Europe in the Suburbs of Chicago: Synthetic Slate Shingles

real slate chicagoWhen you think “Europe”, you think Old Towns and churches. When you think of an Old Town, you imagine a sea of real slate rooftops… as far as an eye can see. Is it possible to replicate this look somewhere in the Western Suburbs of Chicago? Better yet, should one attempt replicating it? What are the options, benefits, pros and cons of a slate roof in the Chicago area?

First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “slate.” Tiles that you see in Europe are real (authentic) slate. Authentic slate shingles have been the roofing material of choice for centuries throughout Europe. In the United State, real slate is relatively rare and is usually reserved for buildings like cathedrals, certain museums or libraries.

The beauty of authentic slate comes at a high cost, however, in terms of production, installation and durability: It’s expensive to produce, heavy to lift for transport and installation, fragile to cut and nail, and cracks easily once installed.  The latter is the biggest problem that we have with the real slate. A slate roof will easily last over 100 years, which is at least double of what other roofing materials can offer, but if for whatever reason shingle dislodges and falls, it will most likely shatter in pieces.

Once a tile is broken, replacing it is a complicated task. Slate runs by lots and each lot is different, which makes it nearly impossible to find replacement tiles that are a perfect match.

Anotherdrawback of slate is the heavy weight of slate roofing tiles, which can be between 800 – 1,500 pounds per square (100 square feet). As a result, not all homes have the structural support necessary to take the weight of a slate roof, and often additional reinforcement needs to be installed. This is especially true in colder, snowy climates like the one we have in Chicago. So if you’re considering real slate roof, have your roofer evaluate all the pros and cons and, especially whether your home can support real slate plus the weight of snow accumulation.

If this is made you have second thoughts about opting for authentic slate, don’t worry. There’s a solution that you may like just as much as the real slate, minus some of the risks and downsides.

Synthetic slate shingles are a modern improvement on a construction classic. Made from combinations of plastic and rubber, synthetic slate is designed to mirror the beauty and uniqueness of authentic slate without the expense or installation headaches. In addition, synthetic slate shingles last longer and they do just find in snowy climates like Chicago.

They’re made by injection-molding petroleum-based materials into metal forms that are cast from authentic slate. Some brands of synthetic slate shingles are manufactured with virgin rubber or plastic, while other products incorporate recycled rubber or plastic, mineral dust or cellulose fibers. Recycled content usually consists of high-quality post-industrial materials; only a few incorporate post-consumer recycled materials.

Therefore, synthetic slate is considered a green building alternative—even those that use virgin materials—because all types of synthetic slate can be recycled at the end of a roof’s usable life. Synthetic slate shingles are more durable than authentic slate, as they contain advanced ultraviolet inhibitors to reduce wear from the sun. Finally, they have built-in safety features. Synthetic slate typically contains impact modifiers to help withstand storm damage; in fact, most are certified by Underwriters Laboratories for Class 4 impact resistance, the highest level for roofing materials. Many synthetic slates also have the highest fire-resistance rating—Class A—which means they’re effective against severe exposure to external fires, are not readily flammable and do not spread fire.

On a scale comparing costs of conventional roofing materials, the initial cost of installing synthetic slate shingles falls in the middle—it’s more expensive than asphalt and architectural shingles and less expensive than clay tile and authentic slate.

Unlike less expensive asphalt shingles, however, synthetic slate roofs can last for up to 100 years, and the majority of synthetic slate shingles have 50-year warranties. The long life expectancy of this material means that a roof doesn’t have to be replaced in 15 or even 30 years, and also that fewer repairs are needed during the roof’s lifetime.

Many people love the elegance and durability of natural slate tile roofing, which is made from fine grained shale rock. However, the high cost of installation and materials makes slate too expensive and impractical for most homeowners. If that’s the case, synthetic slate roofing, which mimics the beauty of natural slate without the high price tag and heavy weight, is the best option.