How To Choose The Right Roofing To Preserve Your Historic Building

Historic Building photo by Andrew Jameson, Hirst Hotel Holly MI, cropped, CC BY-SA 3.0

One thing you will find out about having an old house or an old building is that it needs a lot of work. Typically, the roof on an old building will be composed of some very strong and durable materials – clay tiles, tin or zinc, and slate.

However, some older homes were originally built with wood shake shingles that have since been replaced. Other buildings including churches, government buildings, and the like were probably built with longevity in mind and are more likely to have slate or tile roofs.

This doesn’t always mean that your historic building won’t need a new roof. Even the most durable materials are subject to the weather or the passage of time.

So what if you are looking at a roof on a historic building that has been replaced badly at some point in the past and you want to restore more of its original look?

What if it needs to be repaired but many of the original materials are still holding up well? What if you have a historic building with a flat roof? Putting a new flat roof on an old building could result in disaster for the building if it isn’t done right.

Historic Building Roofing Options

Thankfully, there are solutions for all of these problems.

Clay Tile Roofs

Clay tiles can last a long time. However, the expertise needed to restore a clay tile roof can be hard to find and expensive.

You may choose to go that route, especially if most of your tiles are in good condition. Experts can basically remove the tiles carefully, replace the felting, and replace the old tiles.

There are companies that specialize in copying tiles that went out of production more than 50 or 60 years ago. The process of that is pretty specialized too. They have to find comparable clay and make sure today’s shrinkage rate mixes well with the old tiles. The good news is that if you go that route, it’s likely to last for the rest of your life and beyond.

Tin or Zinc

These metals were another popular roofing material that we don’t often use anymore. Zinc has actually been more popular in Europe for roofing material. It is gaining traction here in more recent years.

Again, there are companies who specialize in this old technique. However, you can also replace a tin or zinc roof with a modern metal standing seam roof that will look to be the same quality (or better) and will never need painting.

Slate Tile Roofs

Slate tiles vary locally as they were obtained from local quarries. In addition, slate may be the easiest of these materials to get, but you are never going to find an exact match.

Sadly, the slate mined today will almost never match the slate that was mined more than 100 years ago. It is a natural material and you may not mind the variation.

The other option is to go for a synthetic slate roof. It is not nearly as expensive as real slate and lasts almost as long if it’s properly installed.

Sculptural Shingles

Many of Victorian homes or “painted ladies,” were originally roofed with wood shingles. Since these homes were the working man’s home, they came with working man’s roofing materials and they didn’t last as long as their sturdy frames.

Later on, they were most likely recovered with other materials or replaced with asphalt shingles. To restore the original look of the house, there are many sculptural shingles out there on the market. They can mimic the look and last much longer than wooden shingles.


If you have a historic building to preserve or an old home to remodel, don’t forget to consult with an experienced roofing company along with your architect and your county records. Chances are good that there’s a solution out there for the beauty of your building and your budget.

As always, if we can be of any help, please give us a call!

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Photo credit:
Andrew Jameson, Hirst Hotel Holly MI, cropped, CC BY-SA 3.0

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