Sustainable Roofing Materials Beautify and
Extend the Life of Historic New England Church




Case study: 18th Century Church is restored using lightweight synthetic roof tiles in place of slate

by Alison Diegel for Carlisle/EcoStar

Like the better-known town of Williamsburg, Virginia, Ridgefield, Connecticut is a place that time forgot. Charming and filled with revolutionary-era history in the beautiful setting of New England, Ridgefield is unique and rich in colonial heritage. Originally founded in 1708, Ridgefield is home to many historical buildings. Known for its eye-catching foliage in autumn, Ridgefield is perfect for not only American history buffs, but also those interested in the popular activity of leaf peeping. The rich color of the changing leaves attracts photographers and nature lovers annually. 

In September 2008, Ridgefield celebrated its 300th anniversary and with it came the restoration of the Saint Mary Roman Catholic Church, an important building and place of worship for over 3,300 Ridgefield families. The church stands not only as a historical building in Ridgefield, but also as a place of comfort and community for those of the Catholic faith. 

Saint Mary Church is a notable representation of late 18th century architecture with its long nave, standing buttresses and charming steeple. Built in 1881, the church stands in its original setting with only minimal outside renovations, mainly to the roof. As the years went by two prior restorations to the roof were completed, but not to the specifications that were necessary for the church structure. 

Instead of tearing away old asphalt shingles and fixing the problems at the origin, earlier re-roofings consisted of multiple layers of asphalt shingles on top of the original roof that led to leaks and structural damage. Three layers of roofing on any building is a burden, but on the nearly 150-year-old foundation of the Saint Mary Church, it became too much and the building committee decided to fully renovate the roof. 

The committee began searching for roofing materials by way of natural cedar and slate shingles, but because the age of the building required a lighter roofing load, alternatives were researched.

Because of its distinctive exterior coloring, decorations and original foundation, the committee decided a lightweight synthetic slate product was a necessary choice, as was the decision to find a product that came in an array of colors for purposes of matching the bright red of the front door and other important decorative elements. 

After various options were considered, synthetic slate tiles manufactured by EcoStar, were chosen for their eco-friendly characteristics, natural beauty and strength. The Majestic Traditional Slate tiles in Red, Cedar Brown, Smoke Gray and Midnight Gray that were chosen for the roof were a key component in protecting the church from the elements without jeopardizing the structural integrity or sacrificing the unique look of the building. Designed to meet the need for a lightweight, durable alternative, the tiles maintain the look of natural slate, without compromising aesthetic quality. EcoStar Majestic Slate™ tiles emulate the look of slate, but add enhanced strength and durability, providing long-term protection and increased service life. 

Not only do the EcoStar tiles provide aesthetic appeal, conserve natural resources and come with a 50-year warranty, they are sustainably sourced as well. The eco-friendly tiles are made from 80% recycled content, such as post-industrial rubber and plastic. 

Once the choice was made, the church committee enlisted the help of Phil’s Main Roofing of Norwalk, CT. Owned by Phil Tavella, a third generation roofer, Phil’s Main Roofing has been installing EcoStar tiles for over ten years and are confident in the performance of this synthetic roofing product. Boga Davidson of Phil’s Main Roofing said, “The factors considered when selecting EcoStar tiles were the appearance of the tiles, 50-year warranty and EcoStar’s company reputation.”

Before installing the tile in April, Tavella’s crew worked through the winter designing the decorative finials, copper window flashings and gutters as well as other elements for the roof, which in combination with the EcoStar tiles, created an authentic historic look for the church. This project was important to the crew because they remained working full time while waiting for the better weather to begin installation of the tiles. 

Once spring arrived, the installation of the roof began with the application of plywood and rigid insulation followed by EcoStar’s Glacier Guard™ self-adhering membrane that is designed to provide lasting protection against water and ice infiltration, an important factor in Connecticut’s cold climate. Once the underlying layers were complete, the crew of Phil’s Main Roofing began the installation and masterfully blended a mix of Red, Cedar Brown, Smoke Gray and Midnight Gray EcoStar tiles, creating a unique, striking visual effect on the roof. 

The final and most challenging part of the tile application was on the church steeple, but the light weight of the tiles and clear exposure marks made the process trouble-free. At such a height, heavy, natural slate can be easily dropped and broken. Although EcoStar tiles are easy to cut to size and bendable, as was necessary for the circular steeple, they maintain their sturdiness and durability and do not break when dropped, alleviating stress on the workers and making the project safer and cost efficient. 

After the final tile was applied, the specially formed copper finials, flashings and gutters were mounted. The restoration was completed in September, in time for the kick-off of Ridgefield’s yearlong tri-centennial celebration. Among reenactments, musical and theatrical performances, parties and fireworks, the Saint Mary Church continues to stand out in a community proud of its history and beauty.

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