Roofs on midcentury homes are always unique. A roof that is flat on top can lead to draining issues, but with the correct renovation, this roof can be as efficient as it is beautiful. Photo by Jim Brown.

When renovating your house, redoing your roof is often not first on your list. However, roofs on midcentury homes often need to be repaired or replaced. Choosing the proper roof can require a lot of research and decision making, but we’re going to make your renovation process a little easier. Here is everything you need to know about midcentury roofs and what works best for your home.

Roofing Types

Choosing your materials and application systems also chooses the aesthetic and actual renovation of your roof. A lot of midcentury roofs were flat and had low-slops that can often cause ponding and draining issues over time. This style of roof is still obtainable today, but renovating this roof with new material is important.

Tar and gravel is among the most popular roofing styles and is great for a home that endures rough weather. Source.

One of the most common roofing systems for Midcentury Modern homes is the tar and gravel system. This system uses layers and layers of material to seal the roof off from water damage and UV rays. A layer of tar is put down on the roof and is followed by a layer of gravel. This pattern continues until the roof is durable enough to withstand weather for several years.

Mineral cap is a system that is similar to tar and gravel in its appearance and efficiency. Source.

If you are replacing your roof and choosing a tar and gravel roof, it is important to think about the climate of your neighborhood and adding insulation. Because of the black tar, these roofs will retain heat and may make your home very hot if you live in a warm climate, like Palm Springs. However, this type of roof can be watertight and may be better for a home in Portland. Although this type of roof may not be preferable for a desert home, it is the least expensive of most midcentury roofing options.

Mineral cap installation is another option that is similar to tar and gravel. Rather than placing a layer of gravel over the tar, this material is made with small rocks mixed into the roofing sheet. It may not be as aesthetic as some of the other options, but it is easy to clean.

The Polyurethane foam system seems like a very popular option because of its thorough coverage and clean look. Source.
Polyurethane foam is made on site, so it is important to be working with only experienced installers that have been in the business for a while. Source.

A recently popular option is using a sprayed polyurethane foam system. This roof may be more appealing to some because it can be applied over most existing roofs. Although the invention of sprayed foam occurred in the 40s and 50s, this style wasn’t really developed until later. However, if you’re not looking to replace your roof, but simply renovate it, this might be a better option. This roof also seems to be the best option for homes that sit in a very warm environment.

Single-ply roofing is great for energy efficiency and is a nice option if you’re looking to add insulation. Source.
Single-ply roofing is applied by attaching the sheet to the roof. Insulation can be installed underneath and this roof is good for harsh climates. Source.

For homes that need to stay cool all year round, this foam reflects heat and is very energy efficient. When considering this roof, there are a few things to make sure of. Quality is extremely important because they make the foam at the time of installation. This roofing is more expensive than the other options, but it is still important to go with the best installer rather than the least expensive installer. The elastomeric coat will also need to be applied at least once within 5 to 10 years of installation.

If you like the look of tar and gravel, but prefer the efficiency of a single-ply system, then modified bitumen is for you. Source.

If you have a home in a very wet climate in the winter and a hot climate in the summer, a single-ply system may be the one for you. These roofs are made from sheets of a plastic-like substance that is attached to the top of the home to create a roof that is waterproof and withstands harsh UV rays. Insulation can also be installed underneath.

A modified bitumen system takes the idea of the single-ply application and mixes it with the tar and gravel style. This system takes the same plastic-like sheet and attaches it to the roof and to other layers with heated asphalt. You can add insulation under this roof, as well, and a protective layer on top. However, it is important to note how much weight your home can structurally support.

Asphalt singles are a a fairly common roof covering that has roots in the midcentury era as well. Many ranch-style homes may even come with this style of roof, but it isn’t nearly as popular as more insulating and sleeker materials. Photo by Jim Brown.

Things to Consider

Before deciding to completely replace your roof, you may want to consider renovating it. John Shum of Destination Eichler says “Whether a roof needs to be replaced or repaired will depend on many factors that you can discuss with your contractor.” If your roof is of a somewhat young age and doesn’t have any excessive wear or damage, your roof may be salvageable. However, if you do decide to replace your roof make sure you contemplate all of your options. If you’re not staying in your home very long, you may want to choose a roof that may be more appealing to buyers or go the other route and choose a cheaper option that will last you until you move.

Some midcentury roofs have architectural elements that function to protect the home. Although this roof is set in a fairly dry climate, it is perfect for summer storms because of its aesthetic draining system. The water can flow through the small slits in the roof, while the slits provide a cool and modern look to the home. Photo by Bret Gum.

The most important part of the roof renovating process is fixing the inside before focusing on the outside. “Eichler Homes, for example, run electrical and plumbing on the roof instead of crawl spaces, so completing these types of projects is key before tackling a new roof,” says Shum.

For Midcentury Modern decorators, design is critical. The balance between form and functionality should move seamlessly inside and outside of the house. It may be a necessity to change the overall look of the roof, but don’t fall short on the aesthetic element of the roof. In his experience, Shum says “We try to match the overall style from original materials and finishes, but opt for modern materials to meet efficiency, cost, and code concerns.” This is a great way to maintaining your home’s midcentury look, without getting into trouble. Also, if you’re replacing your roof, you might want to get ahead of legislation and pick out an energy efficient roof now. Draining issues and choosing flat roofs can often cause issues with the home in the future. If you’re looking to do a flat roof, make sure you’re talking to contractors with this type of experience.

This gravel roof is the embodiment of midcentury architecture, but it would be great with a polyurethane foam coating as well. Photo by Jim Brown.

Finally, don’t make any decisions until you up the phone and call a few installers and roofing companies to get their opinions. Quality is important when changing the structure of your home. Make sure that you are looking at rates and reviews before choosing the roof for you.


For more information on renovating your roof or on Eichler homes, contact Destination Eichler at (415) 722-7214.


The 2017 Renovation Guide

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