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How Long you Should Expect a Slate Roof to Last in the Northeast United States

Efficient and good looking are two reasons why people cover and protect their homes with roofing. There are other benefits too. Slate come in numerous and naturally occurring colors, which can be attractively blended with other materials. The range of size and thickness is almost endless. Slate is water repellent, fireproof, and low maintenance, especially because it is resistant to the growth of moss and algae.

For all these reasons to buy slate roofing, it can still be a questionable investment because it is one of the most expensive roofing systems to install. So most people when considering slate as a new roofing system have to ask: How long will it last? This is especially important in the northeastern United States where winters can be long, harsh, and destructive.

Just how long can a slate roof be expected to last in the northeast? The American Society of Home Inspectors puts the longevity of slate roofing at 30-100 years. That makes it a good buy when compared with asphalt at 15-20 years, wood at 10-40, metal at 20-40, and clay at 20 years or more. That makes slate a good buy even with the most expensive installation price.

However, if you are considering slate, but longevity is a concern, do some research before installing a slate roof, especially in the northeast. Not all slate is the same and some roofs just are not designed for such a covering. So, begin your search for the right slate with a consultation with a contractor who knows the product.

Slate has been quarried in the United States since the 1850s from states in the northeast and Virginia. Vermont roofing slate, quarried in the Green Mountains, carries a life expectancy of up to 200 years and with proper maintenance is said to last indefinitely. The rate for Pennsylvania roofing slate, which comes in solid gray or multi-color patterns, has a life span of about 50 years. Slate from Buckingham County in Virginia, with its blue/black color and high mica content, is said to be one of the world’s hardest. The life span is averaged at about 175 years or indefinitely.

Ribbon slates have lines or ribbons of color that make them distinctive looking. Although some of these slates are very durable, care should be taken in selecting them. In some slates, the material that forms the ribbons of color has been found to be soft enough to weather rapidly.

In some cases, the answer to “how long will a slate roof last in the eastern U.S.?” has to be: It depends. Maintenance is an important concern for longevity. However, with careful study of these generally highly durable materials and the aid of an experienced and knowledgeable contractor, the answer might be: Long enough to keep your home safe and you happy with the choice.

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The Pros and Cons of Slate Roofing

Slate is a highly durable stone that has been used in roofs for centuries, but was almost completely replaced by asphalt in the 20th century. Now seen primarily on churches, historical buildings and older homes, slate offers a natural, prestigious look and a long lifespan that appeal to many buyers. Slate roofing is also quite low maintenance and is invulnerable to fire, insects and rot. This material is relatively expensive, however, comes in a limited color range, and is extremely heavy. This material should be maintained only by a professional.

Appearance
Natural slate roofs provide an elegant beauty that no other material can match. The natural variations in the slate tile create an appealing look from a distance that makes a slate-roofed building stand out from neighboring asphalt-roofed structures. Slate roofs are an excellent choice for vintage homes, ecologically-friendly structures and historical restorations. They complement brick and stone architecture well, but can be used on just about any kind of home.

Durability
Slate is an extremely durable, long-lasting roof material that is rivaled only by tile. Roofing tiles made from this stone absorb very little water, making them excellent at deflecting rain and avoiding frost damage. The average slate roof will last 100 to 150 years with correct installation and occasional maintenance. Many slate roofs have been in place for even longer, requiring only occasional re-flashing and tile replacement.

Roofs made of slate tiles also resist fire better than asphalt or similar roofing materials. They never rot or develop mildew and they are impervious to insect infestations, unlike cedar shakes and shingles. When treated with chemical sealants, slate roofs are also resistant to efflorescence, stains and moss or lichen growth, though some homeowners see these features of the natural aging process as desirable.

Installation
Installing a new slate roof can be relatively expensive, at between $10 and $40 per square foot, or about 10 times the cost of a similar asphalt shingle roof. Slate costs 1 1/2 to 4 times more than wood shakes or shingles, 3 to 4 times more than clay or concrete tile, and 2 to 3 times more than metal roofs, including copper. Its actual cost of ownership over the course of the roof’s lifetime is far lower, however, since most other materials need to be replaced frequently. Asphalt roofs must be redone entirely every 20 to 35 years, for instance.

The actual slate tiles can be secured to the roof using one of two ways. The most common technique is nailing with copper or stainless steel into a timber batten. It’s also possible to attach the slates to the roof using special hooks, which make no holes in the slate and produce fewer weak areas. This method provides better support in areas with severe weather conditions as the wind is less likely to blow the tiles off the roof. Hook fixing also makes it easier to put slate on unusually-shaped roofs, since it allows for smaller tiles, but this technique is somewhat more expensive than nailing.

Considerations
One of the biggest drawbacks of slate roofing is its weight. This material can weigh 800 to 1,500 pounds for every 100 square feet. That means that it requires an extremely strong roof structure to support it effectively. Many modern homes must be reinforced to carry the extra weight before a new slate roof can be installed.

Another common disadvantage of slate is its relative fragility under pressure. This material can last for centuries, but breaks easily when walked on. If you install slate on your own roof, you may need to have basic maintenance performed by professionals who know how to walk on the tiles without damaging them. This can increase the difficulty and price of maintaining your slate roof.