Slate and Fake Slate
In the Northeast slate was a traditional roofing material for high-end houses and municipal buildings. It is beautiful, lasts for generations, sheds ice and snow, and is very expensive. Because of its cost and weight, which requires a beefier roof structure to support, slate is not often used these days. Yet on our Billerica project, rebuilding Dick Silva's burnt-out family home, we wanted the slate look. Again we turned to an "engineered" product, this time a slate lookalike fabricated from recycled rubber and plastic. At only about one-third the weight and cost of slate, these shingles can be installed using standard tools and techniques. From the street, the discerning eye might be able to tell the difference between engineered and the real McCoy, but most of us would be very house-proud with one of these roofs on our homes. Plus, these shingles are guaranteed to last for as long as 50 years. Metal
Metal roofs, in the form of corrugated, galvanized sheets, have been a standard feature of barns, sheds and other agricultural and utility buildings for years. This type of roof is cheap, rugged, long-lasting and easy to install — perfect for a utility application. On the other end of the spectrum is a copper roof, elegant enough to grace the country's finest mansions and public buildings. Graceful bay and bow windows are often roofed with sheet copper soldered at the seams. We used such roofson both the Billerica and the Lexington houses. Larger expanses of roof are covered using the "standing-seam" method, in which one sheet joins with its parallel mate via an interlocking, water-tight seam. Metal is a great choice for a house in snow country, as well as in agricultural country. Fortunately, in terms of products available, there is much to choose from between the galvanized low-end and the copper high-end. On our Milton project, we used a formed-in-place, standing-seam steel roof on the workshop addition to the barn. While not as dear as copper, this roof was expensive — and beautiful. There are a variety of powder-coated steel roof "systems" on the market, some very cost-effective variations on the galvanized sheet-steel theme. Others are factory-built standing-seam roofs, custom made to your house or barn and installed by a roofing contractor. The advantage of these systems is that they require no special fabricating equipment and can be installed by any qualified contractor. (I am even considering using one on the shed I have to build in Maine.) In addition to standing-seam roofs, several types of metal shingles are also available. One, an interlocking tin shingle we used on the roof at our Key West project I have never seen anywhere other than the Keys. Another variation commercially available nationwide is an interlocking copper shingle. Regardless of the style you choose, in general, a properly installed metal roof should last you at least 50 years. Ceramic
Ceramic tile roofs are found throughout the Mediterranean and Levant — and of course in the Mediterranean-Revival-influenced architecture of Florida and California. Barrel tiles, the most common type of ceramic tile, resemble half cylinders about 16 inches long. In the old days they were individually made by hand, their tapered shape achieved by forming the clay over the top of the thigh. We actually used some of these handmade tiles on our renovation of a hurricane-damaged Mediterranean-Revival house in Miami. And more recently, we used high-quality reproduction barrel tiles on our West Palm Beach project. Tile roofs are quite heavy, so the roof framing must be stout enough to support the load. Waterproofing is achieved via a waterproof membrane laid directly on the roof sheathing. Then the clay tiles are laid one by one in a pad of mortar. Tiles turned upside down form a trough, which is then covered by tiles laid right side up. The whole process is quite labor intensive, which makes an authentic tile roof quite expensive -- about $1,000 per 10x10-foot square, or about three times the cost of a standard three-tab shingle job. In addition to barrel tiles there are a number of variations of clay roof tiles. Some are shaped like thick shingles, some like slates. A high-quality tile will be hard-fired and will not absorb moisture that could fracture the tile when frozen. Thus such tiles are suitable for northern climates. All high-quality tile roofs are expensive, both in terms of the material and the installation, and so clay tile roofs are fairly rare. Yet in the long run the most expensive might be the most cost effective, since you can expect to get 60 to 80 years or even more out of a well installed tile roof. I know of a hard-fired clay shingle roof on a seaside mansion not far from our current project in Manchester. Steve Thomas is the host of This Old House.
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