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Faux Slate Roofing

Choosing A Synthetic Slate Roof

Faux slate roofing offers the best attempt at a real slate roof while striving to offset some of real slate's disadvantages. Just like with other faux products, synthetic slate roofing's success in achieving the goal of looking like a slate roof is really in the eye of the beholder. There are some products that do a pretty good job of mimicking their real-world counterparts. But whether or not an imitation slate roof really fools the eye is up to interpretation.

When it comes to performance the question of how well a faux slate roof lives up to the achievements of its namesake still remains to be seen. Real slate roofing has been around for a few centuries whereas synthetic slate is a relative newcomer on the roofing scene. Faux slate is also offered in a variety of materials and each has its own performance characteristics, benefits and drawbacks.

A synthetic slate roof can be a good alternative to real slate in the right circumstances. You just need to be diligent about understanding the differences between the various products as well as their highlights and shortcomings. From there you can make good informed decisions on whether imitation slate roofing is the right choice and if it is, which type of product to go with.

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What Do I Need To Know About Synthetic Slate?

Faux Slate Roofing - A Variety Of Material Choices

The first thing you should know about faux slate roofing is that it's made from several different types of material. There's not one tried-and-true material that encompasses all faux slate roofing but rather several choices, each with their own characteristics.

  • Plastic/Polymer Composite
    This material encompasses the products that are made from polymers and similar materials related to the plastics family. They're made as individual slate tiles with the exposed end molded with the ridges and riven look of real slate.

faux slate roofingPhoto Courtesy Of DaVinci Roofscapes

  • Clay
    Faux slate tiles that are clay-based are no different from a material perspective than other types of clay roof tiles such as the barrel tiles typical on homes with a Southwestern or Mediterranean motif. They're just molded to resemble the look of slate.
  • Fiber Cement
    Fiber cement is the combination of fiberglass and a cement mix. It's similar to fiber cement siding but rather than formed into long planks or shakes it's made into individual tiles that mimic the look of slate tiles.
  • Rubber
    This kind of faux slate shingle is made from recycled rubber or a combination of rubber and plastic. Some products are made from recycled tires offering a nice solution to a big waste problem. Rubber-based imitation slate shingles are usually more flexible than faux slate tiles made from other materials.

faux slate roofingPhoto Courtesy Of Euroshield

  • Steel
    There are some steel roofing manufacturers that make a steel roof tile in the shape of slate roofing tiles. The texturing might not be as defined as what's achievable on plastic or rubber faux slate tiles however.
  • Asphalt Composition
    While some may not classify these types of shingles as a faux slate they're still worth mentioning. The makers of traditional asphalt shingles also make premium asphalt shingles aimed at achieving the look of a slate roof. While they may not be mistaken for a slate roof their heft and thickness do provide a very textured look on a roof, similar to the "3-D" look of true slate.

asphalt faux slate roofingPhoto Courtesy Of CertainTeed Corp.

Important Features

Regardless of the type of faux slate you choose there are a few important features you'll want to pay attention to. The first has to do with fire and impact ratings.

Fire / Impact Rating

A shingle's fire rating defines how well it resists fire, avoids giving off burning particles and embers and how well it protects the roof deck. The Class A rating is the highest standard, followed by Class B and C.

There are faux slate roofing products on the market that meet Class A standards. Some products however are Class B or Class C. In some cases these products can be upgraded to Class A through the addition of special underlayments on the roof deck. These added treatments obviously add to the overall cost of your roof.

Impact rating is the shingle's resistance to damage from any sort of impact, whether it be from hailstones or some other object. Class 4 impact resistance is the best you can get and will afford you the greatest defense against impact damage.

Color Variation & Blending

Natural slate has varied colors and shade variations. Several makers of faux slate roofing products incorporate different colors and shades into their product lines. Some manufacturers offer pre-mixed packages of blended colors. You or your installer should use care when installing variable-shade synthetic shingles in order to get a natural blend across the roof.

synthetic slate roofingNote the subtle blend of gray shades
Photo Courtesy Of DaVinci Roofscapes

Proper Installation Is Important

Imitation slate roofing comes in a variety of forms and they're not all installed the same way. In other words, it's important that you and/or your installer knows how to install the particular type of faux slate you buy.

Each manufacturer provides distinct instructions and failure to comply with those instructions can void the warranty or worse, lead to problems with the actual performance of the shingles.

faux slate roofing installationPhoto Courtesy Of DaVinci Roofscapes

For example, some composite slate shingles require that the installer hand-bends the shingle in a downward fashion before it's installed and this is specifically called out in the installation instructions. Failure to do so could run the risk of the shingles actually curling upward over time.

Think About Using Snow Guards

Snow guards are small "steps" that stick out a few inches from the roof's surface down near the eaves (edges). Their purpose is to prevent large chunks of ice and snow from suddenly sliding off the roof which could damage property and people down below.

Faux slate roofs have a more slippery surface than an asphalt roof so if you live in a snowy climate and intend on installing this kind of roof, consider using snow guards, particularly for steeply pitched roofs.

faux slate roofing snow guardsSnow guards on a real slate roof


Makers & Brands Of Faux Slate Roofing

Along with the range of faux slate material choices comes an assortment of manufacturers and brands to choose from.

Here's a list of the prominent makers of faux slate roofing products:

Plastic/Polymer Composite

  • Authentic Roof
  • CertainTeed (Symphony product line)
  • DaVinci Roofscapes
  • Inspire Roofing Products
  • Tamko (Lamarite® product line)
  • Tapco Slate (available in the United Kingdom)
  • Titan Roof Systems

Rubber & Rubber/Plastic

  • EcoStar (contains recycled rubber and plastic)
  • Euroshield
  • Hi-Tek

Fiber Cement

  • Slate Select

Steel

  • Future Roof Systems

Asphalt

  • CertainTeed
  • GAF

Just a word about the asphalt faux slate -- (yes, even asphalt roofing manufacturers make a product to mimic the look of slate) -- Some might argue that asphalt shingles will never be mistaken for real slate, and that might be true. However the asphalt faux slates are several times thicker than conventional asphalt shingles and if anything, they provide the roof with a nice visual texture and more dimension than standard asphalt shingles.


Don't Buy Just Based On The Length Of The Warranty

Real slate has been used for a long time and has a proven track record as being one of the longest lasting roofing materials. Not surprisingly, it's that longevity that the faux slate makers are after as well. The only problem is that these materials just haven't been around long enough to bear that out.

When it comes to synthetic slate warranties be careful not to fall into the trap of immediately associating the warranty terms (duration) with how long that particular type of faux slate roofing will last. Just because the product comes with a 50-year warranty doesn't necessarily mean the product will last that long, particularly if it's a newer material like the polymer/composites or rubber.

This isn't to say that the manufacturers are trying to pull a fast one. They certainly put their products through accelerated environmental tests and try to extrapolate how long they think the product should last.

But there's no beating real world experience and until there's sufficient evidence that a product has "legs" and will perform for the long haul, be cautious.

Another point about roofing warranties is that you really need to understand what they do and don't cover. For the most part they're going to cover you against material and manufacturing defects. But if your faux shingles start to curl or warp or discolor, you may be out of luck. Your best bet: read the warranty closely before you buy.

You can read more about roofing warranties and what to watch for in this section of the article on choosing various roofing materials.

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Pros & Cons of Synthetic Slate Roofing

The typical purpose of any type of faux product is usually to engineer out the faulty characteristics of the real material while adding some beneficial attributes. Whether faux slate roofing products actually do that might still be open to debate depending on your perspective. They do have their positive features but like any product, there are some natural drawbacks as well.

The Pros....

  • Not As Costly As Real Slate
    Faux slate roofing offers you the look of slate without the full cost of real slate. However don't be fooled into thinking this is cheap roofing because it's not. Some imitation slate roofing material costs aren't that much lower than real slate but savings on installation will reduce your overall cost comparatively.
  • Good For Remodel/Re-Roof Applications

    faux slate roofingPhoto Courtesy Of DaVinci Roofscapes

    Imitation slate roofing is a good choice for remodels and existing homes that need a new roof. That's because with artificial slate you don't have the heavy weight associated with real slate which many homes weren't designed to handle.

    Using real slate on a home that wasn't built for slate means you'll have to have your roofing structure beefed up or at least analyzed by a structural engineer to determine if it can take the load.

  • Green (Environmental) Benefits
    Many faux slate roofing products are made from recycled materials and arguably some of the greenest are the rubber shingles made from recycled automobile tires like the Euroshield products. Depending on your perspective the quarrying of real slate scars the land and is not a renewable material source.
  • Greater Availability Of Installers
    Artificial slate shingles for the most part are designed to reduce the time and labor required to install them as compared to real slate. That means that a wider range of roofing installers, even some handy homeowners, can install them. Real slate installation requires some specialized skills and the availability of a good slate installer can be limited depending on where you live.
  • Some Faux Slate Products Are Recylable
    Besides being made from recycled materials there are synthetic slates that are recyclable as well. That means that leftover shingles and waste from a new roofing job or shingles that have expended their useful life can be recycled rather than thrown into a landfill. Manufacturers that offer these kinds of products clearly advertise this attribute so it's worth shopping around if this is an important feature for you.
  • More Tolerant Of Roof Traffic
    Faux slate roofing is more forgiving of foot traffic on the roof and general handling than real slate. Chipped and cracked genuine slate is thrown out adding to the overall cost due to the need to factor in a certain amount of material loss.

...and the Cons

  • Almost As Costly As Slate
    Yes, we just said it was "not as costly as slate" in "pros" section above but the point here is that faux slate roofing is still a premium-priced roof and depending on the specific type you choose, the cost can come close to a real slate roof. You'll need to decide if the other benefits of a faux slate roof justify the price differential between synthetic and real slate.
  • Not All Products Have Class A Fire Rating
    The Class A fire rating is the best grade a product can get. Not all imitation slate shingles have a Class A rating. For some products a Class A rating is achievable but it requires the installation of additional underlayments beneath the shingles, products that will add to the overall cost of the roof.
  • Longevity Is Still An Open Question
    Some faux slate products have been in the marketplace for 20 years, some 10 or fewer years. The intent is for these products to last a long time but their real longevity including how they look over time still remains to be seen. Contrast that with real slate, tile and asphalt which have established 'reputations' in the building product arena.

    Two exceptions to this include composition asphalt and clay-based tiles that mimic the faux slate look. These products have been used as roofing materials long enough to have established a good track record.

  • Plastic & Rubber Are More Flexible
    Flexible roofing isn't necessarily a bad thing (asphalt shingles are flexible too). But this natural characteristic of plastic and rubber make them more susceptible to warping or bending either because of long term environmental exposure (sun and wind) or simply poor installation.

    While there are reports of some early products exhibiting these problems after installation, it doesn't mean that they'll deform if installed correctly. However it's something to consider given the availability of 'stiffer' products like tile and fiber cement.

  • Looks Are Subjective
    Some faux slate roofing products do a better job at looking like real slate than others but everyone has a different eye when it comes to faux products. If you're determined to get the best looking imposter it may require that you obtain several samples and compare them from a distance to judge for yourself.

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How To Make The Best Choice

Making the best faux slate roofing choice really starts with a clear understanding of your reasoning for choosing synthetic over real slate. Be sure that it makes economic sense by balancing the cost savings of faux slate against the proven longevity of real slate.

synthetic slate roofingPhoto Courtesy Of CertainTeed Corp.

If you're a stickler on how things look and the choice between real and fake slate isn't separated by much (meaning real slate is still a consideration) get samples of actual slate and a few synthetic slates and compare them. Better yet, if it's possible look at houses in your area that have real slate and synthetic slate roofs. You can locate them by checking with local roofers that install these products.

Don't overlook the fact that samples might look different when they're installed on your roof, at a greater viewing distance, than when you're holding a sample in your hand. That's why it helps to actually see real roofs that have been covered in these products in order to get a sense of how they'll really look.

faux slate roofingPhoto Courtesy Of DaVinci Roofscapes

Once you've decided on a faux slate roof it comes down to which product satisfies you the most in terms of looks, options (like color selection and blending), performance record, and cost.

One of the best ways to start the winnowing process is to simply visit the websites of the various manufacturers to see photos of their products and get a feel for how they look. From there you can narrow down your list to a few that you want to "touch and feel".

One way to research a product's performance history is to speak with homeowners who have the product you're interested in. Faux slate roofing manufacturers and the roofing companies that install their products should have a reference list of people in your area who've bought the product. Look for references on the oldest installations and then get the skinny directly from those homeowners.

synthetic slate roofingPhoto Courtesy Of Euroshield

Getting samples takes a bit of doing as you'll need to contact each product maker to find local distributors. Some companies might send you some samples directly but others will refer you to a distributor.

Also, don't discount the possibility of the asphalt faux slate shingles. As mentioned above, they won't be mistaken for real slate shingles but on the other hand they can still offer you an attractive roof with good longevity for less money than a real slate roof.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Choosing The Right Type Of Roofing - There are many different types of roofing and this article sorts them out to help you choose your next roof.

Choosing Asphalt Roofing - It's a tried-and-true form of roofing but it's not all the same. Find out what choices you have and what you should consider before buying.

Energy Efficient Roofing - Did you know that roofs can be energy efficient? You might even get you a tax break too.

Home Design Help - Whether you're remodeling or building a new home figuring out how to take the next step is challenging. Find out where to go for the help you need.



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