Victorian Roofing Materials

Updated February 21, 2017

Built primarily from 1860 to 1900, Victorian buildings defined a variety of both residential and commercial styles. Their roofs reflected this variety, ranging from mansard---flat on top with steep sides---on Italianate style homes to sharp slopes on Gothic Revival homes. This diversity in roof types, plus advances in construction and building techniques, lead Victorian builders to adopt a variety of materials for use on their roofs.

Trusses, Joists and Rafters

Victorian builders made the roof's skeleton primarily from wood---especially Oregon pine, white spruce, hemlock and English oak---although they also used structural steel and wrought iron near the end of the Victorian period.


Over the rafters and under the roof top, contractors placed roofing felt---made of hair mixed with asphalt---or sheathing paper. They also covered knot holes in the rafters with galvanised iron or tin to ensure a smooth layer beneath metal roofs.

Flat Roofs

For flat roofs, Victorian builders placed five layers of roofing felt on the rafters, followed by a coat of cement, topped with a layer of gravel---also called slag. They also covered flat roofs with various types of metal, including tin, zinc, lead, copper and corrugated iron.

Sloped Roofs

Victorian builders most commonly used wood---fine cypress, redwood or cedar or lesser-quality pine or spruce---or slate shingles---typically blue, red, green, black, grey or purple---on sloped roofs. They also used tin, copper, zinc or milled lead sheets---especially for porch roofs---and fired clay tiles---often in a reddish-brown colour.


To prevent leaky roofs, the builders lined any joints, angles and projecting elements, such as chimneys, walls and skylights, with flashing---or metal pieces made of tin, zinc, copper or lead.


Builders added purely decorative cast-iron roof cresting---spikes, spindles and other elements---along roof peaks to make the roofs seem even taller.

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About the Author

Based in Brazos County, Texas, Jennifer Wiginton has been writing and editing since 1989. She has published two cookbooks and articles in “The Joyful Woman” and “The Common Bond.” Wiginton has two degrees and a Certificate in Homeland Security from Texas A&M University.