Mimicking An Old Slate Roof On A Historic Home


Owning a historic home is an amazing opportunity, but it also comes with a certain sense of responsibility. Responsibility to the past — honoring those who came before as well as the traditions and techniques they used. It is a responsibility to the future — preserving what came before while ensuring that it will endure.

For architecture to be preserved for the future, maintenance must be done and attention must be paid to it now. Regular maintenance on a historic home is often focused on the exterior, since that part of the home gives everyone that sees it a window into the past, as well as the standing up to the elements.

Choosing the right roofing materials is essential to preserving the integrity of the home’s design and ensuring that it will hold up for years to come. Back then, materials were naturally sourced and depended on the availability of certain materials in certain areas.

Today, we have options that replicate original materials but we also have the technology to create materials that mimic original materials while eliminating the disadvantages that often come with them.

The Use Of Slate In Early America

In America’s early days, natural resources were abundant. Wood was cut into planks to be used for cedar shake roofs and nearly all slate was imported from North Wales. The first commercial slate quarry in the U.S. was opened in 1785 and limited production to local needs. By the mid-1800s, many quarries opened in the U.S., helped by growing technology like railroads to transport materials and advances in quarrying methods. The U.S. ceased importing slate and became a net exporter.

According to the National Park Service brief on historic slate roofs, “the relatively large percentage of historic buildings roofed with slate during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries means that many slate roofs, and the 60 to 125 year life space of the slates most commonly used, may be nearing the end of their serviceable lives at the end of the twentieth century.” As we are well into the 21st century, it stands to reason that even more historic slate roofs will need replacing.

Preserving Historic Roofing Materials

Early house styles that used slate include Second Empire style Mansard roofs, Gothic Revival, High Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne style, and Tudor. Slate was also used on many university and government buildings throughout early America.

In certain cases, preservation projects require an adherence to the original materials. Natural slate can last over 100 years if properly maintained, so old slate roofs can often be repaired by an experienced slate roofer and continue their lives for many years to come.

If the roofing material currently on the home isn’t the original and you want to return the home to its original state, you can check the attic for extra roofing material left behind or look under the existing roof material, particularly at the hips and valleys, to see if there are any visible remnants. You can also search out old records or pictures of your home with the local historical society or the city.

Natural Slate Roofing

Natural slate is a stunning roofing material often used on homes with complex architecture, like Gothic Revival and Tudor, and offers many advantages if you want to preserve the original look of the home by using original materials. Old slate roofing lasts a long time, sometimes more than 100 years. It is weather-resistant, fade-, rot-, and fire-resistant, and has a natural color variation that adds interest and beauty to the roof.

Despite these advantages, it might not be the best route for your historic home. Slate is extremely heavy and depending on the condition of the underlying structure, you may have to add reinforcement to the home’s frame. Slate may also be difficult to get depending on its availability in your area.

Slate is NOT a do-it-yourself material. It requires specialized knowledge for not only installation methods, but also to walk on the roof without damaging the existing slate. Slate is expensive, and hiring professional installers can add to the already high cost.

Slate can’t be recycled in the conventional sense, but it can be reused and upcycled in a variety of other projects like a paved walkway, an edge around a flower bed, crafting materials, mosaics, and more.

Composite Slate Roofing

Brava Old World Slate composite roofing is made to capture the inherent architectural appeal of slate that offers depth and dimension to the roof line rather than the flat appearance of asphalt. Made with recycled materials, the roof tiles are also recyclable. This means that the scraps from installation and the entire roof can be recycled — but these roofs last at least 50 years, so it won’t need to be recycled for quite some time.

Other advantages of composite slate roofing include:

  • 50-year limited transferable warranty

  • Lightweight

  • No need for a reinforced substructure

  • Multiple color options

  • Can be walked on without fear of breaking tiles

  • Easy to install

Preserve A Piece Of Roofing History With Brava Roof Composite Slate Tiles

Historic buildings allow us to enjoy a piece of the past in our daily lives. So maintaining the integrity of their style is important to maintaining our connection to those that came before us. Maintaining and preserving the old slate roof on your historic home sometimes means the use of natural and original materials, but often, using new, innovative materials can create the perfect look without the downsides.

Contact us today to request your free samples so you can see and feel the difference our tiles offer.