There are few metals more intimate to human history than copper. It helped human-kind transition from the bootstrapping stone age to the metal obsessive bronze age. Since around 3500 BCE, humanity has used copper for everything; from weapons to pipes to bowls to all manner of farming tools. And eventually, threads of copper would tie the world up with a nice digital bow. Amusingly, early humans often noticed another popular metal – gold – in close proximity to their copper deposits. And while gold is easy to shape, it isn’t nearly as hard once cooled and poorly suited to the hard life of a tool or weapon. Gold, then, became the stuff of jewelry and pure luxury, and copper would rise higher thanks to its utility and beauty.
As smelting processes became more advanced and larger quantities of copper could be forged into more complex and larger shapes, this wonder metal would find its way into our buildings, sculptures, and other works of enduring art. Some of America and Europe’s best known landmarks have the kiss of copper. Consider Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia. With its 77 foot domed copper roof, Jefferson hoped it would represent “the authority of nature and power of reason.” Or that Bartholdi and Eiffel chose copper when they designed The Statue of Liberty to best represent American liberty. High praise indeed.
Copper, alongside steel and zinc, are popular metal roofing materials because of their beauty, flexibility, and lasting durability. Among these three, copper is considered the premier choice. While copper first shines a warm bronze, its color and texture quickly changes, sometimes within a few days, when exposed to open air and atmosphere. The dazzling, but short lived shine fades to a deeper brown, followed by the soft green we all know and love. This surface coating is called Verdigris Patina; the metal’s surface combines with airborne pollutants to form a sturdy carbonate layer. Mix in some acid rain and sulfur and this thin crust will turn green (in a decade or two). Unlike rust, this extra layer protects the underlying copper from further corrosion and is considered by most a great improvement over the classic copper shine.
Consumer interest in natural roofing materials – like copper and slate – has brought fresh attention to the art of metal roofing and its material advantages. Among modern architects, copper is a popular choice thanks to its flexibility, beauty, and sustainability. In the right hands, copper can be bent and soldered into almost any shape. Yet the antique patina of a well-aged, but nonetheless sturdy copper roof has an entirely different character than their still brilliant children. Two very different roofs, both absolutely copper.
As the centuries pass, old American homes may see their interior and exterior envelopes transform from one style to the next. Lead free piping; new paint or plaster; fresh electric, telephone, or Ethernet wiring, revamped mechanicals; and so on. And yet often enough, the original copper roof remains, patina intact, adding olde-world character to the modern amenities inside. Like slate and clay tile, copper roofs endure with grace, becoming more beautiful over time, their warm bronze transforming into soft green.
So long as you keep up with your copper roof’s occasional maintenance, of course. Nothing so wonderful can be completely effortless. But your reward is a durable and ever more beautiful roof.
A well maintained copper roof can last centuries. It brings incredible value to the home and anyone fortunate enough to live beneath it. But generational value, the stuff of monarchs, churches, and lasting institutions, is a tough sell in a world of throw away, pocket prone supercomputers.
And yet today’s consumers, usually so fickle with their technology, are showing renewed interest in natural, sustainable, recyclable, and resilient building materials. Perhaps forward-thinking durability isn’t such an antiquated idea.
Copper, as a natural and fully recyclable product with high recovery value, rarely finds its way into a landfill. That would be a tragic waste. The raw material can be used again, countless times for countless new products, even if its career as a roof has ended. Contrast this against composite or asphalt shingles that are fully synthetic, enjoy shorter lifespans, and frequently wind up in dumps where they winnow down into tiny plastic particles instead of biodegrading.
These synthetic products can’t be transformed into anything else; they’re simply waste, accumulating in our oceans, and they’ll remain waste for eons.
Copper is natural, harmless, and infinitely reusable. In a world of increasing scarcity, true re-usability is incredibly rare and equally valuable. Particularly so for copper.
Among other popular metal roofing options, copper is king. Unlike steel, copper won’t rust or corrode, nor will it need to be painted at any point in its lifecycle. After decades of exposure to rain, snow, and sleet, this lack of extra maintenance can result in serious money and time saved. The accumulating patina will shroud the original copper, protecting it against the battering storms, snows, and baking days to come.
Copper offers a permanence that few roofing materials - save for slate and clay tiles - can boast. And like slate and clay tile, copper is fire resistant. Unlike slate, copper is lightweight and can put less strain on a home not suited to the natural weightiness of stone. Although modern hooking systems can help older homes bear the extra weight, an airy metal like copper can be a beautiful and resilient substitute. Lighter building materials bring more installation choices, adding to copper’s popularity among architects.
Armoring your home in copper will save you considerable worry through the coming decades.
As storm systems change and the climate becomes more volatile, copper and other naturally durable materials are a smart investment. But alongside storms come wind, intense cold, unexpected heat and blanching sunlight. While copper can endure the worst of it, its thermal properties demand special installation precautions. Copper will expand as it warms and contract as it cools, more so than other roofing materials. Variations in temperature will cause the metal to travel, taking up more or less space, cracking insecure seams and putting immense pressure on adjacent roofing structures if left with no place to go.
Improperly sealed seams, the use of caulk instead of lead-free solder, insufficient or misplaced expansion joints, and countless other missteps are the hallmarks of an inexperienced roofer, and taken individually guarantee early failure. When you choose your copper roofing contractor, pay special attention to their experience, training, and project portfolio, as well as how they conduct follow-up quality control. Cut no corners and choose the most experienced copper roofer available.
Copper’s potential, whether as ornamentation, gutters, or roof, is limited only by the imagination of the architect or craftsman. Copper roofs are usually assembled using either a continuous sheet of metal, laid down as interlocking panels, or with numerous overlapping shingles. Continuous sheeting requires precise measurement for an exact, seamless fit. It is a unique, one-off specialty job, and so less common than panels. Copper panels tend to be cheaper, and come in standardized widths. This convenience entails very visible seams, where the panels are sealed together. Standing seam copper roofs are crimped together; others might be soldered or welded. Copper shingles are inexpensive, relatively, but care must be taken to avoid damage to the material. Copper shingles require copper fasteners, instead of steel or aluminum, to avoid the unusual reaction copper has when it comes in prolonged contact with other metals. Copper can be cranky, and it bears repeating: experienced roofers are essential.
Whichever style you decide, a copper roof is a sound investment. It can increase the monetary value of your home, boost its curb appeal, and inspire confidence in potential buyers. It’s a metal roof. There’s not much to worry about, so long as someone has kept up with occasional maintenance. Among the drably outfitted asphalt homes, limping along from decade to decade on tar patches and roof replacements, any copper roof is a seductive conversation piece.
To defray some of the installation and material cost of a new copper roof, it is common to cover only some portions of the roof, or limit its application to a spire, balcony, turret, or awning. Even in smaller quantities, a properly soldered copper seam, valley, or chimney flashing will offer considerable protection from water, while providing the lasting beauty of metal instead of unsightly tar or caulk.
True for any contracting work, but especially so for premium materials like slate, clay roofing tiles, and copper, is the importance of experience and skill for roofing repairs and installations. Sure, copper is durable and flexible, and you would expect to always get a capable contractor for a premium material. But due diligence is still key. Even the best roof will fail early if installed by clumsy, inexperienced jack-of-all-trades contractors. Beware, too, excessive discounts meant to seduce buyers. You might find yourself dealing with thin air when their shoddy work fails.
Look for a roofing contractor that stands by their work. Recognized for integrity in business practice and quality of craft. The Durable Slate Company has completed thousands of roofing projects, in copper of course, but also slate and clay tile. We are masters of historical preservation and specialty roofing materials. We have been awarded time and again for ethical business practices and our world-class craftsmanship. Save yourself the heartache of a questionable contractor and the dread of a leaky roof; choose The Durable Slate Company.