Slate is one of the most aesthetically pleasing and durable of all roofing materials. It is indicative at once of the awesome powers of nature which have formed it and the expertise and skill of the craftsman in handshaping and laying it on the roof.
Installed properly, slate roofs require relatively little maintenance and will last 60 to 125 years or longer depending on the type of slate employed, roof configuration, and the geographical location of the property. Some slates have been known to last over 200 years.
Found on virtually every class of structure, slate roofs are perhaps most often associated with institutional, ecclesiastical, and government buildings, where longevity is an especially important consideration in material choices.
Because the pattern, detailing, and craftsmanship of slate roofs are important design elements of historic buildings, they should be repaired rather than replaced whenever possible.
The purpose of this Preservation Brief is to assist property owners, architects, preservationists, and building managers in understanding the causes of slate roof failures and undertaking the repair and replacement of slate roofs. Details contributing to the character of historic slate roofs are described and guidance is offered on maintenance and the degree of intervention required at various levels of deterioration.
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 span of the slates most commonly used, may be nearing the end of their serviceable lives at the end of the twentieth century.
Too often, these roofs are being improperly repaired or replaced with alternative roofing materials, to the detriment of the historic integrity and appearance of the structure. Increased knowledge of the characteristics of slate and its detailing and installation on the roof can lead to more sensitive interventions in which original material is preserved and the building's historic character maintained. Every effort should be made to replace deteriorated slate roofs with new slate and to develop an effective maintenance and repair program for slate roofs that can be retained.