From file "009_rc_mis" entitled "4x4.qxd" page 01
From file "009_rc_mis" entitled "4x4.qxd" page 01

Ever wonder why the Statue of Liberty is green? It's made out of copper.

Copper as a construction material is more common than you might think. Used for gutters, downspouts, and ornamental details such as caps and weather vanes, copper adds an elegant touch to the exterior of any house.

Copper roofing, on the other hand, is a considerably more expensive proposition. Its use “kind of ebbs and flows,” says Ken Geremia, a spokesman for the Copper Development Association, in New York City.

Copper roofs take one of two forms: standing seam copper for low-slope roofs or copper shingles for steep-slope, typically residential, applications. Copper shingles, which have been around for 50 years or longer and are cheaper to install than the labor-intensive standing seam, are starting to get the attention of both homeowners and roofers.

“I just did my first one,” says Bob Drummond, owner of Specialty Roofing, in Jackson, Miss. Specialty Roofing, which does both commercial and residential roofing, has a long history of installing standing seam roofs, including standing seam copper. Earlier this year, a doctor and fellow church member came to Drummond with a photo of a roof shingled in copper. “He saw it in a magazine and got turned on to it,” Drummond says.

Curb Appeal Copper is not only far more expensive than composition shingles or wood shakes — at least triple the cost — but its price is also subject to the ups and downs of the international metal market. Alan Stearns, general manager of Paradigm Shingles, in Milton, Vt., which manufactures a line of copper shingles, says the company has seen a 50% increase in the cost of raw materials, to $60 a square, since it started producing last October.

Nonetheless, two qualities in copper shingles appeal to upper-end homeowners. First, they won't ever have to reroof. Properly installed, a copper roof lasts many decades, as evident in its use on churches, banks, and civic buildings.

A second attraction is aesthetic. It's a classy metal. Depending on local climate, a copper roof will in time acquire the famous blueish-green patina. The weathering effect develops as nature's way of protecting the metal and provides a striking contrast to brick walls or wood siding.

Stearns says, “As a replacement product, we're seeing it go on in place of cedar, particularly in the Southwest, where there are fire concerns.”

Shingle Growth With the increase in numbers of producers of copper shingles, the material is beginning to appeal more to consumers and to those roofing companies that seek a niche in the market. “The shingle aspect,” Geremia says, “is growing.”

Last year, a local church approached the Schwickert Co. in Mankato, Minn., about reroofing. Kent Kaupa, steep slope manager for residential and commercial business at the company, says church officials initially were interested in a standing seam copper roof. Instead, Schwickert sent up a five-man crew to install its first copper shingle job, a $150,000 project. The installation, Kaupa says, was painless, because the company installers have considerable experience with steel shingles.

Drummond's crew also found their first copper shingle job to be a snap. Copper shingles have a similar thickness to steel and install like siding. Paradigm's, for instance, hook onto a starter strip, with each successive course hooking on to the course below. With a copper ridge, ridge vents, and flashing, “it's gorgeous,” Drummond says.

Many potential customers blanch at the high up-front cost, Kaupa says. “But when you price it out over 80 or 100 years, there's not a lot of difference” between copper shingles and steel or even composition shingles, which need replacing two or three times.

This is the strongest argument to make when selling copper shingling to customers. “The longevity of the metal is probably the biggest thing,” Stearns says. And when it eventually needs to be replaced, copper shingling can be sold to recyclers and “has a good value in relation to the current cost. So at the end of its life, you get some of the value back,” he says.