When thinking of roofing, you often simply assume that the old roof will be torn off and a new set of shingles installed. In historic building roof repair there is a lot more to the job than you would think. In order to maintain the original design, materials, and styles of historic buildings, hiring a professional with a working knowledge of historic roof restoration is imperative.

Roofing Materials Through Time

In the U.S., historic building roof repair is often a challenge because of the different roofing materials that have been used over the years, which have included:

  • Tile roofs
  • Flat rectangular tiles applied with mortar
  • Sheet metal
  • Slate
  • Wood shingles
  • Metal
  • Copper
  • Sheet iron
  • Corrugated iron
  • Galvanized zinc
  • Tin roofing
  • Terne plate
  • Asphalt

All of these materials can be found on historic buildings, depending on their location and age, and they will affect how the roof repair is handled.

Cause of Failure

Determining the reason for a leak is the first step in achieving a repair without changing the original roofing. Whether the metal is rusted and needs to be patched, or the wood shingles need to be replaced are one consideration.

However, when the failure is due to support systems such as gutters or downspouts, flashing, or roof fasteners and clips, a knowledgeable restoration roofer will be able to not only repair the damage, but help prevent further problems by changing specific materials for more compatible components, without taking away from the original roof.


More than simply looking at the roof, a professional will research documents and the building in order to restore the structure without damaging the historical accuracy. Many times historical buildings have been altered with additions, or different roof lines, when various things were added. Knowing what is original, what is new, and what has been restored to original helps the restoration roofer know what needs to be done.

Replace or Repair

Unfortunately, there are times when the original roofing cannot be repaired, which is when the professional restoration roofer will begin to take steps to procure historically accurate materials to fix the problem. If a wood shingle can’t be patched or sealed, then many times a whole new wood shingle is made by hand to replace it. Keeping the roof and roofing materials historically accurate is a huge part of maintaining the historical integrity of a building.

Knowledge of Historical Craft Practices

While the right material is important when performing a restoration roofing job, it is also imperative that the roofer understands the craft practices that were popular at the time. There is no chance of finding a hand split wooden shingle commercially today that will match a rustic handmade shingle from the early 20th century. In these instances, restoration projects have to locate a modern craftsman to reproduce specific details.

When you see a historic building that has been restored or preserved, you may not think much about the roof, but, in fact, the roofing is a major aspect in maintaining the historical integrity of the entire building. Historic roof restoration is a highly specialized job that requires not only knowledge, but a passion for detail and the history involved in each project.