Owning a historic home can be challenging to restore and maintain but preserving its beauty is worth it. If you are lucky enough to own a home in a historic district then you know that there are certain guidelines that you must follow to be sure all the details are correct. The roof is arguably the most important feature in any home because it protects everything beneath it. The roof keeps the structure of a historic home and all its features safe from the outside elements and water intrusion.
Historical homeowners main concern when preserving its features is water intrusion, as this will damage the home in ways that oftentimes cannot be fixed. Most of these older homes are made from less durable materials than homes that are built today, this means that water intrusion has a much larger impact. When preserving the roof as it was in the past, you can usually keep the home in good condition that is time-period appropriate with hard work. If you diligently conduct routine roof inspections, and work with qualified local roofing contractors from the best roofing company, who have mastered historical techniques it is very possible to keep your historical home intact.
If you own a historic home chances are it is located in a historic district, and in these districts there are guidelines that must be followed. We at Infinite Roofing have replaced many roofs on historic homes located in historic districts within Saratoga Springs and we must adhere to their guidelines. These rules and regulations are to keep important character defining features of the building in or as close to the original as possible. The shape of a roof, materials used, and its details all contribute to the historic character of the home. As a roofing contractor it is our job to research specific guidelines that a city implements to properly conduct the job. Saratoga Springs has supplied historic district design guidelines so you clearly know how to preserve the building.
Oftentimes restoration experts decide to install a modern roof on a historic home, keeping all the details in place with the best interests of the property and budget. When working with the best roofing company they will agree that adding modern materials provides superior protection and much less maintenance costs, also adding a new roof will increase the homes value. Always check with the historical authority to make sure the materials you plan to use are approved, it is possible to use newer materials while still keeping the look of the past. Installing a more modern roof doesn’t ruin the architecture, in fact many newer materials can replicate older styles and details to match original materials.
The first thing you should do is start researching your type of historic home’s roof, this can take several months, especially when you need approval from a historic authority. If you are experiencing major leaks or other issues you might need to temporarily path up the roof yourself in order to protect the home. If you have your local roofing contractor patch an area of your roof, make sure they are careful about how to patch it. You don’t want them removing evidence you might need later on, such as an old layer of roof under the current one. In this case it’s best to not opt for a DIY patch, using a roofer with restoration experience is recommended.
If you have access to any documents pertaining to the house such as old pictures, journals, original blueprints, or newspaper clippings, review them for ideas on original materials and colors of the roof. This can be helpful to keep the integrity of the roof preserving details, an example of this would be if wooden shakes have been cut in unusual angles or shingles that were laid non-traditionally. It is important to take down any details to give to your local roofing contractor.
Look at the Physical Evidence
Try to keep all previous materials such as old wood pieces, nails, and scraps that may be helpful to tell which type of roofing system was used. Your local roofing contractor may be able to tell what kind of roof was used and also which materials can be swapped out for optimal preservation. Choosing a roofer with previous knowledge and experience with restorations is crucial to have the best chances of replicating the home’s previous roof.
Consulting with Historical Organizations
As stated previously if you own a historic home chances are that it is in a historic district, and within these districts there are rules and regulations that must be followed. You may have to face many restrictions about which changes you plan on implementing to your home’s roof. Some other restrictions include building codes but some areas will make expectations for historical homes. Even if you have to use traditional roofing materials that are available, oftentimes the use of modern underlayment can be used. This is because it better protects the roof from weather influences and is not visible or interfering with the outer appearance.
Types of Historic Roofs
|Pre-Revolution||Georgian or Federal||Wood Shingles|
|18th Century||Federal Style||Wood shingles or Slate|
|19th Century||Italianate, Greek, Gothic||Metal, Wood, Slate|
|20th Century||Bungalow, Craftsman||Asphalt shingles, Slate|
Historic Roofing Materials
|Wood Shakes||All periods||Type of wood used was dependent on the area.|
|Clay tiles||Starting at the 17th Century||Primarily used where there was a Spanish influence.|
|Slate||18th Century||Seldomly used because of its price and difficulty to install.|
|Metal Roof||19th Century||There were several styles and materials used.|
|Shingles||20th Century||3 Tab asphalt shingles.|
This was the most common historical roofing material in the earliest days to the 19th century. The type of wood material used and techniques varied so if your home had wood shakes or shingles you will need to gather more information on how to replace it. Wood is the fastest roofing material to deteriorate so it must be treated in order for it to last.
This type of roofing material was mostly used in the colonial period where there was Spanish influence. When clay started to be used in the Northeast the tiles were flat compared to traditionally rounded tiles, this was due to English and French influence. Replicating the shape and colors of old clay tiles can be very challenging, if your home has clay tiles you might need to explore other materials.
Slate began being quarried in America starting in 1785, it was rare to see on many homes but it was available. Once the railroad was developed slate spread and made it much easier to transport the heavy slabs. Because of its limited availability and significant weight, slate was not a popular choice when comparing it to wood shakes/shingles. Although it has many benefits clay tiles are a much cheaper alternative.
Metal was a popular roofing material but it was very expensive and at the time only lead and copper were suitable. This roofing material was more common on churches and government buildings rather than residential homes. In the 1870’s metal was cut from sheets and made into shingles, some had patterns and mainly used for gable roofs. Metal gained more popularity in the 1920’s also when asphalt became popular.
This roofing material was introduced in the 1900’s but did not become widespread until the 1920’s, the look resembled our 3-tab shingles today.
When restoring a historic home using substitute roofing materials has become more popular although some historical societies vote against it, others do agree protecting the home as a whole is more important. Modern materials provide a longer roof performance and keep the original structure intact. Seeking out alternative materials can also be very cost effective while keeping the same style of the original roof. Many more homeowners may choose to restore historical homes if the cost and hassle are reduced.
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