A roof does much more than shelter the humans who live beneath it—more even than protect the house. Roofs tell tales—about houses and their inhabitants, about time and place, and about style in every sense of the word.
Consider the simple, steep late-medieval roof of early America as it fades into the softer lines of the Federal era’s dignified gabled roof, then onward to the haughty double-sloped Second Empire-style mansard with multiple dormers. The flamboyant cones and spires of late 19th-century Queen Annes; the red-tiled roofs of Spanish Colonials; the broad, low spread of the bungalow roof; and the flat roof of a Modern house—each one has a story to tell. Part of that story has to be about the changing materials from which roofing is made.
From time without measure, built houses were topped with natural materials—wood, stone, or earth. (Terra cotta is literally “baked earth.”) Copper and lead roofs date back to the classic past of Rome and Greece, with iron, tin, and zinc added in the 19th century. Manmade materials only came into general use in the 20th century, particularly the broad mixes of asphalt, felt, and asbestos, as well as modern metal formulations like stainless steel and aluminum. In the recent past, manmade roofing materials have become more common, especially those that mimic natural ones at a lower cost, such as manufactured slates or asphalt shingles that resemble wood.
Today’s roofing is available in a multitude of materials, colors, shapes, and forms that maintain the vintage appearance of originals—matching an original roof as closely as possible should always be a prime goal.
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