The History of Roofing

The history of roofing dates back to ancient times when man finally decided to leave the comforts of his cave and began to form civilizations. 


During the prehistoric era, humanity was already clever enough to use the only available resources around him – building his home using only sticks and sturdy plants and laying out the roof with leaves, animal skin, earth, and straws. This roofing provided them with the needed insulation and protection from the harsh weather conditions and the wild. 

Archeologists suggest that proofs of the first roof structures developed in antiquity can be found in pit-houses (dugout houses). These ancient dwellings feature a single-pitched or multi-pitched roof system that reaches the ground. The roofs are usually made of grass, heather, reed, and straw.  This type of roofing structure is still prominent today.

But, the materials were not immune to pests, vermin, and natural decay. These ancient shelters prove to be vulnerable, and people had yet to find new ways to fortify their homes. With the evolution of man came the improvement in roofing structures and techniques. 


Thatch roofing is an ancient roofing method, only more improved and developed. Around 735 AD, people used dry vegetation such as bush, straw, reeds, wheat, and sedge for roof covering. Common in the ancient civilizations of Maya, Inca, and Aztecs, thatched roofing was also prominent across Europe, especially during the Neolithic period, in the birth of cereal agriculture.

Since thatched roofs are the only commonly available material at that time, most rural houses in some parts of the UK, for example, still use them despite their vulnerability to rainwater and fire. But, by the late 1800s, changes began to happen in the onset of the commercial production of slates. Slates are a natural rock that is cut and shaped into shingles.

rustic clay tile roof


The shingle roofing concept is humanity’s first attempt at roofing innovation, primarily as a solution to the imminent risk of fire. The Shingle roofing principle is still one of the bases of roofing structures and techniques in the modern era. It is a technique where the roof is covered with tiles, usually made of wood, earth, stone plates, and clay laid one after the other in an overlapping fashion.

According to research, clay tile in shingle roofing was first used in China about 5,000 years ago. Ancient Chinese structures feature roofs made of interlocking clay tiles, providing dwellers with sturdy and durable protection and insulation, especially during extreme summers and winters.

Moreover, records show that approximately 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, the Greeks and Babylonians embraced the same roofing principle and used earthenware tiles for materials. Earthenware tiles are made of clay that has become impervious to liquid through the process of glazing. Subsequently, by the early 100 BC, the Romans brought these Greek earthenware tiles to England.


By the 18th Century, clay tile roofing was already prominent, and the industrial production of these earthenware has already begun. It is most prevalent in Middle Europe for its beautiful, classic look and its durability. In Rome, we can still see many old buildings having ‘red-tile roofs’ to remind the roofing systems’ humble beginnings.

About a hundred years later, concrete tiles were developed, and adding color pigments that resemble clay tiles became common practice. However, clay tiles still outperform concrete ones in terms of weight, durability, insulating properties, and water absorption. 

Ceramic tiles also became viable as a roofing material. It originated in Spain but was later made famous in the US for its sturdiness and stylish look that creates tessellations of ‘ripples’ across the roof.


In the early 1900s, wood shingles were used to be one of the prevalent roofing materials. However, due to fire risk, authorities discouraged it, and asphalt became one of the alternatives. The material was light yet durable and is fire-resistant.

It is interesting to note that wood shingles never really ‘died’ as some homes and buildings still use it despite the risk. Its stylish vibe and relatively lightweight make it perfect for other people’s taste. In fact, in the modern-day era, wood shingles are beginning to reemerge, whether purely or partly combined with other roofing materials like metal sheets and slates.


solar panel roof

With the fast-paced technology almost taking over our lives, there is no telling what the future holds, but one thing is for sure – our homes can only improve. Some homes and commercial buildings now incorporate modern technology for energy renewability and sustainability. Solar panels partially or fully covering the roof slowly becomes a trend, especially today where there is an increased cost in energy alongside its rising demand. There are also companies like Tesla, who develops seamless roof design that integrates solar energy collection and storage system.