Are Slate Shingles Worth The Cost?

Joshua Covington

Editor's Note: Please also refer to our Ask the Inspector article, "Worn Slate Roofs - Repair or Replace."

Slate roofs are generally found in older, more expensive homes and account for only five percent of the residential roofing market in the U.S. Slate is one of the most expensive roofing materials available, but you shouldn't let the initial cost difference between slate shingles and other types of roofing drive you away from slate as a roofing option altogether. Despite higher initial costs, installing slate still offers a compelling and sometimes surprising assortment of benefits, particularly for owners of older or historic houses.

Here are some of the benefits of slate roofs:

  1. Long-lived and Remarkably Durable

    In the short term, other roofing options may be cheaper when comparing initial foot-for-foot material costs. But over the years, a house with a slate roof requires less maintenance and upkeep than other roofing materials, and slate roofs still last longer than all the other commonly available roofing options before needing repairs or expensive replacements. In fact, your slate roof can last for the life of the house.

  2. Naturally Fire Retardant and Waterproof

    Even though most slate is quarried in the Eastern United States, its fire resistant qualities make it a wise roofing choice for homeowners who live in areas of high fire danger all across the country. Slate shingles are the only roofing material that is naturally waterproof and fire retardant. Other materials can be artificially fireproofed with special coatings; however, slate shingles have long been considered the gold standard in fire-safe roofing because they are naturally fire resistant.

  3. Historically Accurate, Appropriately Contemporary, and Ready for the Future

    Slate roofs were popular 100 years ago and still make sense today, particularly if you are installing shingles to match the original designs on a historic home. Thanks to its durability, reliability and natural fire-resistance, in today's increasingly safety-minded culture, slate shingles on homes are not likely to go out of style.

Slate Roof Tips to Keep in Mind

Do your research to ensure that any slate roof you or a hired contractor installs on your historic home not only matches and is compatible with your existing set-up but is historically accurate as well. Unlike other roofing materials, slate often justified a more artisan approach to roofing. Slate roofs can feature fancy shaped shingles, and can be laid out in unique patterns. The skill to perform this work still exists in many areas check with a trade group.

Experienced roofing contractors are familiar with the challenges associated with doing roofing work on older homes. Ask for advice not only on what to do, but also about specific roofing practices to avoid when installing slate shingles on older homes.

If you're unsure about the historical accuracy of a particular design, research vintage photographs of your neighborhood. Perhaps you can find a photo of your own home. Someone at your local library or historical society may be able to help you.


About the Author

Joshua Covington lives and writes in Southern California. He is a connoisseur of good books, bad movies and esoteric jokes. In the past he has written for a software company, a literary magazine, the website of a city paper and, during the late middle

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