Slate roofs have long been a symbol of wealth and elegance. Extremely expensive to install, real slate can last for decades, with premium slate sometimes outlasting the house itself. Just as clapboard siding has been replaced by vinyl siding that needs less maintenance and care, synthetic slate roofs have begun to gain in popularity. Lightweight and made of recycled rubber or polythene plastics, synthetic slate tiles are faster to install, cost a fraction of real slate and are close enough in looks to fool the casual eye. Unfortunately, the trade-off in cost results in a trade-off in quality.
Look and Feel
Take a close look at a real slate roof. It has differences in texture, colour variations between tiles, slightly irregular edges and an overall look of weight and permanence. Then, look at a synthetic slate roof. Though technology can imitate these imperfections, it can't quite achieve them. It's the same difference between wooden and vinyl siding. Vinyl siding has a uniform, stamped wood grain and looks thinner and flimsier than wood. Maybe you won't notice a false slate, but maybe on your fine old house, you will.
Durability and Wear
Real slate lasts a century or more. It takes a long, long time for rain and snow to wear away stone. Synthetic slate will only tolerate normal wear and tear for about as long as asphalt shingles, maybe a little longer because the rubber or plastic is slightly thicker. That's only 20 to 25 years. Storms and high winds can accelerate damage to these tiles because of the exact reason they are so inexpensive--their lightweight, cheap construction. Hot sun can cause expansion of the materials, loosening, warping and fatiguing them.
A real slate roof is extremely expensive in both material and labour costs, but it adds a tremendous value to your property because it's a roof the next owner will never have to worry about unless a tree falls on it. This is not the case with synthetic slate tile. While it saves a lot of money, it adds little to property value. Depending on when you sell the house, the new owner will be looking at the costs of maintenance and eventual replacement down the line. This will directly impact your asking price and their offer.