Introduction to Copper Roofing for Homeowners

By Jack Gray, Roof Online Editor • Last updated January 3, 2024

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Section of a standing seam copper roof.
Section of a standing seam copper roof.

Introduction

Copper roofs are great. They look good, they’re lightweight, they can last well over 100 years, and you don’t have to worry about a coating eventually flaking off.

Copper has natural properties that make it an exceptional roofing material.

It is highly resistant to corrosion and can withstand harsh weather conditions better than almost any other roofing material. It performs better and lasts longer than steel and aluminum, the most common metals used for roofing.

The main drawbacks of using copper as a roofing material are the price of the material and the scarcity of qualified roofers who install copper roofs. A high-quality copper roof installation is relatively quite expensive.

History of Copper Roofing

Copper has been used as a roofing material for thousands of years, with some of the earliest known examples dating back to ancient Egypt and Rome. Its durability and aesthetic appeal have made it a popular choice for architects and builders throughout history.

In ancient times, copper was primarily used for its practicality rather than its appearance. It was readily available and easy to work with, making it a practical choice for covering buildings and protecting them from the elements.

The ability to bend and shape copper also made it ideal for creating intricate designs and details on roofs.

As time went on, copper began to be used more for its aesthetic value as well. In medieval Europe, copper roofs were seen as a symbol of wealth and status, as they were expensive and required skilled craftsmen to install (and they still do!).

This is evident in the many grand cathedrals and palaces that feature copper roofs, such as Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany and Kronborg Castle in Denmark.

During the Industrial Revolution, advancements in technology allowed for mass production of the copper sheet required for roofing, making it more accessible for everyday use. Copper also gained popularity as its price fell due to its well-known superior performance as a roofing material – able to withstand extreme weather conditions and resist corrosion.

In the 20th century, with the rise of modern architecture (and the relative drop in material prices), copper roofing became a staple in contemporary designs. Its versatility and malleability allowed architects to implement unique and innovative building cladding designs and roof shapes.

Today, copper roofing is still highly esteemed for both practical and aesthetic reasons. It is a sustainable and environmentally friendly roofing material, often with a lifespan of over 100 years. Its natural green patina also adds character and charm to buildings as it ages.

Close-up of the flat seam copper dome on the New Palace at Sanssouci, Potsdam, Germany.
Close-up of the flat seam copper dome on the new palace at sanssouci, potsdam, germany.

Benefits of Choosing Copper for Your Roof

There are several benefits to using copper as a roofing material. Its durability and longevity make it a cost-effective choice in the long run, as it can outlast many other roofing materials. Properly installed copper roofs typically last 90 – 150 years, and copper roof warranty periods of 50 years are standard.

Copper is also lightweight: standing seam copper roof panels weigh only around 1.25 lbs. per square foot, far less than other high-end roofing materials like slate or clay tiles. Often, a house designed to support asphalt shingles will not be strong enough to support these heavier materials. With copper, you won’t have to worry about the cost of augmenting the structural supports.

Copper is also highly resistant to extreme weather conditions such as hail, snow, and high winds. It is also fire-resistant, making it a good choice for buildings in areas prone to wildfires.

In addition to its practical advantages, copper roofing also offers aesthetic benefits. Its natural beauty adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to any building, and its ability to develop a unique patina over time adds character and charm.

Another advantage of copper roofing is its sustainability. It is 100% recyclable. Of course, this can be a drawback in certain situations, as copper theft is a problem that rises and falls with the price that recyclers are paying for scrap copper.

But copper thieves usually don’t target residential roofs…in fact, I’ve never heard of a case where thieves actually stole a roof.

Installation Considerations for Copper Roofing

Proper installation is crucial for ensuring the durability and effectiveness of a copper roof. It is strongly recommended that you verify that any roofing contractor you hire to install a copper roof has expert-level experience installing copper roofs. This is especially prudent if the roof contains flat or low-slope areas where flat seams and/or extensive soldering will be necessary.

One important consideration when using copper for any construction application is the use of compatible materials. Copper can react with certain metals, causing corrosion and reducing its lifespan. It’s essential to use compatible materials for fasteners, flashing, gutters, and downspouts.

Gutters and downspouts made from incompatible metals should not be used with a copper roof even if they would not be in direct contact with the copper.

Copper should never be used with aluminum or zinc (and yes, that means galvanized steel).

Lead or stainless steel should not be an issue. Iron and regular carbon steel shouldn’t be an issue in small amounts, but should be avoided on principle.

Copper fasteners are the preferred choice for use with copper roofing, but stainless steel nails or screws are also acceptable.

Another consideration is the use of sealants and coatings on copper roofing. While these may provide some added protection, they can also trap moisture and accelerate corrosion.

It’s a good idea to consult an experienced copper roof installer or the technical department of a copper sheet manufacturer before using any sealants or coatings on your copper roof.

Caring for Your Copper Roof: Maintenance Tips

Copper roofing is relatively low maintenance, but regular upkeep is still necessary to ensure its longevity and effectiveness. Here are some tips for caring for your copper roof:

  • Regularly check for any damage or corrosion on the roof and make repairs as needed.
  • Keep gutters and downspouts clear of debris to prevent water buildup.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners on the roof, as they can damage the copper.
  • Periodically clean the roof with a mild soap and water solution to remove any dirt or grime.
  • Inspect and maintain any coatings or sealants applied to the roof, as they may need to be reapplied over time.

By following these maintenance tips and best practices, your copper roof will continue to protect and enhance your building for many years to come.

Copper Roofing in Contemporary Architecture

Copper roofing continues to be a top choice for contemporary architecture, with new trends and innovations constantly emerging. One popular trend is the use of copper in combination with other materials, such as glass or wood, to create a modern and striking aesthetic.

In addition, architects are utilizing different techniques to create unique and dynamic roof shapes using copper. This includes using folded or curved panels, as well as creating intricate patterns and details through copper shingles or tiles.

Another innovation in copper roofing is the use of solar panels. Copper’s conductivity makes it an ideal material for incorporating solar technology into roofs, providing both energy efficiency and aesthetic appeal.

As sustainability becomes a top priority in construction, architects are also exploring new ways to incorporate green roofs with copper roofing. This combination not only adds to the overall sustainability of a building but also creates a visually stunning and eco-friendly design.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability of Copper Roofing Materials

As mentioned earlier, copper roofing is a sustainable and environmentally friendly choice for roofs. Not only is it 100% recyclable, but its longevity also reduces the need for frequent replacements, minimizing waste.

Copper is also a naturally occurring element and producing it has minimal environmental impact compared to other materials such as asphalt shingles or concrete tiles.

Furthermore, copper’s natural patina acts as a protective layer, requiring little to no maintenance and reducing the need to use harmful chemicals for cleaning, coating, or restoring the roof.

Overall, choosing copper for your roof is not only an aesthetically pleasing and durable choice but also a sustainable one that helps reduce your impact on the environment.

Common Misconceptions about Copper Roofing

Despite its many advantages, there are some common myths and misconceptions about copper roofing that may deter people from choosing it for their projects. Let’s debunk some of these misconceptions:

  • Myth: Copper is too expensive. While copper roofing may have a higher initial cost compared to other materials, its longevity and low maintenance make it a worthwhile investment.
  • Myth: Copper is difficult to install. With proper training and experience, installing copper roofing can be done perfectly well, just like anything else. If you do decide to go with a copper roof, however, it is very important that you verify that the roofer does have that proper training and experience. Installing copper roofing is only difficult to install if you don’t really know what you’re doing.
  • Myth: Copper is prone to leaks. When installed correctly with compatible materials, copper roofing is known for its watertightness and durability.

By understanding the truth behind these myths, you can make an informed decision about whether copper roofing is the right choice for your project.

Choosing the Right Copper Roofing Style for Your Home

There are various styles of copper roofing available, each with its own unique features and benefits. Here are some popular options to consider when choosing the right copper roof for your home:

  • Standing seam: This style features raised seams that run vertically along the roof, providing a sleek and modern look.
  • Flat lock: Flat lock roofs consist of small flat panels with interlocking edges. This style is popular for its versatility in creating different patterns and designs on the roof surface.
  • Shingles or tiles: Copper can also be formed into individual shingles or tiles, providing a more traditional look to your home’s exterior. These options are available in various shapes and sizes, allowing for customization and creativity in design.
  • Copper domes: For a more dramatic and eye-catching look, consider copper domes for your roof. This style is commonly seen on churches and other historical buildings but can also add a unique touch to modern homes.
  • Copper can also be used to roof bay windows, porches, or any other flat roof area, to highlight those architectural flourishes.
  • Even if your roof is not made out of copper, copper can be used as flashing, adding a touch of elegance and function to your home.

From sleek and modern to traditional and unique, there is a copper roofing style for every type of home. Consider the architectural design and aesthetic you want to achieve when deciding on the right copper roof for your project.

Cost Considerations: Is Copper Roofing Right for Your Budget?

While copper roofing may have a higher upfront cost compared to other materials, its longevity and low maintenance can result in long-term cost savings. It is important to consider the total cost of ownership rather than just the initial investment.

Choosing copper for your roof can also increase the value of your home. Its aesthetic appeal and durability make it an attractive feature for potential buyers and can potentially increase the overall value of your property.

Conclusion

Copper roofing has been a staple in architecture for centuries, and its versatility, sustainability, and aesthetic appeal continue to make it a top choice for contemporary designs.

From its use in combination with other materials to new innovations such as solar panels and green roofs, copper roofing is constantly evolving and remaining relevant in the world of architecture.

While there are some misconceptions about copper roofing that may steer people away, understanding the truth behind these myths can help highlight the many benefits of this material.

Additionally, considering factors such as budget and architectural design can help determine if copper roofing is the right choice for a project.

So whether you are looking for a modern and sleek aesthetic or a traditional and timeless look, copper roofing offers endless possibilities to elevate the design and sustainability of your home.

With its durability, low maintenance, and environmental benefits, choosing copper roofing is not only a practical choice but also a statement in style and commitment to our planet.

So why settle for a mundane roof when you can have a stunning copper masterpiece? Consider copper roofing for your next project and reap the many benefits it has to offer.

External Sources & References for Copper Roofing Information

1. General: The Copper Development Association has a top-notch website with tons of useful information.

2. General: The Copper Technical Reference Library is a searchable database of “the world’s literature on copper, copper alloys and copper technology since 1965″. Highly recommended.

3. General: “RICOWI Best Practices Guides for Roofing – Copper” is available on the website of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. (“RICOWI” stands for the Roofing Industry Committee on Weather Issues).

4. Chemical Compatibility of Copper: “1.3. Architectural Considerations – Weathering, Corrosion, Staining, Substrate, Solder, Sealants” is a great page on the Copper Development Association website. Well-written and very informative.

5. Historic RoofingCopper Roofings – A Manual – Information for Architects and Roofing Contractors – Copper and Brass Research Association – (published in 1925, 25 pages).

6. Maintenance and Cleaning: “Removing Black Stains from Exterior Copper“. Available on the website of the US General Services Administration

7. Safety: See this material safety data sheet for health and safety information about copper at the Revere Copper Products website. This is only an example and other products and brands may be different.

8. Technical: Copper In Architecture (321 pages) – A comprehensive compilation of designs, details and specifications by the Copper Development Association.

9. Technical: Find architectural details for various styles of copper roof systems on the Copper Development Association’s website. Click on the type of system you’re interested in at the top of the page. The drawings are done well and give you an idea of what is going on in a copper roof system.

10. Technical: “Fully Soldered Metal Roofing: More Complicated Than You Think” is an excellent article on the IIBEC website. Gives you a good idea of just how important expert quality workmanship is when it comes to copper roofing. From 2016.

11. Technical: See this product data sheet for the technical characteristics of copper at the Revere Copper Products website. This is only an example and other products and brands may be different.