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Historic Roof Preservation Around the Globe

One of the most important components of the construction is the roof. It determines the overall aesthetics of the building and slowly emerges to a trademark of particular architectural design. Historic roofs represent a time in history and, in a way, reproduce a story of people during that period. It reflects nation's knowledge at one point in history, their preferences and general atmosphere.

Architecture is one of many factors that show how noble, successful or wealthy a nation was, therefore, roofs detain a social element. Not every building was able to have a copper or zinc roof with attractive patina, so from today's perspective, we can find out a lot about a nation by analyzing different elements of constructions including roofs.

Listed below, you will find some of the most compelling historical buildings with notable roofing systems.

The Slate Roof House

The Slate Roof House was built around 1687 and became famous as the short-term residence of William Penn. Penn was the founder of Pennsylvania and an influential English businessman who spent about two years in the Slate Roof House. The house was easily distinguished from others by its enchanting slate roof and overwhelming size. Slate roofs were not typical during that period in Philadelphia, so slate roof house became an object of admiration. It is also famous for being a site where Penn wrote the Charter of Privileges that became and, to this day, remained a bedrock for free authorities system around the globe.

The Slate Roof House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Source: Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography,
Lovamahapaya Temple

Sri Lanka's Lovamahapaya was one of the most sumptuous and massive constructions in that area. Allegedly, Lovamahapaya Buddhist temple had nine floors, it was 150 ft high and had a total of 1600 pillars. Therefore, it represented an architectural masterpiece and the tallest building in the Sri Lanka area for over a millennium. Ornamentation with corals, jewels and other precious stones also made this construction stand out. Lovamahapaya's trademark was its copper roof with bronzed paneling. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times in fires or king's war escorts.

Lovamahapaya Temple in Sri Lanka.
Source: tatsuhu,
Taj Mahal

Crown of the Palace also known as Taj Mahal is a breathtaking mausoleum located in the city of Agra in India. Taj Mahal developed as an idea of the emperor Shah Jahan who wanted to build a unique tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Jahan ruled from about 1628 to 1658, and the Mumtaz's tomb became a focus location of the entire Taj Mahal mosque. The building uses special white marble that combines elegance and firmness. The marble roof lets in the light on a central dome and is a focal point of the building. Taj Mahal is on the UNESCO'S World Heritage Site list and is one of the most magnificent architectural designs. The construction of Taj Mahal cost around 827 million dollars (adjusted to represent cost in 2015); precious ornaments, Persian elements, and expensive marble increased the price of India's jewel.

The Taj Mahal in India.
Source: Yann Forget,,_Agra,_India_edit2.jpg
The Chateau de Chateaudun

Placed in the City of Chateaudun, this castle is a typical representation of the transitional architectural style. The chateau faces the Loir river, and its construction and positioning remind of a typical fortress from the medieval period. Jean de Dunois, a son of Louis I, transformed the castle into a residence. Castle is famous for the Reinassaince staircase as well as gothic elements. Roof, for example, is one of the gothic notes in this construction.

Chateau de Chateaudun in France.
Source: Patrick GIRAUD,
Grand Palais

Grand Palais is museum located in Paris, France which features exhibition all hall and represents a significant historical site. Grand Palais followed the demolition of the Palace of Industry and construction work began in 1897. The palace has the main room 787 feet long which was a result of the London's Crystal palace architectural influence. The roof is one of the most enchanting parts of this construction; it is made of steel, glass, and iron. Therefore, it is one of the largest see-through buildings in Paris and also one of the last.

The roof of the Grand Palais in Paris, France.
History is hard to detain as stories change and new information comes out; this is why historic sites are crucial, and we should do everything in our power to protect them. They are the treasury of stories, artifacts, and written material that still has to be discovered. All elements of historic buildings provide insight into the socioeconomics of the time. They are a tangible reminder of our past for future generations to discover.

Certain periods in the history of architecture were given a trademark depending on the style of the roof. Historic roofs determined the overall style of the building and contributed to its classification. For instance, the Mansard roofs, Victorian's wide low roofs, Queen Anne turrets style are examples of major roof significance and proof of it being a crucial factor in design.

However, roofs should not be taken lightly as they are a sensitive element in the protection of housing that will, over time, inevitably experience problems. A wrongly installed roof or roof of low quality, will contribute to faster material deterioration and the building's structural decay. Issues that appear on a historic roof require an individual approach with measures of precaution. Before any job is done on the roof, contractors have to understand historical materials and engineering of the roofing system.

Roofs play an important role in maintaining heritage buildings
such as Government House in Winnipeg, which has stood for over 130 years.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Gordon Goldsborough, 
Before doing anything on the historic roof 

Historic roofs demand a unique approach that combines knowledge of historical materials, familiarization with historical methods and proper maintenance. Contractors should thoroughly examine the roof and find out if there were any previous repairs. They should also be informed and familiar with old methods of roofing and craftsmanship in order to understand the structure of the roof and building. Knowledge related to historical materials can significantly contribute to successful roof replacement or proper maintenance. This will allow contractors to pick the best tools equipment, coatings, and material for the particular historic structure. Having a supervisor on the job site can be helpful and turn roofers' attention to details so that the structure would preserve its aesthetics.

Proper maintenance; a key role in roof preservation

A brand new roof is mainly an object of function and beauty, but it is not likely it will obtain its beauty and remain protective without correct and thorough maintenance. Historic roofing systems should be inspected at least twice a year. Contractors should keep track of changes, problematic areas or any suspicious appearances on the roof. There should be strict guidelines related to foot traffic on historical roofs as it could significantly influence the firmness of the surface. Some roofing materials should be completely free of foot traffic, for instance, slate and clay roofs should use a ladder. The crucial compounds of the roofing systems such as gutters and downspout should also be given special attention. Gutters tend to block due to branches, leaves and debris accumulation in the spring or fall. Contractors should use latest technology and equipment to inspect and clean the inside of the gutter and downspouts. Each big storm should be followed by the inside inspection of the attic for early signs of leaking.

However, these are general guidelines to the maintenance of historical roofs. Each material requires a different approach in practice.

Slate roofing

Slate is one of the most elegant and quality roofing systems. This comes with a price, so slate roofing is a high-end roofing material and requires a significant financial investment. It is significantly resistant to leaking and fire; however, it is not entirely resistant to aging just like every other material.

When it comes to slate, attic and sheathing require inspection because of rotting and water staining. Contractors should pay special attention to critical spots like the intersection of planes, valleys, flashing and hips of the roof.  Gutters are a vital part of the slate roofing system, so they have to be regularly cleaned of any debris and blockages. Slate is high-end roofing material, so it requires an inspection every four to six years led by slate experts. It is a unique material, not artificially made so professionals should understand its ingredients and composition. Keeping a record of repairs and conditions can help contractors understand a history of repairs and allow them to make a better decision for maintenance methods.

The Dalry Cemetery Lodge in Edinburgh, Scotland, has a slate roof.
Source: Hamish Irvine,
Wood roofing

Wood is one of the oldest roofing material that is still in use today. However, wood shingles installation hundreds of years ago is completely different from today due to the development of technology. Modern-time contractors upgrade wood to be insect resistant and fireproof, which was then unimaginable.

Important wood maintenance guidelines include ensuring the roof is clear of debris. Contractors have to trim branches that could leave scratches behind, remove pine needles and leaves buildup on the roof. More demanding procedures include removing moss and lichen which can cause deterioration of the roof. Roofers often utilize a method of power washing in which an intense water pressure removes dead wood cells as well as debris. However, this process should be done by a professional since high water pressure can penetrate below the shingles or crack them. It is recommended that fungicide, pesticides or oils are applied to keep wood fresh and the roof looking well and in good condition. Application of various helpful coatings should be done every four to five years for efficient effect.

The wood roof of the Church of Saint Martin in Dolni Mesto, Czech Republic.
Source: Matej Bat'ha,
Metal roofing

Metal is another often used roofing material on historical roofs. It combines tensile strength and water resistance; however, there are several problems it could encounter. Most often problems are an erosion of the metal, penetration of the surface and loose seams and flashings.  It is important to realize that metal roofs are not easy to handle, therefore, contacting a professional is inevitable. There are various types of metal such as aluminum, steel, zinc, and copper which all have different properties. Copper roofs, for examples, were widely used in ancient times due to their stability, durability and beautiful patina it develops over time. Contractors stabilize historic metal roofs with an elastomeric coating, however, once the coating is applied it can't be removed. It is crucial to understand a particular type of metal and choose the right coating for a long lasting effect.

Thunderbird House in Winnipeg has a copper roof.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation,
Roofs are a valuable feature of historic architecture and contribute to the determination of architectural style. They represent a particular time in history, people's needs and preferences of that period. Therefore, roofs are not solely compounds of historical shelters but tell a story of the particular moment in time. Preservation of those roofing systems shouldn't be neglected or put on hold, on the contrary, it should be a part of historic site conservation and maintenance as buildings would not be the same without it.

Guest post "Historic Roofs around the Globe" and "Historic Roof Preservation" by Matt
     -writer for Georgia Roof Pro of Georgia, specializing in home improvement, construction and home design
Edited by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg


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