Is this the greenest roofing material around?

Builders and architects are under more pressure than ever to make projects eco-friendly - and with good reason. As a society, we need to drastically cut the environmental impact of our built environment if we’re going to meet our extremely ambitious 2050 carbon reduction targets, and prevent the worst impacts of climate change. And as Ahmed El-Helw of SSQ explains, when it comes to roofing, the greenest option might not be the one you expect.

Natural slate is old. It’s versatile. And it’s beautiful to look at. Anyone who’s worked with it can tell you that.

But what’s not anywhere near as widely appreciated is that it’s by far the most eco-friendly of the common roofing materials, too.

That matters because climate change is the biggest challenge construction will face this century.

At the moment, understandably, the headlines are dominated by coronavirus - but the environment has already become a major consideration for anyone who’s work involves the built environment, and that’s only going to increase in the years ahead.

So, if you’re looking for the greenest roofing solution you can, what makes natural slate the obvious choice?


Firstly, the clue is in the name. Natural slate is 100% natural. It’s the product of hundreds of millions of years of geology, and contains none of the chemicals that many synthetic alternatives do.

Secondly, it’s the longest lived. Concrete and fibre cement tiles both last around 30 years on a roof. Clay tiles will last around 40. Premium quality natural slate, by contrast, can last over 100 years.

In other words, many other materials will have to be replaced two or three times in the lifespan of a single natural slate roof - some of which go on to outlive the building they were originally installed on.

That means natural slate keeps a lot of other material out of landfill, and is effectively recyclable - there’s a healthy market for second-hand slate, particularly on historic buildings.


When it comes to embodied carbon - in effect, a material’s carbon footprint - natural slate is even more impressive.

Concrete tiles create 0.19kg of CO2 per kilogram. Clay tiles are worse - they produce 0.43kg per kilo. Natural slate, however, contains far less - between 0.005-0.054kg per kilo.

In part, this is because natural slate requires remarkably little processing. The slate is quarried with low-power electric diamond cutters, and a lot of the splitting is still done by hand.

Manufacturing other materials is a lot more industrial. To make clay tiles, kilns are kept burning 24 hours a day, with inevitable impacts on the environment. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are even worse - the kilns have to be at higher temperatures.


There’s no question - natural slate definitely comes with a bigger upfront cost than many of its rivals. But taken over the entire lifetime of a roof, the price tag is much smaller than the alternatives.

Fibre cement tiles cost around £18 per square metre, around £15 per square metre to install, and last approximately 30 years. That equals a cost of £1.10 a year per square metre.

Clay tiles cost around £40 per square metre, £15 to install, and last 40 years, equalling £1.25 per square metre.

At SSQ, our standard natural slates cost £22 per square metre, around £20 per square metre to install, and last 50 years - resulting in a total life-cycle cost of 84p per metre.

But our premium slate delivers the lowest of all - the material itself costs £45 per square metre, the labour costs around £15, and it can last 100 years if not longer. That equals a life-cycle cost of just 60p per metre.


In short, one of the strongest, longest-lasting, most versatile and aesthetically pleasing roof materials around is also one of the greenest - and if you’d like to learn more, don’t hesitate to call on 020 8961 7725 or visit


TEL: 020 8961 7725 33


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