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Copper Roofing
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Copper puts a pretty penny on the roof. And like a penny, copper roofs lose much of their initial sheen after about 60 days and all of it by 180 days, according to Doug Beaty, President of Beach Sheet Metal Company, This change in color occurs through the process of oxidation, where copper reacts with elements in the air.

?But the color will not turn green (patina) naturally in Dallas, Texas for a long, long time,? Beaty said. ?We have none of the weather conditions conducive to creating that look.? Chemically, however, a patina appears immediately after pouring oxidizing reagents over the metal, according to Beaty who stops short of doing that application. ?I?m sacred to death to do it. You spend a fortune on the copper roof, and the chemical reaction might not be what they (homeowners) anticipated.?

?We?ve got two schools of thought,? Beaty said. ?Some people call and say, ?How do I keep that bright and shiny.?? Other people want the color to age quickly. Beaty prefers the natural aging process, which, at all stages, enhances the hues in brick and non-copper roofing material.

So, this spring as you look around the neighborhood at the blossoms you?re likely to spot a growing number of copper roofs accompanying the recent popularity wave in metal roofing. Copper as accent roofing is also growing tremendously, for instance, about 120 copper domes put up each year by Beach Sheet Metal, primarily on protruding bay windows. Using standard roofing, bay windows often project unimpressively in the architecture. But under a swooped copper roof or a bulbous copper dome, the bay window makes a knock out statement.

?We kind of put jewelry on the home?artistic?to make certain sections stand out,? Beaty said. Aesthetically, homeowners like the look of it. In fact, a copper dome, copper steeple, or copper finial makes a beautiful statement on any building. Copper also adds accent to the cupola, an ornamental or functioning louver for attic ventilation, and the dormer, which is a window set in the roof. Copper can go just about anywhere; try coppering the mailbox, building copper overhangs for unprotected doors, or a putting a copper cap on the chimney. Still, with all accenting aside, the latest trend is copper roofing.

?If put on correctly, the roof will last, I hate to say last forever, but put on correctly that roof will give homeowners decades of useful life.?

Copper roofs have lasted for centuries, in fact. Historically, copper, zinc, and lead were the most popular materials in roofing in the late 1700?s. Mass production, railroad transportation, and new lighter materials helped reduce the cost of metal roofs and make them even more affordable and popular by 1850. And in mid 20th century, greater flexibility in metal allowed the creation of metalworking to look like wood shakes, slate, terracotta, and for the making of longer panels.

Today, galvanized steel is the most common metal roof, according to a survey reported by Tom Black, Executive Director Metal Roofing Alliance. Galvanized steel is warranted against corrosion for up to 20 years because of the outer corrosion protective layer of zinc, obtained by dipping plain steel in hot commercially pure zinc. Also popular is galvalume steel, which is steel, covered by an outer layer of aluminum and zinc to add weathering properties to the corrosion protection.

?Labor on these items is generally going to be the same for galvanized or copper,? Beaty said. ?The only increase in price is the incremental cost of the metal. So, for a very small incremental increase, you could go to a lifetime product, why would you consider galvanized. Put to people like that, most people would agree.? For price comparison, consider that if galvanized steel costs $6 per square foot, pre-finished galvalume steel would cost $7 per square foot, and copper would cost $8.50.

Also popular in roofing material is lead coated copper, first developed and used between 1900 and World War I. Lead coated copper is formed with sheet or strip copper dipped in a bath of molten lead. The corrosion-resistant lead develops a silver-gray insoluble patina that prevents lead wash-off into ground water, according to Jack Robinson,

?We use that look in stucco and cut limestone,? Beaty said. Lead coated copper also prevents copper precipitation, which appears as a build-up of green stain in the run-off areas.

Unusual in roofing is micro-zinc, used on the Museum of African American Life and Culture at Fair Park, a Beach Sheet Metal project. Micro-zinc is expensive because of an undercoat of matting that raises the roofing ? inch off the decking to allow for breath-ability, thus preventing condensation under the metal roofing.

?All metal roofs will have condensation underneath,? Beaty said. ?So, the single most advantage to copper is that copper cannot rust. That?s why you see it on all the old historical looks.? Yet, having a copper roof doesn?t guarantee leak-free roofing.

Regardless of what metal is put on the roof, proper installation is very important, according to Beaty, who offers a few tips for homeowners. Research the company to make sure it?s been around awhile. The installer should be experienced although he may have a helper, who is perhaps an apprentice. Homeowners should also talk with the owner of the company. Ask for references; then check out the company references first hand by driving by the houses, looking at the roofs, and talking with the homeowners. And make sure the companies utilize their own employees instead of subcontractors.

?A big risk these days is the subcontractor who doesn?t have insurance,? Beaty said. So ask to see evidence of insurance coverage. ?Reputable contractors will be glad to do that because they?re paying for that coverage.?

When installed properly, copper roofing provides an investment. Metal roofs bring about a reduction in homeowner insurance, according to Beaty. But, the person who puts copper gutter downspouts on the home doesn?t want just to control water run-off. ?They don?t want the gutter to take away from the home. They want the gutter to enhance the home.?

Copper down spouting can be relatively expensive because hidden in the costs of copper and galvanized materials is the cost of the wastes, an insignificant amount figured in galvanized scrap but adding substantially to the total sum of copper. But, who?s counting costs when one of the more beautiful items in copper down spouts is the collection box, purely a decorative feature in most instances. And on the horizon, Brian Rock, vice president at Beach Sheet Metal, is fabricating a line of custom collector boxes.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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