Could natural slate be the roofing material of the future?

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Richard Cook FloR, Technical Director at SSQ, advocates natural slate and Phyllite as two environmentally friendly roofing products that are ideal for the coming net zero age.

Think eco-friendly alternatives to high-carbon roofing, siding, and flooring, and natural slate may not be the first option that comes to mind.

Hundreds of millions of years in the making and a feature of man-made buildings for centuries is not exactly what is commonly associated with futuristic, climate-neutral construction.

But slate is actually one of the greenest materials of its kind. And now, less than thirty years before the UK hits its 2050 deadline for full carbon neutrality, it is possible that one of the oldest roofing materials in the world is becoming increasingly common.

Longer service life, fewer replacement requirements

What Makes Natural Slate Green?

One of the greatest advantages is age and longevity.

The millions of years slowly underground products like natural slate – and Phyllite, which is even older, and which SSQ supplies as our famous Riverstone range – have given them incredible strength and durability.

High quality slate and Phyllite products, if installed correctly, will last many times longer than many other roofing materials.

Fiber cement and concrete tiles, both of which are very common around the world, can last up to thirty years while clay tiles can last forty years.

In all three cases, this is significantly less than the lifespan of an average building.

The installation of a roof, like any type of construction, has an impact on the environment.

Materials have to be manufactured or processed, transported by air or sea, assemblers and other professionals have to drive to the installation site by car or van, and so on – all of these have certain costs in terms of carbon emissions.

One of the best ways to reduce the environmental impact of a project is to simply use products that will last – products that don’t require you to go through the same high carbon processes again in a few decades.

The best slate and phyllite can last over a hundred years (at SSQ we guarantee our best ultra-grade Riverstone and Del Carmen products for a century).

That’s over three times longer than some other commonly used materials – and means that quality slate can often outlive the building it was originally installed on and then be recycled for use on other lots.

Low carbon intensity

“Quarry” is another word that you may not immediately associate with sustainability. Try to picture one in your head and you will likely envision large amounts of gas guzzling machines.

But the reality – especially in the quarries that SSQ works with in Spain and the Phyllite quarry that we own in Argentina – is often different.

The material is extracted using electric diamond cutters, which use very little electricity, and in many cases it is still cut into individual slates by hand.

This is in sharp contrast to the industrial, environmentally harmful process used to make artificial slate alternatives.

When making clay tiles, the ovens are kept running around the clock, which inevitably has an impact on the environment. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are even worse – the ovens need to have higher temperatures.

This explains the large differences in carbon intensity between different roofing materials.

Concrete tiles generate 0.19 kg of CO2 per kilogram. Clay tiles are worse – they produce 0.43 kg per kilo. However, natural slate contains far less – between 0.005 and 0.054 kg per kilo.

Slate for a sustainable society

At SSQ, our commitment to sustainability goes beyond the products we offer and their dismantling.

We also take measures to minimize our environmental impact in other ways – for example by investing in CO2 compensation.

For example, we were responsible for the production of 1,343 tons of CO2 between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019.

We responded by offsetting this carbon by supporting the Gold Standard VER East Africa Borehole project, which provides clean drinking water to people in impoverished parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Our investment enables the well project to significantly improve its energy efficiency, worth 1,343 tons of carbon.

For this reason, we were also presented with a CO2 neutrality certificate from the Carbon Neutral Organization, which you can view on our website.

All in all, we believe that we – and the selection of stunning, sustainable natural slate and phyllite products we offer – can make a significant contribution to the country’s quest to reduce its carbon emissions.




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