The Ill-Logics of Petrochemical Roofing
When old roofing is removed from buildings, it is trucked to landfills.Non-biodegradable, petrochemical roofing made of asphalt and fiberglass typicallylasts about 20 years, and then is discarded. Roofs such as these that are guaranteed(by the manufacturer) to fail in two decades are also guaranteed to clog landfillsyear after year after year.According to scientific studies, construction and demolition debris makes up 28% ofthe weight and 28% of the volume of the mixed refuse in landfills, and is much moresignificant to landfill management policy than styrofoam, fast-food packaging,disposable diapers, and the totality of plastic packaging combined! About one-fifthof all construction debris is roofing waste.
Speaking to sustainability, one critical construction detail that is often overlooked indesign and construction of healthy and environmentally friendly buildings is roofingmaterials. Truly, there are few “sustainable” options when it comes to providingoverhead protection from the elements. But there are alternatives to “disposable”roofing such as fiberglass or asphalt shingles. They include wood shingles, ceramictile, and slate (stone). Historically, natural, durable stone roofs were the norm in theeastern U.S. as well as in much of Europe. Although permanent roofs are still thestandard in Europe, in the U.S. sadly, many of these roofs are now being destroyedand replaced with throwaway fiberglass shingle roofs. One of the unfortunate consequences of America’s throwaway mentality is the lossof thousands of perfectly good slate roofs, which are ripped off and destroyed bythoughtless roofers who can’t be bothered with recycling anything. The slates aredumped in landfills and the roof is replaced with disposable, petrochemical roofingwhich is destined to continue clogging landfills indefinitely. American homeownersare apparently unaware that natural slate roofs are inherently repairable. Or thatreclaimed slate can be used in fabricating a new roof.
From Rock to Roof
The product of millions of years of of sedimentation and geological metamorphosis,roofing slate is composed primary of mica (silicon dioxide) and quartz, two mineralsthat crystallize in thin, easily separated layers. The finished product is a finelylayered stone that can be easily split, somewhat like a deck of cards. Slate isharvested in quarries all over the world: from India to China to Wales and theeastern United States. The color and characteristics of slate vary from region toregion. Slate from Vermont and New York may be purple, green, gray, red or black;Canadian and Welsh slate may be black, purple, green, or even blue.Besides the inherent beauty and aesthetic quality of slate, it is extremely durable andlong-lived: most slate will last from 55 to 400 years on a roof in the United States.Because the quality and characteristics of slate can vary from quarry to quarry, it isimportant to determine where the slate came from by consulting with a roofingcontractor who specializes in slate, if possible. Although the number of individualsspecializing in slate roofing has dwindled, there is a growing effort to sustain theseartisans and to help them continue their legacy of craftsmanship. So including a slateroof in the construction of your home means that you are not only preserving a pieceof history, but supporting a centuries-old craft and advocating the use of a benignand sustainable building material.
Building environmentally sustainable homes means adapting their design to includeboth local and recycled materials. Roofing slate is natural, affordable, salvageable,and recyclable. Recycling hard slate roofs is a good way to get an excellent roof fora new building with an inimitable antique appearance that will last a century. It has alongevity and aesthetic unmatched by any other roofing material available.
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