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The Nostalgic Roof

Even if you live in a house from the bungalow era, chances are your roof is covered in asphalt. Nothing wrong with that: at $1 to $3 per square foot, the ubiquitous asphalt shingle is by far the most affordable roof you can buy.

ABOVE: Multiple colors and a staggered edge make Elk Corp.’s TruSlate approximate a slate roof in the picturesque, old-world style of the 1920s.

If you are wondering what might have been (or are thinking of recapturing an old look in a new house), turn to time-honored materials that are still available today: wood shingles, clay tile, concrete, slate, and metal. You can also choose from manmade roof-toppers that offer savings in weight and installation costs.

Real wood shingles

Real wood shingles have the organic look that matches the bungalow aesthetic. 

Natural WOOD shingles in red or white cedar are the classic finishing touch for a shingled or lap-sided bungalow, preferably over a deck that features exposed rafter tails. A thicker, more rustic version of the shingle is the shake. Shakes are more thickly cut, suggesting a hand-split appearance, while shingles are thinner, tapering in thickness toward the top. Although they are banned outright in some locations in fire-prone California, wood shingles can achieve a Class A fire rating via factory-applied treatments.

Look-alikes include COMPOSITES made of polymers and fiberglass, or even metal. Many of these composites not only look like real wood shingles, but also have a dimensional texture that “reads” as wood once they’re installed.

Clay tiles from Northern Roof Tile.

Clay tiles adapt to romantic looks, like this “cottage” effect from Northern Roof Tile.

Prized for longevity measured in centuries rather than decades, CLAY tile is produced in various shapes from flat to undulating. Depending on the style, they overlap or interlock. The names suggest origins and architectural influences: Roman (pan tile), Mission (barrel), Spanish (S-shaped), French (interlocking), and English (flat or interlocking). Roman, Mission, and S tiles all have a rounded shape, but there are differences in each profile that create variations in how they look on a roof. Of the interlocking styles, French is most easy to recognize: it features fluted grooves. English tiles resemble hand-hewn shakes or slate.

CONCRETE appeared during the Arts & Crafts era, making this venerable replica for clay tile and slate a period-appropriate choice. Concrete tile can even mimic wood shingles: Vande Hey Raleigh’s concrete Shake produces a profile with relief similar to hand-hewn shakes. Good-quality concrete tile usually comes with a 50-year warranty.

SLATE was more popular as a roofing treatment for early 20th century homes in “English” styles like Tudor Revival than for bungalows. You can still spot standard or picturesque slate (a style with ragged-edged slates of different colors) on English- and Cotswold Cottage-influenced homes. For that reason, slate is also a good option for homes with “cottage” detailing. Like clay, it lasts at least a lifetime, so it’s a good choice for architecturally significant homes.

The METAL roofs that appeared on early-20th-century homes were usually galvanized steel, often in metal “tiles” with embossed patterns of diamonds or chevrons. Metal also appeared on cutting-edge dwellings like the Prairie Modern homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and others. Contemporary options include aluminum and steel (often finished in factory-applied coatings in colors from bone white to burgundy), and copper. All are long-lived roof toppers.

How do they compare?

Check out our roofing materials chart to see how they compare:

roofing materials chart

Our roofing materials chart. 


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