When it comes to choosing a roof the material may not, necessarily, depend upon the wall material or the style of the house. You may have such a keen preference for a certain kind of roof that you will choose a type of house that will allow you to use that roof. In other words, the relationship of roof to house is so important that the house itself may be radically changed in favor of roofing material.
There are several broad divisions that may serve to clarify a brief discussion of some of the principal roofing materials, as, for instance, fireproof and non-fireproof. Or, more exactly, the division into wood shingle, composition shingle, tile and slate.
Although brick, stone and stucco houses may be topped with wood shingle roofs, the all-wood structure most often calls for this material. Fireproof roofing materials, it is true, are often enough seen on the frame house, but not consistently, even if the roof is the part of any house most likely to catch fire. If fire hazard is a matter of real concern, there are plenty of artificial shingles, compounded largely of asbestos, and light enough in weight to conform with light frame construction and side-walls sheathed with clapboards or shingles.
1 For information on selection of materials, proportioning, production, and protection during curing period see ibid.
Time was, of course, when shingles were split by hand, and it is only within comparatively recent times that wood shingles have been offered in extensive color ranges, thoroughly dip-stained before delivery. In these creosote stains, the factory job of dipping soon proved to be far more thorough and satisfactory than anything that could be done "on location," and it was not long before manufacturers of shingles were presenting complete ranges of really beautiful colors, so that attractive harmonies are now easily effected in both roofs and side-walls of the house entirely of wood construction.
Nature, left to herself, gives walls and roofs of shingle a weathered color of silver gray, but this color changes, becoming yearly darker and darker, until it is nearly black. One advantage of dip-stained shingles is not only the obvious one of achieving any desired color immediately, but also the advantage of permanence in the shingle itself as well as in the color. Not that wood shingles au naturel are not still used. They are, and with a constant demand for the hand-split kind, those large rugged-looking wood shingles that produce such authentic quaintness in the cottage type of house, and in certain kinds of Colonial adaptations.
Wood shingles are in no danger of being out-moded by other types of roofing - they will always serve well and faithfully, and treated with creosote stains they will also serve colorfully a large proportion of all the roofs there are.
A question often asked has to do with wood shingles, and this question is about the legitimacy of roofs in "thatched" effects, in which the shingles are bent over curved eaves. The answer is that when the purpose is frankly for decorative effect, and when everything else about the house is in character with the English cottage type, a thatched effect is legitimate from a purely decorative point of view, and with due recognition of the fact that actual thatch is a thing in itself, and that the shingle imitation is no more than a general approximation of the true thatch profile.
The popularity of hand-split shingles is simply a part of the general swing back to authenticity in building materials as they were used in older, sturdier days of building, before machine and mill finishes robbed many materials of their most interesting characteristics. The hand-split shingle is used more often for side-walls than for roofs, and is used for roofs where a rough and rugged effect is wanted. Cedar continues as the leading wood for shingles, and cypress is also quite widely used. So essentially is this old form of roofing material a part of home building that competition of a variety of attractive fireproof roofings cannot diminish the popularity of wood shingles. For certain types of houses they remain the most appropriate of all roofing materials.
Among inexpensive roofings there are many shingles made on a fabric base, and these are widely used on an economy basis rather than on their comparative merits of appearance. From the architect's point of view, the fabric shingle roof tends to lack texture as a whole. It lies too flat. An essential of any roof should be an effective emphasis of its units, as brought out by the thick butts of shingles, slates or tiles. When a shingle is made synthetically, that is, compounded of asbestos and other materials, the architect, without being too exacting, demands that it be so designed that it will lie up in roofs that have not only color but texture.
This requirement has been admirably met by a number of composite shingles, in which color, texture and form have been combined to provide a roofing material virtually ideal. Lighter in weight than tile or slate, asbestos composition shingles do not require extra-heavy roof framing. .... The whole pageantry of autumn colors - reds, dull oranges, russet browns - is included in the color ranges, with old blues and purples to introduce here and there as interesting accents. Some ranges include pearl gray, red, buff and black.
Most of the asbestos shingles are of the same composition throughout, while asphalt shingles are made, in the lighter grades, on a tough fabric base; both types, in all their varieties, are so styled in attractive color ranges as to be definitely a contribution to the esthetic side of building. There are several makes of these shingles which have now been in service over periods of time long enough to prove their wearing qualities as well as their lasting beauty in blended harmonies of color.
Roofing tiles have at last come into their own and been warmly approved by the most exacting architects. For many years, this roofing material was technically in no need of criticism, while esthetically it made the unfortunate mistake of kilning every unit with an identical color and texture. The result was that a roof laid up in tile might, so far as appearances went, have been made of stamped metal and painted red or green. These were the two colors, and the green was of a harsh and violent hue. It was impossible to lay a roof with the charming accidents of color, not to speak of the age-old weathering of the tile roofs that have for ages captivated every visitor to European countries.....Now the English type, exactly like the irregular, hand-made product of Elizabethan days, is reproduced in this country, and tile-roofed houses in any type of English architecture can be made authentic. Even the centuries of weathering have been reproduced and so skilfully that it is very difficult to distinguish one of these new shingle-tile roofs from an old roof brought over with great trouble and expense from England.
It is the same with the Spanish or Mediterranean type of tile, sometimes called the Roman tile. The whole effect of a Mediterranean house, whether it derives from Spain or Italy, depends upon the subtle variations in the range of mellow colors found in the roof tiles. There has never been any real reason why roof tiles should not have been baked in variations of color - but it has only been recently that manufacturers have realized the architectural opportunity, as well as the necessity of doing so.
The roof of slate is one of the oldest and, from its nature, one of the most satisfying of all roofs. It is a natural product, formed by hand, and its beautiful range of color it owes also to nature. From the earliest times men have roofed their homes with slate, wherever it was available, and slate roofs laid hundreds of years ago are still in place.
For all that it has so long been, historically, a perfect roofing material, slate as we now see it used on country houses was neglected, or, differently stated, it was misused. During the 1880's builders had the idea that the thing to do with slate was to split it as thin as its structure would possibly allow, to cut its edges perfectly true and grade it for absolute uniformity of color. If there were dull reds, purples, greens or blues, these were set aside to use in absurd patterns for "fancy roofs." You have seen them on the grander houses of that period on roofs bristling with lightning rods and filigree iron cresting, the patterns generally based on monotonous hexagons and the rest of the roof about as interesting as oilcloth.
Slate as an effectively rugged material, dowered by nature with an incomparable range of beautiful color, came in with the new architectural integrity, when architects began to use wood, brick, stone and other things appropriately.
Slate is not an inexpensive roofing material, though no comparisons should be made without due consideration of its everlasting permanence. Generally it is used on houses of higher than average construction cost, and obviously on houses of brick, stone or half-timber. It is harmonious with stucco but a frame house must be extra-substantially built to take the weight.
Cost, after all, is relative and it would be a mistake to entertain any cost prejudice in regard to slate. Architects and builders have roughly estimated that a slate roof figures roughly two per cent of the total construction cost of the house. Against this there are to be considered its absolute permanence and its protection against fire and weather and its essential character and beauty. Each slate quarried out of the rock is shaped by hand, no two exactly alike in color, and the color range is one more beautiful and harmonious than any artist could create.
The choice of any roofing material, like the other factors for construction by the prospective builder, will be predicated on various things, of which cost is only one. Esthetically (rather than practically) speaking,. cost should come last. The ideal roof is the one that is permanent, protective, beautiful and architecturally in character with its house. The architect has ideals, but no illusions on the roofing question; the prospective builder may learn much by consulting with him, and may, if he wishes, make a personal examination of the various roofing materials now available. And they are better and better looking than ever before.