Replacing a Broken Slate Tile

Slate roof tiles

 Tim Grist Photography / Getty Images

Very few types of roofing materials can match the natural beauty and longevity of a natural slate roof. A natural slate roof can last more than 100 years, making it one of the most durable types of roof systems you can purchase and install on your home or building. In order to get the maximum life out of your slate roof system, it must be maintained and repaired. You will get the most service life out of your roof system if you inspect and repair it on a regular basis.

Accessing Your Roof Safely

In order to complete an effective repair to your slate roof system, you must safely gain access to the area of the roof system where the repair needs to be made. Slate roofs present safety obstacles that must be addressed in order to complete repairs safely.

The first thing to remember is that slate is a natural product and moss will grow on the surface of the slate. Also, it will become slippery under rain or snow conditions. Take precautions by clearing any growth from the surface of the slate as well as removing snow or ice from the surface of the slates before attempting to walk on them. It is not recommended to walk on the surface of the slate when it is wet from rain or snow.

The second thing to understand is that slate does not support foot traffic very well. It is best to avoid stepping directly on the slate when possible. This can best be accomplished by using a chicken ladder or other type of equipment that will support your weight while making the repair. Risks associated with stepping on the slate include additional damage to the roof as well as slips and falls as a result of slate slipping out from under the feet of the individual.

As you repair your slate roof, you want to ensure that your access to the roof does not cause further damage to the roof system. You also want to complete the repair that minimizes your exposure to falls and injuries.

Tools, Materials, and Skills Required

Slate roof repair requires several specialized tools and equipment to complete the repair project correctly. These tools allow you to be more effective and safe while working on the roof and will enable you to install a better quality repair.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Hammer
  • Flat pry bar
  • Slate ripper
  • Slate cutter
  • Caulk gun
  • Chicken ladder
  • Tin snips

Materials

  • Replacement slates
  • Copper roofing nails deep enough to penetrate the decking at least ¾”
  • Sheet copper with 5” exposure on slate plus 2”
  • Tubes of polyurethane caulk or asphalt mastic

Instructions

  1. Remove Damaged Slate Tile

    When slate tiles are damaged, there usually are remnants of the tile left behind including nails. As a result, the second step in replacing a missing or damaged slate tile is to remove those remnants. This includes the nails used to attach the slate. This must be completed prior to the installation of the new slate tile.

    Insert the top end of the slate ripping tool under the bottom edge of the slate tile or into the location where the tile is missing. You will notice that the slate ripper has a hook on either side of the top of the flat end of the ripper. The hooks are used to catch and cut the nails. As you catch the nail with the hooks, use your hammer to hit the handle of the slate ripper to drive the hook down against the nail. This will either cut the nail, or it will rip the nail out. Afterward, use the slate ripper to lift up on the slate and slide the slate out from its position.

    The proper way to remove a roof slate tile utilizing a slate ripper.
    Jurin Roofing Services, Inc.
  2. Verify Replacement Slate Tile Size

    Once you have removed the damaged slate and nails from the repair area, lay the slate over the area to be repaired to confirm that the size of the slate meets the dimensions required to complete the repair. It may be necessary for you to trim the slate to meet the dimensions needed. This can be accomplished by using a slate cutter.

    If you are able to retain the slate that is being replaced, you may use the slate as a template for the new replacement slate. Overlay the original slate onto the new slate and confirm that the size matches the slate being replaced. Trim the slate as necessary to match the slate being replaced.

    Slate cutter used to cut slate roof tiles.
    Jurin Roofing Services, Inc.
  3. Install Replacement Slate Tile

    The fourth step is to install the replacement slate. When installing the slate, it is important to remember that slates are not to be nailed tight. They are to be hung in place. In order to accomplish this, copper roofing nails should be driven to a point where they are flush with the surface of the slate while being careful not to overdrive the nails. If you overdrive the nails, you can crack the slate which may cause the slate to break.

    Begin by sliding the slate into place. You do this by placing the slate tile under the slate directly above the location where the slate is to be installed. Slide the slate up and into place. You may feel some resistance to the slate being slid into place. If this happens, just apply pressure to slide the slate into place. If there appears to be too much resistance, it may be due to a small piece of the slate or a nail still in the way. Use the slate ripping tool to clear the area under the slates and remove any obstructions. Slide the slate to a point where the bottom of the slate is flush to the bottom of the slates on either side.

    Once positioned, you will attach the slate using copper roofing nails. Place the first nail between the two slates directly above the repair slate. The nail should be installed approximately 2” above the bottom of the slates. Begin by tapping the nail gently and then increasing pressure. If you attempt to drive the nail on the first hit, you will risk splitting or cracking the slate. The second nail should be installed approximately 2” above the first nail. Two nails are required in order to prevent the slate from rotating once in place.

    Proper installation and nail-in-place replacement roof slate tile.
    Jurin Roofing Services, Inc.
  4. Install Copper Slip Under Replacement Slate

    After the slate is nailed in place, you will need to insert the copper slip. The copper slip is used to shingle the water over the nails and onto the exposed portion of the slate. Begin by cutting the copper slip so that it is approximately 4 to 5 inches wide. The length of the copper slip should be the full length of the exposed portion of the roofing slate plus an additional two inches in length in order to extend past the bottom of the slate two courses above the replacement slate.

    After measuring and cutting the copper slip, place a slight bend in the copper in the middle of the slip along the longest dimension. This bend in the copper slip helps to create tension and keep the slip in place after it is inserted. Slide the slip under the bottom edge of the two slates directly above the installed repair slate so that it extends from the bottom two courses above the repair slate and over the nails used to secure the repair slate. It may be necessary to use the hammer to gently tap the bottom of the slip in order to insert it fully.

    Proper construction and installation of a copper slip necessary for slate tile replacement and repair.
    Jurin Roofing Services, Inc.