Accurately Replacing a Historic Roof Can Be Done with the Right Research and a Metal Roof

From the earliest days of our nation, many of America’s important buildings have had metal roofs made from copper, lead and tin-coated iron. Americans knew then as we know now that metal enhances the look of these buildings while providing roof protection that will last for many generations to come. Many of these historical buildings were built in an age where the aesthetics of the roof were an important part of the look of a building. Patterns in the roof and ornamental treatments such as steeples, spires, finials, collector heads and other decorative but functional outcroppings brought beauty and elegance to the buildings of an earlier time.Walter Reed Hospital Restoration with Metal Roof

Today, it is expensive and difficult to replace both the roofs and the roof decorations made from metals like copper and terne-coated steel that were prevalent during that period.  Because so much of the restoration involves public buildings, entities like the National Park Service have websites that can provide technical guidelines for restoration. Another good source is Traditional Buildings Magazine with editorial content and advertising that can help find the materials and restoration companies needed to tackle an historic building renovation. They are good resources for researching roofing characteristics of an historic building project including color, texture, historically accurate materials, durability and performance and even some of the roof configurations, many of which were peculiar to the specific project.One of the major concerns faced in attempting to restore a project to historically correct originality is cost. Restorations can be exceedingly expensive. The good news is your project may be eligible for grants and incentives. For example, the Historical Home Grants Federal Historic Preservation Tax incentive program provides a 20 percent tax credit for all income producing buildings deemed certified historic structures by the Secretary of the Interior. The program also provides a 10 per cent tax credit for rehabbing non-historic buildings placed in service before 1936. To date, the program has leveraged more than $62 billion in private investment to preserve 38,000 historic properties nationwide.

Corbin Building restoration with metal roofingState and local preservation organizations like Pennsylvania’s Keystone Historic Preservation Grant and the New Jersey Historic Trust offer grants to projects with roofing restoration needs.

Sometimes, however, historically accurate restoration of roofing details is just too expensive and public and private restoration programs may be allowed to substitute modern materials that mimic the old metals. A metallic copper coating on aluminum or Galvalume steel may be sufficient enough to replace original materials like copper and terne-coated steel as long as they replicate the original appearance and provide the durability and maintenance-free qualities of the original material.

In one case, we even saw metal replace expensive and hard to find terra cotta tiles used on a landmark 1888 building in downtown Manhattan.  The Corbin Building is an historic former office building located at 192 Broadway in downtown Manhattan. When it was built, the slender, nine-story structure “towered” over its neighbors and was tall enough to be called a “skyscraper.” It is home to architectural details that simply do not, or could not, exist today. Those include twin office towers with roofs of terra cotta tile removed many years ago and that restorers felt should be rebuilt to restore the aesthetic authenticity and to serve as housing for modern mechanical systems.Corbin Building Renovation metal roofing detail image

It was decided to replace the original terra cotta tile with metal. Recyclability was also an issue in the client’s quest to meet LEED project certification and Kynar-coated panels met those requirements more easily than real terra cotta tiles.

B&B Sheet Metal, one of handful of metal roofing experts in New York City, did the restoration of the roof and the towers.  They chose a superior, extremely durable terra cotta colored metal coil and sheet provided by Englert. Each component of the metal roof had to be hand crafted to replicate the old tile towers and be consistent with the style of the 400 terra cotta panels on the building.

But in the end, the savings over replacing the original terra cotta tiles was substantial and the Metropolitan transit Authority which was restoring the building was able to accurately replace the original terra cotta tile with metal, while still demanding the best price, the best design, the best functionality and the least maintenance for the project.

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