s suite of roofing products, Sika Sarnafil and Owlsworth Roofing were commended for their work on the project, going on to win at the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) UK Roofing Awards 2020 in the Singly-Ply Roofing category.

University of Reading, Roof refurbishment

The Library also remained operational to students across the entirety of the redevelopment – another impressive feat owing to fantastic organisational skills across the board.


Clients: University of Reading
Main contractor: ISG
Roofing contractor: Owlsworth Roofing
Project name: University of Reading Library
Location: Reading, Berkshire
Area: 1800m2
Architectural practice: Stride Treglown

University of Reading, Roof refurbishment