Roofing for Historic Buildings

The most important feature of a building may possibly be the roof. They act as a shield for the entire house structure, furnishings, interior spaces as well as human occupants. Roofs act as a shield protecting the interiors and building occupants from a number of things such as the sun and moisture among other weather conditions. All through history, fitting practices and roofing materials have shown both the shifting tastes and technology in architectural styles. Most historic buildings came out very beautiful and strong indeed. Some of these roofs include those of the Mansard roofs and the turrets of Queen Anne among other roofs. Therefore, trying to understand how and the kind of materials that were used to build historic buildings would herby be of great significance.

Historic Roofing Materials

Clay Tile

The settlers that came from European used tiles that were made of clay as roofs for their historic buildings in the mid 17th century. The Europeans used different kinds of clay tiles such as the flat and pan roofing tiles. The same tiles were also used in Virginia. Clay was used in cities such as Boston and New York for safety measures against fire; like the fire that parched Boston back in the year 1679 and London in the year 1666. Mortar was at times smeared in between the tiles’ courses so as to protect them against heavy winds.

Back in the 19th century, these tiles that were put on roofs were frequently replaced by roofs that were made out of sheet-metals. The sheet-metals were far much easier and lighter, therefore easy to install and also maintain.


Shingles made out of wood were very well known over the building period in history all over the country. Shingles differed in detail, shape and size according to different regions. People that came from other regions used a different species of wood to make shingles that was the most suitable for them. In places such as Delaware Valley and New England, they frequently used white pines, while the far west used redwood or red cedar, and the south, oak and cypress. Most times, there was a protective coating that was applied on them so that they could last longer. The mixture or coating applied on the shingles would be that of linseed oil and paint made from red iron oxide, or fish oil and brick dust.

In urban areas, roofs made out of wood would be brought or put down and other materials that were more fire resistant would be put up. However, this was not the case with rural areas.


In America, metal roofing actually started in the 19th century. Before this time, the only metals that were used were copper and lead. For instance, it was a lead roof that covered a mansion back in the 18th century in Virginia known as “Rosewell”. During those times, lead was most often for protective flashing. Lead just as copper, would cover roof surfaces where tile, slate shingle or wood were not suitable because of the roof’s shape or pitch.

Tin Roofing

Tin roofing which can also be referred to as tin-plate iron, was pretty much used back in the 18th century in Canada, but was not well known in America until later on. Thomas Jefferson started using tin roofing very early indeed, he put on a tin roof on “Monticello”.

Once rolling mills were put up in America, the light weight, low cost and the low maintenance made tin plate a very well known roofing material. Embossed tin shingles were very common in America during the end of the 19th century. The surface on this embossed tin shingles had very interesting patterns.