What Is a Slate Roof?

grey colored slate roof

There’s more to a slate roof than meets the eye. Yes, it has a timeless and elegant appeal that would suit almost any type of home – contemporary or traditional. But before you start contacting a local slate roofing contractor to install it on your home, wouldn’t it be better to know what a slate roof is?

While there’s no exact person or period to attribute the first use of slate material, it has been around since the 1600s in America, as evident in colonial settlements in the 17th century. However, it continues to be a premium roofing option for those who can afford it.

What Is a Slate Roof?

It’s normal for items of antiquity to be expensive. After all, these are already rare finds. And even though slate roofing has been around for centuries, it continues to be one of the most expensive not only because of its age but because of its premium quality.

Did you know that a properly-installed and well-cared-for slate roofing can last for more than 150 years? Its lasting property, as well as its natural resistance to extreme temperatures, makes it undoubtedly worth it to invest in this roofing type.

With all the variations available today, the traditional slate is the most costly because it’s made from all-natural stone quarried from various sites in the U.S., such as Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Jersey. Some even come from quarries in China and Brazil.

You can quickly distinguish a slate roof tile from other types that seek to replicate its design by the way it shines. When light hits a slate tile at a certain angle, it gives off a low-level shine and a texture similar to that of a stone.

Not every roofer can install a new slate roof properly, as it requires a great degree of experience and a specialized installation process. As such, you’ll need to be very picky in choosing a roofing company to do the roof replacement or installation on your property.

Types of Slate Roofs

There was a time when there were not many options available with slate roofing. The material used to be only one type – one that came directly from the quarries. Fortunately, there are several other options to choose from these days, allowing homeowners to hone down on a type of slate roof that matches their preferences.

Natural Slate

close-up of a slate roof
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This is a traditional slate roof material and is the de facto type when talking about this kind of roofing system. It can last for more than 100 years and is naturally fire-resistant. Plus, it has a natural resistance to moisture and even pests. Consequently, this is also the heaviest and the most expensive. Homeowners who want to install authentic and fireproof slate roofing shingles go for natural slate roofs.

Bituminous Slate

An inexpensive alternative to natural slate, bituminous slate comes from the same manufacturing process as that of asphalt shingle roofs. The tiles can have a design pattern similar to a natural slate while also having the flexibility to be installed over eyebrow windows. However, bituminous slate has several drawbacks, such as getting brittle easily with exposure to excessive heat or cold.

Concrete Slate

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Another less expensive alternative, it is made by mixing cement with water, sand, dye, and oxide. This hard slate is an energy-efficient option as it can help prevent the heat outside from transferring to the attic. Concrete slate can only last for 50 years, though, and is susceptible to moss growth between tiles.

Metal Slate

Photo Credit: Jesse James metal roofing / Canva Pro / License

Here is another eco-friendly option made from steel alloys, copper, and zinc. The biggest advantage of a metal roof is it’s not vulnerable to foot traffic and other impact damages. It also has a variety of styles and colors to choose from, including those that mimic natural slates.

Synthetic Composite

A house with Synthetic composite slate installed
Photo Credit: Tim Bingham / Canva Pro / License

This type of slate roof seeks to eliminate one of the drawbacks inherent in slate roofs, which is its incredible weight. It’s a modern iteration of a slate roof that is both lightweight and weather-proof. Synthetic slate roofs can last up to 100 years when properly cared for.

If you want to know more about the different types of slate roofs, you should check our comprehensive guide.

Pros of a Slate Roof

Here is a list of advantages proving why there’s a continued demand for slate roofs:

  • Longevity: A slate roof can last from 50 to more than 150 years, depending on the type of slate material used and the conditions it’s exposed to.
  • Resale value: Since this roof system is highly durable and can last for a long time, it adds a significant amount to a home’s resale value.
  • Attractive appeal: Its timeless appearance guarantees that any home with a slate roof will never go out of style.
  • Low maintenance: Once the roof system has been installed, there’s no need to go up to the roof every few weeks to maintain it. In fact, walking over the roof is strongly discouraged. You’re only required to have an annual inspection performed to check if there are any cracks or broken tiles needing replacement. Although, you should check the gutters separately, especially if you have a big tree with branches hanging over the roof.
  • Energy efficient: A slate roof can help reduce energy bills by keeping the interior of the home warm throughout winter and cool during summer.

Cons of a Slate Roof

A slate roof is not without its disadvantages, and it’s better to know about them so you can make the necessary adjustments:

  • Heavy weight: Each slate tile has a very compact density, especially those made of natural stone. Since the weight of slate tiles can be up to 15 pounds per square foot, the house should have a strong structure to bear the weight in its entirety.
  • High cost: This is one of the reasons that detract most homeowners from installing a slate roof. Aside from the expensive slate materials, the cost of the slate roof installation is also high. Plus, if you need to retrofit your home’s structure, it will definitely add to the total expenses.
  • Brittleness: This roofing is susceptible to impact damage. Even walking along the roof may cause cracks or breakage, where the degree of damage will depend on the type of slate material.

For a more detailed list of the pros and cons of slate roofs, be sure to check our definitive article.

Cost of a Slate Roof

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While a slate roof is already expensive on its own, there are other factors that can affect its high cost, including the angle of the roof, additional materials, labor and installation cost, and the design of the roof.

Bear in mind that if your house needs to have additional structural support installed, you will have to add this to the overall costs.

On average, expect to pay between $8,410 to $25,825 just for the slate roof alone. If you have a large roof to cover, your total expenses can reach as high as $45,000.

If you want a complete explanation, you can read this comprehensive article on slate roof costs.

How Do You Know If a Slate Roof Is Right for You?

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself to help you determine if this type of roofing is your best choice:

  1. Will your house be able to bear the weight of a slate roof? If not, can you retrofit it?
  2. Do you have the budget to see the entire project through?
  3. Do you want a roof with a classic and timeless design?
  4. Are you looking for a roof that will last more than your lifetime?

If you answered yes to these questions, a roof made of real slate is the best roofing option for you. Another important factor to consider is the length of time you’re planning to reside in your home. It’s not a good idea to make a huge investment if you’re not going to enjoy the benefits at least half of the time – remember that the lifespan of slate roofs can reach more than 100 years.

FAQ About Slate Roofs

Why should I install a slate roof?

Slate roofs have become increasingly popular because of their high durability. Made from metamorphic stone, this type of roofing is not only long-lasting but also exudes a timeless and elegant beauty.

Do slate roofs require maintenance?

Yes, this type of roofing system still requires maintenance, especially if you want to avoid roof repairs. But it’s not the same as the other types of roofing materials. You only need to have it checked once every year, and that’s it. As a matter of fact, it’s strongly discouraged to go and walk along the roof to check it regularly because there’s a chance the slate tiles could break.

Why is a slate roof not for everyone?

There are two things preventing most homeowners from having a slate roof installed, even if they want it so badly. One is the sheer weight a slate roof can impose on the home’s structure. Retrofitting a home or adding a new frame can help rectify this issue. However, this also means you’ll be adding to the total cost, which is another deterrent to some homeowners. Still, you should avoid doing DIY underlayments and decking just to save money.

Choose the Roofing System Appropriate For Your Home

Installing a new slate roof on your home is a huge undertaking, involving money, time, and effort. As such, it’s not a good idea to simply pick any roofing system based on its aesthetics or cost. It’s essential to learn as much detail as possible. Connect with a local roofing contractor to learn if your home is ready for slate roofing.

Main Image Credit: Pixabay

Melanie Joseph

After discovering her passion for writing through her beauty blog, Melanie left her engineering job in California, became a writer, and never once looked back. When she isn't writing, she loves dipping in the pool, tending to the garden, or doing simple home improvement projects.