Thanks For That Historic Roof Over Your Head

Slate roofThanksgiving is always the 4th Thursday of November, kudos to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress back in 1941. This Thanksgiving is a departure from a lot of what we have normally done but, still, on this day, we will gather with family, and maybe some friends, and give thanks for all our blessings.

Vintage turkey illustrationThe Covid-19 Pandemic has disrupted all parts of our lives. We have been encouraged not to travel and avoid large gatherings during the holiday season. More than ever, we are spending more time in our homes. As we find comfort and create memories there, our feelings about our homes have also been changed forever.

Today, among the many things we are grateful is that historic roof over our heads.

The Roofs Over Our Heads

Many of us take for granted the fact that we have shelter readily available when things turn unpleasant outside. But did you know that there is a day—in addition to Thanksgiving—to appreciate the things we have including the roof over our heads?Slate turret on a Victorian home

National Roof Over Your Head Day is December 3rd every year.

This unofficial holiday draws attention to those less fortunate and reminds us to appreciate the basics. So…how often do you think about that little luxury overhead—your roof?

A roof can impart much of the architectural character of an historic home. Picture Queen Anne turrets, Georgian hipped roofs, Mansard roofs, the sloping roof line of a Bungalow. However, regardless of its age, size, or design, a weather-tight roof is basic to the preservation of a structure.Mansard roof

A poor roof will eventually lead to the overall disintegration of any building. If you have roof troubles, it is best to have a professional roofing contractor pinpoint the problem. It could involve failure of surface materials or of the support system—or both.

There are common problems due to simple wear and normal decay that affect historic roof surface materials. Here are some examples that can develop with the different types of materials:


Although some types of wood are more hardy than others, all wood shingles will eventually erode due to exposure to the elements and ultraviolet rays. If moisture gets in to the grain of the wood, it will deteriorate, while prolonged moisture on or in the wood allows moss and other yummies to grow causing more rot.Wood-shingled roof


Commonly-used sheet metals used on historic buildings include lead, copper, zinc, tin plate, and galvanized iron. These metals chemically deteriorate due to airborne pollutants. Iron, in particular, will rust. Luckily, this can be avoided by use of tin plating or galvanizing. However—just like the rust-proofing on your once-new car—this protection lasts only as long as the coating remains intact. Once the plating is worn or damaged, exposed iron will rust. Therefore, it is a good idea to undercoat any iron-based roofing material and keep the surface well-painted to prevent corrosion (be Anti Deferred Maintenance!).Rusted metal roof

Another problem that can afflict metal roofing materials is fatigue. Both wear and metal failure can occur at the sheathing joints as a result of the metal’s alternating movement to thermal changes. Lead eventually tears due to gravitational stress, causing it to move down the roof slope.


Roof shingles made of tile weather well but there is always the possibility of cracking or breaking if hit—such as by tree branches—or if improperly walked on. The quality of the tiles can also be an issue. Low quality tiles that were not fired correctly when made, or tile containing impurities will craze and spall as a result of normal freeze/thaw cycles (an example of this is when your outdoor ceramic planter splits when the temperature goes from 30 to 60 degrees F, like it likes do here in Cincinnati).Ceramic roof tiles


Slate shingles, although very durable, can also vary in quality. Some slate is hard and tough and not very brittle. Soft slate can erode and be affected by pollutants in the air and rainwater. Slate will wear at the nail holes, delaminate, or simply break. Winter can be very hard on slate due to ice or ice dams. And slate does not really care for being walked on…Slate roof in poor condition

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cincinnati Historic Homes wishes you a very happy Thanksgiving and National Roof Over Your Head Day. Don’t forget to be thankful for that historic roof over your head and think of how many Thanksgiving dinners it has sheltered over the years and decades. We hope it presides over many more to come!

Vintage Thanksgiving dinner table with meal


(Originally published 11/24/2014; Revised 11/26/2020)