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Choosing your Roofing Materials

Choosing your Roofing Materials

Before sitting down and wading through catalogues of roof tiles and roofing materials, it’s probably a good idea to take a step back and think about your roof, property and location as one complete picture.

hand cut forna slate installed on a conical roof
Slate Roof Tiles to Protect Your Property

For a start, it’s the roof that will protect your property, and it needs to withstand all that British weather can throw at it for many years to come. It’s also one of the first things that people see when they look at your house. A great roof that fits in with the local surroundings may make your property easier to sell and could well add significant value.

Our series of Quick Guides are designed to help you understand a little more about the roofing materials available today, some of their pros and cons, as well as a few hints and tips to help you get best value for your money.

Popular Roofing Materials

Each type of roof material has unique properties that make it more or less suitable for particular styles of property, locations or budgets. The design you choose will depend on your own preferences, your budget, planning restrictions and the size and style of your roof. You may also wish to consider following the lead of other roofing stock in the area your property is located:

a close up of a penrhyn welsh slate roof
Beautiful Hard Wearing Penrhyn Slate

Slate – slate has been a popular roofing choice since Victorian times. With the best slate offering a natural finish, low maintenance and an expected life of well over 100 years, it can offer you great value for money. What’s more, slate can be fixed to most roof designs and rarely looks out of place.

Remember that most natural slate should normally only be installed on roof pitches of more than 27 degrees. Because it is a natural material, it also requires a little more skill to install than standard roof tiles. There are however several manmade slate-like alternative roofing materials which have a similar look and are far easier to lay, especially for the inexperienced roofer. Some of these can also be used on lower pitches than natural slate.

Whilst prices of slates vary between £10 and £150 per square meter, expect to pay somewhere around £25-£35 per meter for a good quality slate that you can expect to last upwards of 75 years or so.


Tiles – perhaps due to the wide choice of colours, shapes and quality available, roof tiles excite more conversation and debate than almost any other roofing material.
 close up of a roof made from dreadnought red clay tiles

As well as being able to manufacture specific sizes, shapes and colours, some tiles can be made to interlock with one another. Apart from making them easy to install, this feature allows them to be used on low roof pitches – some as low as 15 degrees (far lower than any natural slate).

The lifetime expectancy of tiles varies considerably – dependent on the type of tile and local conditions, expect them to last anything between 30 and 70 years.

If you are reading this article in Britain, then you are spoilt for choice. Many of the world’s leading tile companies with heritage dating back many hundreds of years are located here - finding your ideal tile shouldn’t be too difficult.

Budget tiles, mass-produced from concrete and costing from as little as £7 per square meter are readily available in plain shapes and colours. Tiles with more interesting profiles and cambers (curves in their profiles) are available in richer colours as you head up the price scale, with the best handmade clay tiles costing anything upwards of £50 per square meter.

Thatch – thatched roofs look beautiful, are great insulators and are full of old-world charm. Contrary to expectation, if treated with respect they should not present too significant a fire risk. They do take time to install and are considerably more expensive. They also require a lot of maintenance - you should budget to replace your thatched roof every 30 years or so.

Thatch is most suitable for use on steeper roofs with a pitch of at least 45°.

pretty plants make up this green roof above a classy wooden building
Green or Eco Roofs Need Careful Planning

Green roofs – Green or turfed roofs are a popular feature of many new eco-buildings. As well as adding an interesting visual dimension, they have great insulating properties. Green roofs are typically built up in layers and best suit modern design buildings with a fairly shallow pitch. Designers should pay careful attention to the waterproofing system, of which many different types are available.

For the owner, it is well worth looking at the final specification prior to choosing a green roof design. You may find that the materials that make up the waterproofing layers (bitumen membranes, mastic asphalt or polymer fabrics) challenge your eco requirements – natural slate might be a greener choice.

Green roofs also require a lot of regular maintenance. Because many of the new systems have only been in use for a relatively short time, lifetime expectations are as yet unproven in the long term.

Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings

In a listed property, it is likely that you will be required to replace roofing materials like-for-like. Where original stock is not available (or is far too costly to be realistic), speak to your planning officer and try to obtain a list of modern alternative materials that are allowable. Reclaimed slate or tiles may be one alternative solution in these instances.

Even if your property is not listed or located in a conservation area, it’s always worth checking with your local authority or housing association to find out if there are constraints on the type or colour of roofing material that you may use.

You may also be interested in:

Previous article An introduction to Natural Roof Slates from around the world
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