How Long Does a New Slate Roof Last?

There are basically 2½ answers to this question:

  • As little as 10-12 years with signs of failure as early as 3 years
  • As much as 150 years or more—or somewhere in between

To arrive at the answer for you, it’s like pretty much anything else in life; the quality of materials and workmanship will determine the lifespan of your new slate roof. That will come as no surprise so let us help you better understand how to acquire a slate roof you’ll only need to do once in a lifetime.

One good reason so many Melbourne homes and buildings have slate roofing is the proven performance to withstand everything the Melbourne climate can throw at it: salt air, high velocity winds, torrential downpours, hail, snow and ice, intense solar heat and rays, our roofs take a beating. Yet there are period homes in excess of 150 years old with the original slate roofs. That’s proven performance!

To achieve that on your own roof, you’ll need roofing slate with proven performance and a slate installer with proven experience. You also want to be sure you’re getting a written warranty.

Since we’ve outlined these important factors, it’s only fitting we include our own credentials. We’ve been doing slate roofs since 1980 and the experience predates that back to the 1970’s apprenticing under a lifelong master slater. Most of our slating team members exceed 10 years experience. Our workmanship warranty is 50 years and we offer slate tiles with up to a 100 year warranty.

Qualified slate roofing companies are easy enough to identify because they can prove their experience and are not put off by your wise concerns. The dodgy slate roofers do not stand up well to scrutiny. Considering what’s at stake, that bit of due diligence on your part is well worth the effort. Do that and the 100+ year life expectancy on your new slate roof will be your reward.

What Maintenance Does a Slate Roof Require?

Many of the slate roofs around the Melbourne area, like many other places, are located in leafy places. A leading cause of slate roof failures that we see is from leaves and other debris clogging the gutter and drainage system. For this reason, an annual or biannual cleaning of the gutters is highly recommended.

Beyond that, a properly installed new slate roof of good quality, or a fully restored original slate roof, will be essentially maintenance free for many years. However, as the slate roof ages, we advise a professional inspection at least every 2-3 years. Many homeowners wisely choose an annual inspection to safeguard against unpleasant and expensive surprises from water damage.

This isn’t technically maintenance but a word of caution is also appropriate. If other services such as painting, TV or satellite antennas, solar heating, and so on are performed on your home or structure, a slate roof professional should also be consulted. Other tradesmen, or kind souls helping out, are not always aware of the damage they can inflict on a slate roof.

The operative word here is good quality slate properly installed. Once you have that, very little maintenance is required.

What Type of Roof Slate Should I Use On My Home?

The short answer is the best you can find and/or have a proven master slater help you choose. When it comes to slate tiles, the illusion of a low price often serves as a disguise for your most expensive option, especially given the fact that once you get burned, you’ll end up paying what you should have invested the first time.

The advice to speak with a professional isn’t just because of our bias as professionals, it just makes sense for many reasons. The know the characteristics and quality of slate on the market, they can evaluate the style of your home and offer the best choice of options, they can listen to your needs and preferences before offering your most suitable choices, you can see and feel the slate material you are considering, and the consultation to provide these services is usually free.

Once you have been presented with your slate choices, the slate roofer, or slate tile supplier, can provide pictures of homes completed with the slate tiles you are considering. Even better, you may be able to see the home or homes which is far better than a picture. We would recommend viewing the oldest example so you can see for yourself how well the slate tiles have aged.

If you’ll permit us a self promotional boast, Abardeen has been slating roofs since 1980 and we’ll gladly show off our earliest work because we’re quite proud of it.

This ought to be your instinct but we’ll mention the importance of a written guarantee anyway. Ours is 50 years on the workmanship and you can get up to a 100 year warranty on our favorite and best slate tiles. By contrast, we’ve seen slate roofs fail in as little as 3-4 years so that warranty is really, really important!

Follow these guidelines and you’ll discover your choices in color, texture, quality, longevity, and everything else you need to make your home and slate roof aesthetically beautiful and stay that way.

Why Do So Many “New” Slate Roofs Fail?

The answers to that question probably aren’t going to offer very many surprises, but the one factor that does surprise people is how quickly a new slate roof can fail. It can happen in as little as 3 years! Most owners of a bad slate roof learn that lesson the hard way but if you’re one of the few people who ask this question beforehand, congratulations.

This is going be less about why a slate roof can fail so you can avoid having it happen, or worse, having it happen again if you’ve already been burned. Knowing why they fail does equip you to avoid the heartbreak and expense of a failure.

Not all slate is created equal

In other words…quality. Slate is a natural product. Many people falsely assume that because slate is mined from the earth, it is essentially all good. That is very incorrect. The facts are that slate varies widely in its resistance to moisture and water absorption, delaminating, its stability and longevity, and its overall suitability for being used on your roof.

Another factor that is not helping your situation is that testing slate quality is voluntary so a great deal of slate being sold on the market isn’t tested, or it is only tested for a standard used to mislead uninformed buyers. The downside for natural products is they don’t have the same accountability that applies to the manufacturers of manmade roofing products.

There are stringent testing standards like the French NF30 which is generally regarded by experts as the most rigorous testing standard in the world. Having slate tiles that pass tough testing standards may appear to make them cost more, but the reality is, if you don’t have the right slate quality installed, you’ll just spend money on better quality later, and that’s the real expensive option.

Poor quality workmanship

Again, no surprises as we state the obvious, but unqualified slate roofers are at least as bad as poor quality slate material. We dedicated much of our previous post (and other posts) into some basic rules for qualifying a good slate roofer, but because so many new slate roofs in the Melbourne area have suffered the consequences of poor quality workmanship, we can’t overemphasize how important this is.

Melbourne is subject to torrential downpours. That’s what makes slate such a great choice when quality tiles are properly installed. But improperly installed, all the benefits get cancelled out. Melbourne is also subject to some high velocity winds. Properly installed, your slate roof is like armor plating. But poorly installed your slate tiles can become dangerous projectiles posing a serious threat to persons and property.

Climbing on the roof

Slate roofing will withstand everything nature can throw at it better than any other roofing material. People on the slate roof does not fall under the nature category. You should consult with a slate roof professional before anyone climbs on the roof. A satellite dish, skylights, or a better view are not worth ruining your slate roof for.

Warranty for a New Slate Roof

A particularly loaded question slate roofers get asked is, how long will the slate roof last, or, what is the warranty period?

One reason this is such a loaded question is the diversity among the slate roofers you would pose the question to. We of course can only answer that question for ourselves and not the other roofers. The short answer is we have a 50 year installation warranty. If you choose our highest grade Del Carmen slate tiles, the warranty is 100 years!

A slate roof should last you in excess of 150 years.

That’s the good news. It won’t surprise you that our statement about good news means we also have bad news. We’ve seen slate roofs fail in as little as 3-4 years. Not the ones we do, but unfortunately, anyone hiring a slate roofer can get burned if they take a warranty at face value.

We would never make an erroneous claim that a fair market price guarantees anything in choosing a slate roofer, but it is most definitely true that a low price is a major red flag and you are pretty much guaranteed to be buying a nightmare. Low price accompanies getting burned a whole lot more than often than not.

The roofing trade is high up the scale of industries prone to be populated by shady participants. It’s amazing how often and seemingly easily they find someone to rip off. The reason we call that amazing is that it’s fairly easy, and intuitive, to identify a qualified roofer.

Here are a few basic rules:

  • Length of time in business – One of the leading traits of a scammer is here today, gone tomorrow. Hiring someone without a demonstrated business history is a huge risk. For the record, Abardeen has been doing slate roofs since 1980.
  • Experience – Slate roofing takes years to master so experience is a must. Any company that hires slate roofers as a “summer job” should be avoided. This is a good place to mention most of our slate roofers exceed 10 years in their experience.
  • Specialize in slate roofing – Slate roofing is not something to “dabble” in and good slate roofers don’t dabble, they love what they do. If you don’t love it, you won’t want to do it. If slate roofing is a menu item on the list of services, you’ll do well to look elsewhere.
  • Reputation – A good reputation can’t be easily faked. The late former US President, Ronald Reagan, made the famous statement, “Trust but verify.” That’s good advice.
  • How the scaffolding is supplied – A serious slate roofer should own their own scaffolding. If the roofer needs to rent scaffolding, that signals a lack of business strength and opens you up to a couple of primary problems and risks. First, if they don’t complete the roofing on schedule, the rental prices escalate fast. You’ll pick up the tab. Second, renting the scaffolding naturally leads to taking shortcuts to reduce rental costs instead of taking the time to complete your slate roofing properly.

If you take this short list of intuitive steps to evaluate a slate roofer prior to hiring them, you can be confident any warranty they provide will be more than a worthless sheet of paper.

Slate Roofing Durability in Coastal Areas

The question often comes up about how well slate roofing holds up against the effects of coastal conditions like salt air, high winds, brutal winters, and other demands that nature throws at the roofs located in the coastal areas of Melbourne. The answer is divided into two seemingly paradoxical replies:

Slate roofing holds up exceptionally well against anything coastal conditions can throw at it, and, slate roofing can fail miserably when exposed to the ravages of salt air and other coastal conditions.

How can both be true?

Though they seem to contradict each other, the answer isn’t likely to surprise you when you have life experience. It all comes down to the quality of slate roofing materials used and skilled workmanship just like so many other things in life.

On the downside, salt air in coastal areas is a major catalyst for promoting rust. Nails used to secure slate roofing tiles to your roof can serve as a source for rust. Rust inevitably degrades the slate roofing and leads to delamination, cracking and/or breaking, leakage, and even dislodging of the slate tiles. High winds typical in coastal areas can turn slate roofing tiles into dangerous projectiles causing additional property damage or even personal injury.

How quickly can this failure occur?

As little as 3-4 years!

Yes, that sounds scary, and it should. But the good news is, there’s no better solution for roofing that endures the ravages of nature in coastal areas than slate roofing. Properly installed slate roofing tiles that are lab tested to assure strict quality standards for water and salt air resistance will protect your home or building for decades—typically 15 decades or longer!

Having a “master slater” doing your roof is vitally important. Due to the short life and premature failure, even potential danger of cheap slate roofing, it is no bargain. For a modest price difference, a proven professional will provide a roof that withstands the coastal conditions of Melbourne not just for your life, but your children’s and even grand children’s and great grand children’s.

The Slate Roofing On Your New Building Project

If you’re the builder or the owner of a new building (or new home building) project, you realize how interdependent all of the contractors are on each other to keep everything on schedule. That would especially apply to having a new slate roof put on. Many of the contractors can’t complete their part of the project until that new roof is finished.

Here’s a brief overview of items you should consider when hiring a slate roofing contractor:

  • Experience – Slate roofing requires years of experience and practice under the apprenticeship of a master slater to truly acquire the skill needed.
  • Reputation – As already pointed out, contractors depend on each other to complete a project on schedule. You want to be sure your slate roofer has a reputation respected by other contractors.
  • Safety – Not only is the safety of workers on the roof paramount, extra precautions need to be taken to insure the safety of everyone working below them. If the roofing quote is temptingly low, safety shortcuts are almost certainly being taken because you may not think to question this in advance.
  • Framing – Be sure the carpenter or framer has been provided with the proper specifications for the slate roofing being installed. Having an experienced slate roofing contractor involved in the early stages of your building project is highly advisable.

A new construction project should be exciting for you. Having something as beautiful and enduring as a slate roof should add to the excitement. Look around some of the Melbourne neighborhoods at other “new” projects and you’ll see not everyone gets exciting results. That’s sad but it doesn’t have to be that way. These few simple guidelines will help you remain excited even decades from now.

Designing and Building for a New Slate Roof

It should come as no surprise that when your new building project is to have the enduring beauty and resistance to nature that a slate roofing offers, the best time to prepare for that is in the design process so it can be implemented in the building process. Then a skilled slate roofer already has the proper framing and setup to install the slate roofing.

But how to get there and what to look for in a slate roofing contractor is the part we want to help you achieve. If you’re in the Melbourne, Australia area we serve, then it’s easier because at the risk of a shameless plug, simply call us. But if you’re not in Melbourne, then you’re still in the right place because this post will help you prepare on both the designing and building stages.

Whether you’re the architect/designer, builder, or even the owner, the same set of guidelines apply in finding a qualified slate roofer to collaborate with who will inevitably become the installer. The guidelines are fairly intuitive but still serve as a good checklist so these don’t get overlooked.

  • Experience – Slate roofing is a special skill that requires years of practice under the apprenticeship of a master slater. Given that old world standards for slate roofing means roofs that last 150+ years, this kind of experience isn’t too much to ask. Everything else below is really just a subset of slating experience.
  • Product knowledge – This ought to come with experience but is included for your consideration during the design and building stages. Look for a slate specialist who displays extensive knowledge of matching your project requirements to the best slate quality, color, texture, and style options and what you should expect with each.
  • Construction specifications – Slate roofing requires its own installation style and framing as indicated above. Unless you know exactly how to design and frame for the type of slate roofing being installed, look for someone forward thinking enough to provide, or at least examine in advance, carpentry specifications as part of their service when needed.
  • Reputation and reliability – Every construction project requires a team effort to keep everything on schedule and prevent the proverbial break in the chain. A wrong choice of contractor for ANY part of your project can not only disrupt scheduling, but poor craftsmanship can ruin someone else’s work. The other contractors already know this but if you’re the architect or owner looking for a slate roofer, you do well to verify their reputation.

We’ve kept it simple because it really doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, this can be summarized into something easier to remember. Slate roofing is more than a special skill that takes years to master, it requires someone willing to help you make the right choices and who recognizes the interdependency between the owner, architect or designer, builder, and every other contractor involved in the project. Remember that and you’ll have no regrets with your new slate roof.

Creating a Legacy Together

When you’re looking for a new slate roof, it’s much more than just a new slate roof. Those who would try to sell you on just price are doing you a serious disservice. They actually fail to recognize the value of what they are supposed to be providing you with. That’s truly a shame for both you and them.

In reality, your new slate roof is the birth of a legacy that will outlive you, the architect, the builder, and the slate roofer. We often work with all four when doing a slate roof and it’s great to work with people who understand they are creating something future generations will still be able to enjoy.

Perhaps you’ve never really thought about it in that light before. In the process of managing our hectic lives, and the need for a new slate roof enters into your life, it’s easy to forget that the choice you make in getting that roofing done has such enduring value. But at least now you know that we’re thinking about that when we’re doing your new slate roof.

Best Slate for New Slate Roofing

If you want to know which slate is best for a new slate roofing project, a recommendation from someone who has been slating roofs since the 1970’s certainly counts as a qualified authority. Add to that the fact that a roof completed in 1983 still looks as good as the day it was first completed, and you have a solid recommendation.

That slate material is Del Carmen Ultra and it is the defacto standard when you want the best slate roofing material for your new slate roof. There are many reasons we can make this claim but we’ll just cover the primary ones and skip the boring stuff that only us master slaters care about.

First, Del Carmen Ultra includes a 100 year warranty. We could probably stop right there because that alone tells you all those recently completed new roofs around the Melbourne area with visible premature failure is a problem you’ll never have to worry about.

Slate is a product of nature. That one attribute means we would have a hard time passing consumer protection laws mandating nature comply with manufacturing standards. The only enforceable course of action is testing. Many slate tiles on the market get zero testing. Knowing that, it shouldn’t surprise you that slate roofing failure is so prevalent.

Del Carmen Ultra undergoes rigorous testing to assure qualities such as 0.3% water absorption and the ability to endure salt air unscathed. Without testing standards, slate tiles are also susceptible to delamination, cracking, and breaking, and more; other conditions you’ll never have to worry about. These slate tiles undergo the toughest testing standards in the world.

Del Carmen Ultra slate tiles sold together are extracted from the same slate veins so you get consistent color and texture. That definitely is not true with many other brands.

Simply put, Del Carmen Ultra slate tiles are equal to the best in the world. Will you find others that are as good? We’re pretty sure you could. But finding any better, not when they have to pass the toughest standards on the planet.