Chapter 1:7 Preservation movement, and copper roofing

Chapter 1:7 Preservation movement, and copper roofing

If the goal of permanent roofing is to last the lifetime of the structure, we can agree that most of the historical American designs; while durable are not permanent. A survey of the original roofing stock in any old city will produce a few examples of this original “golden era” terneplate work still functioning. Most of these examples of surviving work are very simple hip or gable roofs, with no or few soldered details. The majority of this work failed, within 100 years or less. As is evidence by a scan of any skyline in historic neighborhoods where most properties are now with asphalt shingles and disposable products.

It didn’t have to be this way though…

We’ve already identified the differences between american tin-shop work and traditional European, guild-influenced metal roofs. The main factor is education of the installer. Guilds were expensive, they required patronage, much like any form of higher learning. The patron invest in the student while they are learning, under the assumption it will pay dividends in the future. This system actually worked for them: cover the expenses of the student while they are learning and once they graduate and start working, you get a much better product. We didn’t have patrons willing to fund schools here, and we had a market that rewarded the “good enough” approach of those who were willing to attempt the work without formal training. We are now holding the bag in the form of deteriorating historic roofs, and a labor force that has no direction on how to rebuild them properly.

There are a number of large roofing companies that specialize in these high-end products, and countless small shops that do slate and copper residentially anywhere where we have a building stock with these original roofs, The quality of most of this work is measured based on the standards of the american tin-shop approach. Soldering roofing elements is considered workmanlike, commendable even. The same work winning awards and accolades here in the states, if inspected by a guild member would get you thrown out of class.

Of the market leaders surveyed in the midwest: There is an extreme deficiency in the knowledge of solder-less, fully seamed roofing, in keeping with the best standards. This is not really subjective as Europe has a 1200 year tradition of seamed roofing in all weather conditions. They have roofs that are older than our country, still standing, and still giving a return on initial investment. They have also codified the guild system into a modern secondary education program, complete with standards, and a governing body to ensure those licensed to practice metal roofing are getting the proper training, and maintain integrity in design and execution throughout their career.

I’m looking at you: veterans of the industry in America. The ones who’ve won awards doing flat-lock and half-hearted attempts at copperwork. You’ve made a lot of money doing “good enough” roofs, and passing the buck onto this generation. None of this information was readily available and my thesis has developed over 14 years of studying this industry and the history, and what happened to the quality. You wonder why there’s no young folks wanting to enter the trades? There is no incentive without the patronage and education. First step is accepting you have a problem.

Regional Styles Chapter 2:1 Virginia