Humanity has always needed shelter. Our earliest shelters were natural constructs, trees and caves. As people developed, early humans began to use sticks and branches to provide some shelter from the elements in  man-made structures. Although these shelters could provide basic cover, they were primitive. They were susceptible to strong winds, structural defects, and vermin. So, we did what humanity does, we got more advanced.

Archaeology has begun to uncover roofing using more advanced materials. In China, dating back to over 5,000 years ago people were using glazed clay roof tiles. Civilizations in the Middle East and Eastern/Southeastern Europe were using tiles around the same time. These tiles provided better stability, better protection from the elements, and good water drainage. Interlocking clay tiles have been such as success that they are still in use today, throughout the world. Ancient Roman and East Asian structures still stand with that type of roofing. Clay and mud brick was common in locations that had those elements plentifully. In other places though, like Europe and Africa, other common materials were used. These included thatching, wood, and reed roofs. However, as society advanced and people came closer together in towns and cities, they fell out of style, as they were very susceptible to fire. 

In the US, the history is a little different though. Although the nation was founded in 1792 after the first industrial revolution (about 1700-1740) began, various factors led to more creative roofing materials.


The early days of roofing in the US

When the US was still little more than the 13 original colonies, wooden roofing was the norm. This is because the colonies were founded separate from the industry of Europe that could provide clay and slate roofing materials. Wood was plentiful in the East Coast, and easy for individuals to procure, shape and use. Early roofs were heavily slanted, down and away from a central chimney that could provide heating to the whole house. As the frontier expanded in the US, various types of other materials were used according to what the frontiersmen had available. In the Midwest, the earliest houses were made of sod. There are stories of people cooking while holding umbrellas over the pot to prevent roots and insects from the sod roofs falling in. In the North, South, and West, plentiful wood provided roofing materials. In the Southwest, Spanish-style clay was the norm due to its prevalence and effectiveness.

The Native American people were meanwhile using a variety of things. Nomads used animal skins and wood that could easily be taken down and set up again. In the Southwest, clay and brick were used, as the desert was plentiful in that resource, and wood was scarcer. 


Industry changed everything

Shingles and shakes made for the most common roofing in the early 19th century. Local wood could be used, it was durable, and it worked. 

Once the railroads were built though, things changed. Suddenly the whole US could be connected in a series of days, rather than months. Slate became the go-to because it was weatherproof, fireproof, and could easily be broken into the desired shape. It was heavy though, which is the reason it required the railroads to become popular. Railroads made it cheaper and easier to use than ever before, and it became a go-to for decades.

As industry developed more advanced roofing became popular.


The early 1900s and the rise of cement

Once cement became one of the top building materials, it was used everywhere for cheap buildings. Cement made good walls and roofing, and cement structures are found not only in the US, but all over the (especially developing) world. It’s cheap, tough, durable, and easy to work with.


Mistakes were made though

Some cement roofs were made with composite so as to be less heavy. These roofs used a combination of cement and asbestos. Fortunately, they fell out of favor after the 1930s, and that’s a good thing. Asbestos is incredibly dangerous.


Asphalt and kit-built houses

The mid 1900s saw the rise of housing kits that people could order form magazines. Sears and Roebuck were famous for having whole houses you could order. These houses would arrive in pieces, wood beams, walls, and asphalt or wood roofing shingles. 


Industry and rolled roofing

Large buildings, like factories and warehouses were still limited largely by roof sizes. They had to have peaks and troughs for drainage, and had to deal with substantial weight if they were shingled. Enter rolled roofing. Rolled roofing material could be made out of asphalt and other chemical composite materials. It could be purchased in bulk and rolled out over the structure of the roof of a building. Making for easy installation, waterproofing, and a lightweight top to the building envelope.

When it comes to businesses  and housing, rolled asphalt and composite roofing is still king in the US.



In earlier times, before metal working was advanced, steel and other corrosion-resistant metals were used to make cheap and effective roofs. As metalworking and alloys advanced, metal roofing became cheaper, lighter, and easier to use in Europe. These practices spread to the US, and now metal roofing isn’t common, but it is still used in some cases here. 


The present and future roofs

As technology improves and people innovate, we are seeing all sorts of new developments. Solar panels, white roofing, and more are becoming more and more common. Green roofing, in which the roof is planted with soil and native plants is also becoming popular. We will no doubt see more, and unexpected innovations as time goes on.


Get your roof done right

If you are looking to build a modern roof on your building, or improve your existing building’s roof, then we have you covered. Reliable Commercial Construction is an experienced, stalwart, and professional construction contractor, ready to take on the most challenging jobs. Our team of over 200 commercial contractors can handle massive and complex jobs cost effectively, and within numerous time constraints. Don’t leave your roofing up to chance, get it done reliably. Contact us today for a free quote and let’s future-proof your roof.