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How to Choose a Roof for Your Historic Home

Historic structures tell long stories of time, place, people, and how life has changed over the years. You love your historic home, but now the roof is damaged or unsafe. If you are planning to make roofing changes, there are historic preservation considerations. Structures that have been designated as historical or are part of a historical district may be protected by local, state, and/or federal regulations. Your choice of historic roofing materials may be governed by building codes or other legal restrictions. Some building codes, however, permit variances for roofing materials used on a historic house, or in some cases, it may be possible to obtain an individual variance.

historic colonial revival home with pillar aesthetics and balcony

Choosing the right roof can be challenging since the original materials may be difficult, expensive, or even impossible to obtain now. But choosing the wrong roof will make it look unharmonious. Along with following restrictions and code, matching the original style and materials, as closely as possible, should be your goal.

Identify Your Style

Here are a few styles often seen in historic homes:

  • Victorian roofs had features such as turrets, dormers and rounded domes. The eaves may have decorative trim, and the roof may have slate or wooden shingles.
  • Federal style, common from 1780-1820, is often seen on the east coast. Look for simple gable shapes and a hip roof with a balustrade.
  • Medieval and Gothic style roofs are easily recognizable. They often have several gables, including a pointed gable over the entrance.
  • Craftsman roofs usually have wooden shingles, exposed rafters and a shallow pitch. These homes have a clean and simple style.
  • Dutch Colonial roofs have steep roof lines and square dormers. You may have this roof if it looks bit like a barn roof.

Identify Your Materials

As long as there have been houses, natural materials, such as stone, wood, or earth, have been used for roofs. Manmade materials, such as asphalt, stainless steel, and aluminum, became more common starting in the 20th century. If you are not sure what type of roofing material you have, check any blueprints, specifications, or photographs of your home.

Here are several commonly used roofing materials:

  • If you have a Dutch Colonial or Craftsman style house, wood shingles are likely installed.
  • If your home is Gothic or Victorian, you may have a beautiful slate roof. 
  • If the style of your home is Federal or Colonial, you may have a simple metal roof. For a more rustic look, tin or steel were used. Many elegant homes had copper roofs. 

If you are unable to duplicate the original roof, there are many modern roofing materials that can give you a historic look. Check with a professional roofing company to learn about custom shingle shapes, clay or cement tiles, clever historic color matching, and more. For further questions on choosing a roof for your historic home, contact us today.

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