Choosing The Right Roofing Material For A Historic Home

Historic homes have a charm that you can't find in modern homes. They are rich in history—from how they were built to the people that lived there. Preserving and restoring historic roofing materials is a project that requires a passion for history and a willingness to commit to a process that takes time, money, patience, and care.

In fact, one of the first projects for many historic homeowners is to restore the roof because it is a critical piece that protects the interior. Maintaining the roof style and materials is critical to preserving its historic architectural integrity

In this article, we will discuss historic roofing materials, the importance of preserving the architectural integrity of roofs on historic homes, and tips to help get you started in your restoration process.

Importance Of Preserving A Historic Roof

There are countless styles of historic homes, and the roof is often one of the key defining features; it helps separate a Queen Anne-style home from a Georgian or Bungalow. They have key-defining features like the delicate, decorative vergeboard often seen in Gothic Revival homes. Beyond their architectural and historical importance, a historical roof is still a roof. It is essential to protect the home from the elements and to provide crucial structural integrity.

Restoring and preserving these roofs will not only help preserve the home's history and original aesthetics, it will also help increase the property's overall value.

The Most Common Historic Roofing Materials

The Most Common Historic Roofing Materials

The roofing material a builder chose for a historic home often depended on the style and century in which the home was built. Common historic roofing materials included:

Wood Shingles/Shakes

Wood shingles and shakes have a long history, with their earliest noted use in America dating back to the Pre-Revolution era with New England, Dutch, French Colonial, and Georgian-style homes. They continued to appear throughout history, and remained a popular choice all into the 20th century.


  • Can easily replicate a historic wood shingle or shake roof

  • Works well with many historic home styles

  • Resistant to wind damage

  • Expensive to buy and install


  • High-maintenance: requires special coatings to protect from rot and algae

  • Flammable

  • Vulnerable to insects

Clay Tiles

Clay tiles were another popular historic roofing material pre-Revolution because of their fire resistance and they appeared on Spanish colonial-style homes. In the 19th century, it saw a small revival and could be found in Italianate and Richardson Romanesque-style homes, which used rounded and pantile shapes.


  • Easy to maintain the original material and repair a damaged tile

  • Incredibly durable, and fire and rot-resistant

  • Can last over 100 years if properly installed

  • Low maintenance, simply remove debris and get annual inspections

  • Eco and environmentally-friendly


  • Fragile and can break during installation or transport

  • Requires a clay tile expert for installation

  • A professional must do maintenance work

  • Expensive and heavy

  • Structural reinforcement may be necessary to support a new clay roof

Slate Tiles

Slate roofs were available during the pre-Revolution but were rarely used. Some 18th-century Federal-style homes utilized slate instead of wood shingles. 19th century Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, and Second Empire styles favored slate.


  • Fire and Impact-resistant

  • Can last over 100 years if properly installed

  • Energy-efficient

  • Low maintenance, only need to worry about annual inspections


  • Extremely heavy and expensive material

  • Can break if walked on

  • Requires slate expert for installation

  • May need to reinforce home structure to support a new roof


Metal roofing was extremely rare before the 19th century as it was an expensive option, with only copper and lead available, so few homes had it until after the Civil War. It was generally only used for homes where other materials were impractical or difficult to install.


  • Lightweight material

  • Energy-efficient

  • Protective and durable; resistant to elements and fire


  • Can still get dented from impacts

  • Rain and hail can create unwanted noise

  • More expensive than options like shingles

Asphalt Shingles

The first asphalt shingles in the U.S. date back to 1901, though they didn't become popular until the 1920s. While the earliest versions of the asphalt roof shingles have been discontinued, they were similar to the modern 3-tab shingles we have today, which have since become, arguably, the most revolutionary historic roofing material.


  • Most affordable material

  • 3-Tab Shingles are similar to historic asphalt shingles


  • Prone to damage, especially from wind

  • Has the shortest lifespan of all the historical materials

  • Less energy-efficient

  • Detracts from the aesthetic if applied to the wrong home style

Considerations For Replacing Historic Home Roofs

Considerations For Replacing Historic Home Roofs

Doing a historic home roof replacement isn't like doing a traditional home roof replacement. With historic home roofing, there are many things you must consider, such as:

Historic Material Preservation

Different home styles use different materials, and the materials are often a defining feature of historic homes. When looking to replace a damaged historic roof, it is critical to keep this in mind. Changing the material could change the home's aesthetics and take away from its historical nature.

Local Preservation Guidelines

Different areas have different guidelines concerning historic home restorations. You must consult this information before starting on any project. The guidelines are in place to ensure the history of historic properties and ensure it is not lost.

Reasons The Previous Roof Failed

Materials like clay and slate are built to last centuries. Regardless of the material, studying the situation before making any replacements is vital. What caused the previous roof to fail? If it has something to do with the underlying structure, you must address that issue before installing a new roof.

Substituting Historic Roofing Materials With Brava Roof Tiles

If you are considering an alternative material for your historic roof, consider Brava, a leading manufacturer of composite roof tiles that mimic the look of real materials, including wood, slate, and clay.

Composite roofing products have many benefits: they last longer, offer more durability, and are aesthetically pleasing. Brava tiles also offer these benefits:

  • Class or C Fire Ratings

  • Class 4 Impact Rated

  • Miami-Dade Approved

  • Wind resistance up to 188 MPH with ring shank nails or 211 MPH with screw installation.

  • Color coatings are formulated to provide UV protection

  • 50-year warranty.

Brava Cedar Shakes

Brava Cedar Shakes

Brava cedar shake shingles look like rustic split shakes but have the benefits of composite materials. They come in a wide range of colors which makes it easy to color-match an existing wood shingle roof to the product.

These historic homes in Ohio, which have been around for over 100 years, needed new roofs. Brava was able to color match the existing roof shakes to provide them with the perfect replacement product that will protect the homes for decades to come without changing the home's appearance.

Brava Slate Tiles

Brave Slate Tiles

Brava's synthetic slate has the beauty of natural slate without the weight––or the cost. Old World Slate tiles come in multiple widths and a beautiful range of colors.

Brava Spanish Barrel

Brava Spanish Barrel

Brava's synthetic Spanish Barrel tiles look exactly like the real thing, but at a fraction of the cost and without all the extra weight. Like the other Brava roofing options, the Spanish Barrel tile comes in many colors, to make it easy to color-match for the perfect replacement.

Tips To Get You Started Obtaining Permits

Obtaining permits for work on historical homes is more complex than an ordinary home. It can involve multiple government agencies, who are the ones to grant you the permits and oversee the project. Historical boards or committees are also often involved, to help guide the process and they approve everything you do, including changes, materials, and the methods you use for the work. Here are some tips to help you through the process:

Determine The Types Of Permits Required

Historic buildings have many different possible permits. The most common is construction permits needed for new construction, renovations, and restoration work. Electrical, plumbing, and mechanical permits are also necessary to change and upgrade these systems.

Alteration permits may also be necessary if there are possible or planned alterations that can affect the historic character of the building.


You'll need thorough documentation to obtain permits to work on a historic home. This includes all historical research and architectural plants, which must comply with preservation guidelines. You can also look for past permits, which can help reveal more about the history of the building.

Have A Team Ready

You also want to have a team ready: architects, engineers, and contractors who all have experience with historical restoration and preservation. Your permits won't get approved without the right experts to do the job.

Understand Compliance Requirements

Every decision you make will go through a preservation board. They review and approve permits and provide design guidelines to help ensure applicants meet the necessary standards for historic preservations. To ensure you comply with the necessary guidelines:

1. Review Preservation Standards

Take some time to review the preservation standards for historic homes. While standards are generally the same, there may be variations by state and local areas. These standards will address what projects need Board approval and what do not.

2. Talk To The Preservation Committee Or Board

Talk to the committee as you plan and prepare for your permit application. They can help you to understand the guidelines and explain anything you need clarification on. Taking the time to understand will help you plan and fill out your permit request accordingly so that there is less time wasted.

3. Keep Board Up-To-Date

Keep the board well informed on every step of the project so they know what is happening and can give approval before you start. While it sounds tedious, it is vital to do this and to maintain a positive relationship with them as they are doing their job and trying to help preserve history.

Preserving History With Brava Tiles

Taking on a historic home restoration is a project of love. It is bound to bring feelings of frustration at times as you look for the right materials to restore it to its original glory. One area where you can safely avoid frustration is by replacing the roof. Brava's composite tiles provide the perfect realistic alternative without the added cost or complications that come with their real counterpart. With Brava, you will have a beautiful, historically accurate roof that requires virtually no maintenance, is extremely durable, and will last for years.

Contact us today to learn more about Brava's roofing options and get samples to see just how realistic they are.