Roofing Techniques Through the Years


old cottage and roof

In today’s technological world, roofing comes in all shapes and sizes. No matter how you want your roof made or what you want it to look like, there is always a way to do it. But how did we get to this point? Much of what is done today by roofers can be traced back to centuries of trial and error. People and civilizations have always needed roofs, and therefore, have experimented with how they are made.

To help the casual roofer understand how the industry has arrived to where it is today, below is a timeline of roofing techniques used throughout the ages:

5,000–3,000 B.C.

Historically, China has been a frontrunner in architectural design and has frequently implemented advanced techniques to their buildings. Though the exact time frame is unknown, the Chinese were the first recorded civilization to use clay tiles when roofing, implementing this idea several thousand years ago. To illustrate the impressive nature of this breakthrough’s timing, tile roofing did not become a common practice in Europe until the Roman Empire and Ancient Greek civilizations starting using them thousands of years later.

735 A.D.

Throughout the centuries, tropical areas around the equator used thatch as the primary covering for their homes. Because of its accessibility and economical advantages, thatch become widely used not only in tropical locations, such as Fiji and Hawaii, but also in places where sugarcane was readily available, such as British-owned African countries like Kenya. During this time, Britain also began using thatch as a cheap roofing alternative.


After years of problematic roofing hazards, including fires and frequent water damage, King John of England discouraged citizens from using slate or wooden tiles by declaring clay as a “fire-proof” roofing material to help eliminate problems with combustible roof coverings.


In every civilization, metal was always the optimal roofing material; it was extremely durable and proved to be very moldable as well, usually able to bend into the necessary shape and/or size required for the roof. However, because metal has been fairly expensive until recent decades, the amount of metal used on roofs was very limited. It was usually only reserved for religious edifices or the extremely wealthy.

During this time period, however, copper emerged as an effective roofing alternative to metal. Copper has durable qualities and also seems to become more colorful and beautiful over time. Due to the endearment of copper’s colorful transformations over time, Zinc was also introduced as another beauty-efficient alternative to copper metals.

Early 1900s

Responsible for much of the Spanish-Mediterranean architecture made popular by baked clay in southern Europe, Europeans began using concrete as a cheap replacement for clay by painting the concrete tiles red. Because of concrete’s durability and resistance to all kinds of weather, this alternative rapidly began to spread throughout the mediterranean countries, becoming a particularly popular roofing option for chapels and other Christian buildings of worship.


Initially developed in the United States, asphalt shingles were created to improve roof durability and dual resistance toward both hot and cold climates. With a cellulose and/or fiberglass base, asphalt combined granulized ingredients such as oyster shells, clay and slate with sealed resins, and other adhesive coatings. These shingles were simple to manufacture, easy to install, and inexpensive to produce. The ingenuity of asphalt shingles quickly led to its widespread use in America, and remains a roofing standard for many homes throughout the world today.


Like everything, the roofing industry has been greatly impacted by technological and economical advancements. Within the last century, for example, engineers have pushed projects to the brink of gravitational defiance by constructing skyscrapers to provide efficient use of living and working space. Similarly, roofing techniques have come to reap many of the same benefits by increasing efficiency. With thousands of years to look back on and learn from, roofing materials are now available in countless elements and combinations.

Whether it’s slate, asphalt, concrete, or a combination of all of them, today’s roofing materials are available in all kinds of affordable options. Thanks to a long history of skill, hard work, and craftsmanship, you’ll almost certainly be able to find a roofing solution to any and all of your building and construction needs.