What is the difference between UK roofing and US roofing?


One thing that our customers often say to us is that whenever they Google technical roofing questions, they’re met with search results and answers from the great US of A. Which is not entirely helpful! It’s worth checking whenever you Google search something where the content has been written. (For all our US readers out there… this is a UK roofing page, we’re glad you’re here but the answers you seek might be elsewhere on the internet!)

But are American roofs and UK roofs really so different? Find out how UK materials and techniques differ from our friends’ across the pond.

The Use of Lead Flashing in UK Roofing

Lead flashing is banned for some roofs (such as on school buildings) in certain states in the US, and so lead flashing is more unusual, and would be seen more often on older houses and buildings, rather than newer builds.

By contrast, lead is a highly popular flashing and roofing material here in the UK, due to its malleability and durability. Lead is perfectly safe for residents; if you are a roofer touching lead without gloves you should exercise caution. Lead can also be recycled and reused, so is a more sustainable material.

Read our article on lead to find out more about how we use this material safely to protect joins and other vulnerable spots of the roof.

Shingles or Slates?

While UK roofers use mostly slates (or occasionally clay tiles) to cover roofs, US roofers will use shingles. It’s important to note that shingles are not just the American word for slates; shingles are actually an entirely different material.

What are shingles (US)?

US shingles are made from pieces of felt, with bitumen (or asphalt) over the top of the felt. Shingles are a little bit like what people in the UK use to cover their sheds or outhouses. Whilst shingles are incredibly lightweight and cheap to fix onto a roof, they are not durable, fly off easily in high weather conditions and are more prone to leaks.

In fact, 75% of roofs in the States are made from shingles.

Some argue that because American houses are often exposed to extreme weather, such as tornados and hurricanes, or extreme heat, then shingles are more easily replaceable and cheaper to regularly replace than tiles or slates. They also will not cause as much damage if they go flying through the air!

Shingles are expected to last up to 20 years, if there are no extreme weather events. Tiles and slates are expected to last 100 years or more, if the roof is properly maintained and there are no extreme weather events also.

Metal guttering in the US

In the UK, it’s common to see plastic guttering on most new houses. American houses are more likely to have metal guttering, made from stainless steel, aluminium (aloo-min-um, al-yoo-min-ee-um?) or other alloys.

This is something that might be good to see more commonly in the UK. PVC and plastic are not good for the environment, and sometime can’t be easily recycled. Though plastic is flexible, and therefore is unlikely to break in the wind (as it can twist, rather than snap). It also will not corrode or rust. However, metal can be stronger than plastic, can be recycled and reused and can look more traditional and rustic.

Snow-bearing roofs

Parts of New England have roof structures more similar to those found in Germany or Switzerland, where there are a greater number of beams and rafters, in order to keep up the weight of snow. This structure is more unusual in the UK, where most of the country rarely gets large amounts of snow.

The longevity of UK roofing

The UK- and Cornwall is particular- is a pretty pleasant and clement climate. We don’t often get tornados or hurricanes, and so houses and so UK roofs tend to last many, many, many decades without too much maintenance.

So in general, do Google with care, and before taking any advice from the internet, check with an experienced roofer. If you have any questions about technical roofing, materials or the methods we use, we are always happy to answer your questions, on or off the roof!

Call 01288 381256 to get your estimate on your roofing project in Cornwall or some parts of Devon.