The high-end look of premium roofing materials such as wood shake and slate shingle is popular among custom home buyers and owners. However, there is a growing interest in low-maintenance building products even from the high end of the market, manufacturers indicate, and synthetic roofing products that replicate the look of wood and slate can fit the bill.
Synthetic slates and shakes, on the market for nearly 10 years, are manufactured with composite materials that consist primarily of polymers blended with other ingredients, including recycled or virgin rubber, colorants, UV inhibitors, minerals, and cellulosic fibers, depending on the manufacturer. Synthetic products offer several benefits, manufacturers claim, such as low-maintenance characteristics, a long life span—nearly 100 years—and better long-term resistance to the elements.
To accentuate their resemblance to the real thing, synthetic products are designed with features that contribute to a random appearance in application, such as color variations and differing edge and surface textures and patterns.
Most synthetic shakes and slates are tested to ASTM and UL standards for impact resistance and fire resistance, among other performance characteristics. “What's helping the synthetic roofing industry is the impact resistance that polymers impart that asphalt doesn't,” says John Humphries, president and CEO of DaVinci Roofscapes. While impact-resistant asphalt shingles have become available in recent years, most other asphalt shingles on the market are not designed for the kind of impact-resistance that meets the highest performance level of UL test standard 2218, Class 4. Several synthetic roofing products achieve Class 4 impact resistance, including Tamko's Lamarite Slate, EcoStar's Majestic line, Royal Building Products' Dura Slate roofing system., DaVinci Roofscapes' DaVinci Slate and Shake, and Max Roofing Products' Max Slate.
Priced comparably to other premium roofing products, synthetic roofs still cost less overall than natural slate, according to manufacturers, because the man-made material is lightweight and easier to handle, does not require added structural support, is easier to cut, and generates less waste from breakage.
Although there are many benefits to synthetic roofing, not all of the products are appropriate for every region of the country, particularly in California where building codes require Class A fire-resistant materials. While several synthetic roofing products are rated for Class A fire resistance, others have not achieved that level of performance yet.
Although currently very small, the synthetic roofing category is likely to grow, manufacturers predict. “The products are looking more authentic and performing better than ever,” says Brian Eberle, vice president of marketing/sales for Wellington Polymer Technologies, maker of Enviroshake, “The trend in the industry is consumer-driven toward long-term performance, great-looking, maintenance-free products that are environmentally friendly.”