Under every roof, a story, just as behind every brow, a history.
The beginning of man marks the beginning of roofing. A roof is the part of a structure that protects from the elements, most notably rain or snow, but it also protects from heat, wind snow, and animals. Ever tried heating a house without a roof? As heat rises, it is trapped by the roof, which allows for an area that is more easily warmed and kept warm. When in a survival situation, shelter is one of the most essential parts of maintaining life as it protects from the elements.
Needless to say, a roof is a necessity to humankind, and as time has passed and technology has advanced, so have the advancements in roofing become evident. From caves and sod roofs to new technology such as solar panel shingles, let’s look at how roofing has progressed.
Glazed Clay Roof Tiles
Around 3000 B.C. we see some of the first recorded roofing technology in China. For a technology that is roughly 5000 years old, clay roof tiles surprisingly meet today’s green efficiency standards, as they are made from an all-natural material. These clay roof tiles compared to a roof with asphalt shingles also show up to a 70 percent heat reduction when entering a house. So not only can you recycle this style roof after its long life, it is incredibly efficient at doing what it was designed to do.
As time passed this style of roof moved throughout the world as the Greeks also had clay tiles which the Romans brought variations of to England as early as 100 B.C. Where thatched roofs were predominant
The first thatched roof houses were built in the Germanic settlement area. As people started to settle, housing needed more permanence. Advancements from hides, leaves, and branches as building materials became reed, sticks, logs, and grass sods. Houses were built as one thatched roof with an open fireplace in the center of the room. The advantage of the smoke arising from these fires inside the house was an increased resistibility against catching fire in the roof as the smoke had a high concentration of creosote.
As time progressed, populations grew, and architecture advanced as there was a need for more living space. With a more dense population of houses with thatched roofs and wooden tile roofs, if a fire were to break out in a town, it would quickly spread, which lead to a need for buildings with hard roofs.
Chaptering thatched roofs out as a standard for building new structures was taking centuries, so in the 12th century England, King John declared, by law, that clay tiles would replace all thatch and reed roofs in an effort to prevent widespread fires. This drastically changed the future of the roofing industry as mass production of clay tiles began.
Slate was first recorded being used as a roofing material in North Wales, England in 1287. It was predominantly used in churches and castles and by the wealthy as it was expensive but extremely durables against fire and weather. It wasn’t until the 1800’s when advancements in quarrying techniques made slate available to more people as a roofing material.
In the 19th century, slate began being mass quarried in Pennsylvania in the United States and reached its peak around 1915. A decline in skilled laborers who could install slate roofs occurred due to the availability of other cheaper and easier to install roofing materials such as asphalt shingles. In recent years slate roofing has seen a massive increase in popularity from people wanting to preserve its history and because in comparison to other roofing materials, it is superior in both look and quality.
19th and 20th Century Roofing
More recently, during the 19th and 20th centuries, metal, asphalt shingle, concrete, solar, and green roofs made an appearance. Let’s dive into these a little deeper.
Although metal roofs were used in the 18th century, the metals used in these roofs were typically lead and copper, and it was not until 1794 that sheet iron made its leap into the roofing industry. Corrugated iron was patented in England in 1829 and made its move to American roofs in 1834. In 1837 France developed the technology that galvanized base metals with zinc, and in the 1850’s this was used mainly in post offices and customhouses.
Tinplate iron or what we know as tin roofing was also used in 18th century Canada, but it wasn’t until 1804 that Thomas Jefferson used standing seam tin roofing on the Monticello. Tin shingles were used widespread through America in the 19th century. They were kept well painted and created interesting patterns. Around the same time tin roofs were becoming popular in America, zinc was proposed as another material to use for roofs, but with its advantages were controversial, and it never took off.
Asphalt Shingle Roofs
The forerunner of asphalt shingles was developed in 1893 and was called “asphalt prepared roofing” with slate granules being added to the surface for durability in 1897.
Asphalt shingles were invented in the United States in 1901 and by 1911 were generally being used in parts of America. During the 1920’s the price of cotton rags were raised, and the base material for asphalt shingles at the time being felt, manufacturers began using other organic materials. By 1939, 11 million squares of shingles were being produced.
In the 1950’s self-sealing manually applied adhesives were added to the shingles to help prevent wind damage.
The concept of concrete roof tiles was introduced in the early 1900’s to England, Holland, and other European countries. It became a common practice to add a coloring pigment to the tiles to imitate traditional clay roofing tiles. These concrete tiles were made with hand-operated machines.
The first practical power-driven tile machine was developed in Denmark in the early 1920’s. When this machine was introduced in England in 1925, a young engineer made significant improvements to it shortly after. Each year from then, the machine was slightly improved until 1930 when the machine had another significant improvement that caused the industry to develop rapidly.
The technology for solar roofs was developed in the 1970’s and has since been improved upon. This modern roof is costly but has multiple advantages to other styles of roofing. Not only do these “solar shingles” produce electricity, but they also have a sleek look and last much longer than conventional roofing materials.
As we have always needed for a roof over our heads, humans have been creating new ways to do this since the beginning of time. From using caves as shelters to the invention of clay tiles 5000 years ago to “solar shingles” that serves the purpose of also producing electricity, we still use most all these technologies today.
While roofing seems like something we don’t think about all too often, unless of course, you’re a roofer by profession, it plays a significant role in our lives. Different cultures, different areas of the world, different tastes in style, and different needs all play a role in determining what kind of roof we decide to put over our heads.