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Why Synthetic “Slate” Is Destroying an Industry

Why Synthetic "Slate" Is Destroying an Industry

by Tom Stortz | Apr 26, 2018 | Education | 5 comments

A little less than a year ago we wrote a post (great comments by the way) that explained how the natural slate market was being damaged by the manufacturers of “synthetic slate” marketing their rubberized, polymer, shingle as “slate”. This is a disingenuous description of a rubber material because “slate” is defined as a natural rock. Big business is taking advantage, unfairly, of a high end roofing material and leveraging the name for profit.

Let’s be real clear, this is not slate. This post is not saying there isn’t a place for this type of material (Where? I’m not sure), it just shouldn’t be called slate.

Notice the fading color after only 5 years. The color underneath is what is started as, and now the sunlight has faded the non-covered area.

Fact Checking Synthetic Slate

Quality  – If “artificial” slates are not stored flat and become twisted or curled, lay them flat in a warm place and they will return to their original flatness. Pg 9 of this PDF

Anyone who knows slate should immediately shake their head at the material being installed on a roof. This sentence came from an installation guide for synthetic slate and should cause shivers to any homeowner knowing that their roofing material can curl before it even comes out of the box. What do you think is going to happen when wind gusts and high temperatures are pulling it at it on a daily basis? This is what is going to happen which will rely on underlayment to protect a roof.

Cost – It is simple to install and at a fraction of the weight and cost of natural slate roofing.

Fraction of the weight? Yes. It should  be mentioned that the cost to install synthetic is considerably cheaper because of the weight of the material (easier to transport) and the ability to nail with a nail gun instead of a hammer. The actual cost of the material though is similar. In order to get a Class A fire rating in synthetic slate material, you’ll need to spend upwards of $500 a square for their premium material. A typical square of slate is around $350-500, depending on size. The reduction in installation costs initially is easily outweighed by the longevity of a natural slate roof and it’s not even close. Here is an older article outlining the cost which shows a rubber roof with a 90 year expectancy and that is not correct. A typical life span of rubber shingles, until curling or discoloring begins, can be 20 years and occur in as few as 5 years (or less). There is no evidence that they last 50 years (without asbestos) like the warranty says. At least not yet.

Aesthetics – Our synthetic Aledora slate and Classic slate roofing is indistinguishable from natural slate – yet it has an even more refined appearance and is significantly easier to install. Inspire Roofing

Disagree. A homeowner, who doesn’t understand roofing material, most likely won’t know the difference either way which would make the word “indistinguishable” correct to them. To anyone who knows slate, they can see the rubberized texture is cheesy when compared to slate. A shiny piece of rubber that has the potential to discolor from the sun’s rays is not going to stand up to slate when considering beauty. Notice the beauty of a rubber roof.

Durability – It is shatter resistant unlike natural slate roofing that can shatter when walked upon or in cold weather.  Bottom bullet of this webpage,

First of all, slate does not alter with a temperature change, unlike synthetic. Synthetic slate marketing is grasping at any negative aspect of slate they can when they even try to compare the two products. Their product curls, cracks, and disintegrates.Read more on durability on this excellent article found on Black Diamond Slate. Additionally, a piece of rubber will last for a long time and creates a huge plastic trash heap in the Pacific ocean. Reference article.

Misinformation –  “You emulate the natural material, but get performance and longer life over the natural product,” says Charlotte, N.C.-based custom builder, who used Enviroshake roofing on one high-profile project. “You’re saving on potential callbacks.”  Nitpicking from 2009

Wrong. This is the type of incorrect info that needs to stop. Whoever is telling the builder this information should be called out. This is incredibly inaccurate and completely false because there is 0 evidence that this type of material holds up for over 100 years. Field testing for this material hasn’t even been around that long. It’s time natural slate fights back.

Testimonials From the Slate Roofer’s Contractor Association

  • Our general observations revealed some discolored or faded products. Others curled without cracking but opened enough to allow water into buildings. In general, most fiber-cement materials quickly became unfit for roofing or became so unattractive owners were unhappy with the appearance.
  • The relentless marketing by the manufacturers, with claims of 50-75 year lifespans, less weight, colors and designer patterns, and ease of installation coupled with the consumers lack of understanding of natural slate roofs for the most part has left us as traditional roofers little choice but to install these or starve.
  • Many of the fake “slate” manufacturers have gone out of business, but new ones keep popping up (synthetic product is deliberately cycled every 15 years to avoid liability). It doesn’t make sense to me to go with an untested product when one that is tried and proven and about the same cost is available.

Read more testimonials from the Slate Roofing Contractors Association website:
Fake Slates

Final Thoughts

The slate industry is being out marketed by synthetic slate manufacturers who have deep pockets and are backed by the giants of the industry. Homeowners are getting an inferior product that is being marketed in a superior fashion. It’s a sad state of affairs that this type of material is being marketed as slate because it is far from the truth. There is no substitute for slate. It’s time tested, eco-friendly, fire-resistant, and beautiful. Rubber shingles are creating a huge dumpster in our ocean because they cannot be destroyed, and this goes along with their dubious nature of the product.

Don’t fake it. Slate it. 

Warranty Details

If you want further evidence about the suspect nature of synthetic slate, read what the manufacturer has to say about the warranty. I promise you, no reputable slate installer, with many years of installation experience, has to lose sleep at night wondering if the product will hold up. Remember that.

This is the “Lifetime Limited Warranty” The company has only been around for 19 years. That’s 19 years of their product in the field. Think about comparing this to natural slate which as been field tested for hundreds of years.

Warranty – Only during the first ten (10) years after installation of the Products, …  (i) provide replacement Products and Installation Costs to either repair the affected portions of the roof or replace the entire roof as set forth below, or (ii) refund the original purchase price that the Owner paid for the Products. 10 years is not a lifetime.

Wind Warranty – Manufacturer shall have no liability under this Lifetime Limited Warranty for Product damage resulting from or any way related to exposure to winds (i) in excess of ninety (90) mph; (ii) occurring after the first ten (10) years following application; or (iii) any time after the Products have been exposed to winds in excess of ninety (90) mph. You can’t expect our roof to hold up over 10 years!

Color Warranty –  All material will weather when exposed to air pollution, acid rain, ultra violet light, weather extremes, and other elements found in the outdoors. The severity of any weathering depends on the geographical location of the building, the cleanliness of the air in the area, and many other influences over which Manufacturer has no control. This Lifetime Limited Warranty will only cover fading in excess of four (4) Hunter units beyond what would be expected in the area in which the Products are installed. Let’s bring out the magnifying glass. That’s definitely 3 Hunter units. Sorry about that.