Roofing Through The Ages

Nowadays we underestimate a roof and what it means. At its most simple terms, a roof means protection and shelter, but as roofing has developed through the ages it also means design and innovation. Having a roof over our heads has always been a necessity, but for that roof to keep us warm, dry and look good while doing so is no simple task.

It began roughly in the Paleolithic Era (2.6 million years ago) early humans gained awareness, developing tools, language, and methods for their hunting life. Yes, they would live in caves, but they would also build shelter from the simple materials available to them such as leaves, branches and animal skins. These materials became the most basic form of roofing, the start of shelter and having somewhere to survive.

Not long after this, people began spreading over the world, moving nearer to water to survive. Agriculture led to settlement and settlement led to the most early form of civilisation. The earliest city on record is Mesopotamia, around the area of what is now Iraq. Roofing was made out of mud brick and mud plaster.

Then came the three-age system, consisting of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Throughout these periods, civilizations had sprung up around the world. Each had great advancements and now thatched reeds were used for roofing with mud, wood and stone. 

In 3,100 BC , the first empire was established in Egypt. With the growth of empires, territory and military force became the major themes. The Great Pyramids of Giza were built between 2589 and 2504 BC, constructed with more than 5 million blocks of limestone. Egypt was rich in building with decorative stone, copper, lead ores, gold, and semiprecious stones.

In 500 BCE cultures prospered largely, with the Greeks and Romans leading in the West, and the Chinese and Indians in the East. Ancient Greek buildings of timber, clay and plaster construction were roofed with thatch. With the rise of stone, architecture came the appearance of fired ceramic roof tiles. These early roof tiles showed an S-shape, with the pan and cover tile forming one piece.  Only stone walls, which were replacing the earlier mudbrick and wood walls, were strong enough to support the weight of a tiled roof. One of Rome's most important contributions was the development of the arch. Although primitive arches were used by the earlier Etruscans, the Romans built their arches with their special concrete which allowed for taller and more stable arched structures. The Romans introduced new materials to construction and roofing including marble and fired clay bricks. Roman concrete being the primary building material to support the design of domes and pillars. In Ancient India the walls of homes were made of hand-formed baked bricks while the foundations were laid with sun-dried bricks. Instruments were used to ensure the exact vertical alignment of the houses. The interior and exterior walls were covered with plaster and often painted. The roofs of the homes were flat and made of wood. In Ancient China, the most common building materials for houses were earth and wood, and where wood was rare, pounded earth was used in the construction of walls and roofing.

The Romans introduced slating and tiling to Great Britain in 100 BC. Thatch roofs were later popularised around the year 735 AD, as they provided the ideal solution for areas where only natural materials were accessible. While a thatch roof is one of the most aesthetically pleasing roofing systems, they are also highly flammable, degradeble and require a lot of maintenance. To prevent the spread of fires, a law was passed in the 12th century by King John whereby all London residents had to replace their thatch and reed roofs with clay tiles to improve fire safety. It is widely believed that this marked the beginning of mass produced roofing tiles.

Timber frame for housing was pioneered by the Tudors, who used large sections of load-bearing timber frames that were in-filled with wattle and daub. Buildings were still being built entirely from timber in the late sixteenth century with brick predominantly used for chimneys and hearths. Materials were typically sourced locally, although some lime was being transported significant distances by the late 1500s, which also brought the advent of windows.

The first terraced housing had been introduced in the late 17th century and the first apartments, known then as garden flats, emerged in the 1860s, just before house building entered a boom period. Between 1870 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, nearly five million homes were built in the UK with standards raised as building techniques improved. Chalk, and gravel were also implemented.

In the 19th century, metal roofing such as tin, lead, zinc, copper, nickel and aluminium became popular. A metal roof will not decompose, and unlike asphalt and other roofing styles, a metal roof can withstand all weathers. Other roofing materials such as wood shingles and tiles have varying degrees of weather related problems.

In the 20th century, air raid shelters (during the war) were made underground from concrete blocks and from straight and curved galvanised corrugated steel panels, which were bolted together. In 1933, two chemists working for the Imperial Chemical Industries research laboratory were testing chemicals when they set off a reaction between ethylene and benzaldehyde, creating polyethylene. This went on to play a key supporting role during World War II, first as an underwater cable coating, then as an insulating material for vital military applications, such as radar. It became the first plastic in the United States of America to sell more than a billion pounds per year, and is currently the largest volume of plastic in the world. It was not long before these and other advancements in plastics and material sciences found their way into the construction industry. 

With the information age, roofing is certainly not like the early settlers thought it once was, just about protection, with their stone, mines and forests. With every country wanting to design either the tallest or most luxurious building in the world, it largely comes down to tourism and money.

So after leaves, branches, animal furs, clay, stone, thatch, timber, tiles, bricks, concrete, metal and plastic, where are we now with roofing in the 21st century?

The answer is liquid roofing.

Liquid Roofing is the process of waterproofing a roof by the application of a specialist liquid roof coating. It is suited to all types of roof, including flat, pitched, and domed. Eagle Insulations Ltd designs and supplies a liquid roofing product called Desmopol which is the best of its form. It really exhibits how far we have come due to the ease of its use, its capabilities, its strength, its safety and it also looks pretty damn good too.

The world is always moving forward, roofing being no exception to this.