We get a lot of phone calls from homeowners with questions about a owning a slate roof. The majority of homeowners have shingle roofs and when they buy a new house with slate, they have no idea what it will take to maintain. These are my favorite calls.
Typically, someone has already told them that no one works on slate anymore or that the roof needs to be removed. We can put their fears to rest and educate them about all the benefits of owning a historic slate roof.
Slate roofs can last a very long time if taken care of properly. I suggest to all of our customers to have an annual inspection in the spring. This is important for two reasons: it will let you know if any damage occurred throughout the winter and it will keep you ahead of any major repairs.
It is important to know the service life of different components of your roof so that you can budget properly. Being proactive about your roof is the best way to save money. You always want to make a repair before it leaks. Why spend the extra money on interior repairs too?
The most basic repair is the slate itself. You are bound to have broken and slipped slates from time to time, especially if you have large trees around your home or there has been a strong storm. A trained slater can repair individual slates easily. Small, chipped corners on slate may look ugly but will not cause a leak. Instead, keep an eye out for missing or badly broken slates.
The next type of repair is the flashings. Flashings are the metal you see around the base of the chimney, at the ridge, on hips and in the valleys of your roof. These are commonly copper or galvanized steel on a slate roof.
Copper flashings have a service life of about 70 years and are maintenance free. Copper will patina naturally in the elements and turn a dark brown, then a rich green. The green color lets you know that it is getting older but still has service life left in it. When copper turns black, you know that time is ticking.
Galvanized flashings can last between fifteen and twenty years and needs to be kept painted or they will rust very quickly. While galvanized flashings may be more economical for you if you need a repair, keep in mind that they will require regular painting and over the long run, may not be any less than copper.
Chimneys can be a complete headache for a homeowner (and a roofer) if not maintained. You have to consider the chimney itself, the masonry, the flashing and the cap or flue covers. These different parts all have their own job in keeping water out of your home.
Chimneys can be very tricky because there are several different causes for a chimney leak. Inspecting the flashing to make sure it is still in good condition, checking the bricks and joints for any missing mortar and verifying that the chimney is properly lined if it is used to vent a furnace are good ways to guard against leaks.
The final aspects of your roof that you will want to keep in good working order are your gutters and downspouts. Both box gutters and hanging gutters each have their own maintenance needs. Box gutters are built into the rafter system of your roof, and from the ground they look like decorative wood molding around the perimeter of your home. The trough of the gutter is lined with metal, either copper or galvanized.
As with flashings, if your gutters are galvanized, they will need regular painting. Hanging gutters are attached to the eaves of your home using hangers and are visible from the ground. Both types of gutters need inspection to make sure there are no holes and that the solder seams are still intact. Gutters are responsible for getting the water away from your home. Interior leaks in walls and basements and erosion around your home can all be attributed to gutter leaks.
Having a yearly inspection of your roof and gutter system by a trained slate roofer will help ensure that your roof continues to do its job and can help prevent major repair bills.