The Timeless Appeal of Slate Roofs

by Carmen Corbin on November 27, 2011

One could spend hours admiring all the architectural details of historic buildings and homes.  From castle-like turrets and multiple rooflines to fancy shingles and beveled glass windows, many historic properties are a sight to behold.  Even the roofs themselves are often a focal point, with color and pattern variations that exude a classic look.  Slate was often the material of choice for the roofers of yesteryear – a material which has once again seen an upswing in popularity.

Known for its durability as well as its aesthetic appearance, natural slate hit its peak in production and use around 1897-1914, when over 200 quarries were in operation in the U.S. alone.  Today, quarries are in operation in the states of Virginia, Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania.  On average, a slate roof can last 150 years or more, compared to the average lifespan of 20-30 years for an asphalt shingle roof.

Slate Roofs on Historic Homes

Slate roofs can often be seen on homes and buildings with Gothic Revival, Victorian, Queen Anne, Second Empire or Tudor styles of architecture.  The steep pitches of some rooflines actually help preserve the material, as rainwater drains off more quickly.  If you suspect that your slate roof is damaged, consider repairing the roof instead of completely replacing it.  Look for signs of deterioration on individual tiles.  If you see a lot of flaking or the tile is crumbling, it needs to be replaced with a new one. 

If the majority of the roof is in the same condition, have your roofing contractor take some photos before beginning any restoration or roof replacement.  This will help the roofers match the color, style and pattern to keep the historical accuracy of the home intact.

Facts About Slate

Slate is a hard, dense stone that is both fireproof and low maintenance.  The cost is higher than a traditional asphalt roof, but you also won’t have to replace it in your lifetime.  Because of its extra weight, your home will have to be structurally strong enough to support it.

Colors:  Natural slate comes in a variety of colors; the most common are gray, black, sea green, purple and red.  Mottled varieties are also available.  Through the years, some varieties will weather more than others (with slight color changes), but durability won’t be affected.

Synthetic Slate:  Natural slate may be the most authentic choice, but composite slate made of a resin material is also available on the market today for use in new home construction.  Composite slate mimics the appearance and texture of natural slate, is less expensive than the real thing, and is virtually maintenance free.

With tons of asphalt shingle roofing debris being sent to landfills every day, long lasting slate roofing is also a greener choice for your next roof.

For more information on slate roofs, call or visit your local roofing or home improvement contractor.

Source: (Preservation Brief 29).

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