Slate roofs are often considered fairly low tech, and fairly expensive as far as a roofing investment goes. Slate is a natural stone, and when used to properly shingle a roof, has been seen to last anywhere from 100 to 200 years with little to no problems involving leaking or failing. However, like any sort of project, there are certain considerations that one should look at when considering a slate roof. They can be high quality, but there are certain conditions and circumstances under which slate roofs will fail.
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The first seeds of a slate roof's failure can be planted as soon as it's installed. Since slate roofing is considered an older type of roofing technique, not as many roofers are familiar with how it should properly be done. As such, shoddy workmanship, or even shoddy repairs on an existing slate roof, are often culprits for why these roofs fail. Other problems that may cause slate roofs to fail are that the hardware holding it together, such as the flashings and the nails, are not properly maintained and replaced over time. Nails, boards, and other parts of the roof don't have the same life expectancy as the slate, and will have to be replaced when they wear out. Slate roofs are designed to be taken apart so that individual pieces can be removed and replaced, which is part of what gives them their great longevity. However, they still have to receive regular upkeep, or the whole roof will fall.
The biggest reason that slate roofs fail is time. Different varieties of slate have different life expectancies. For instance, black slate from Pennsylvania can be estimated to late roughly 120 years before it has to be replaced. In additional to the life expectancy of the slate itself, there are usually weaknesses in the slate that time will bring to light. Like any natural stone, individual tiles may have cracks and fissures that only manifest with time. As individual slate tiles break or fall out of the roof, though, they can easily be replaced to maintain the life of the roof. Not replacing those tiles will put more strain on the entire roof, and cause the whole structure to fail in the end.
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