DECEMBER 15, 2014

*This article was originally published in Roofing magazine

Historic renovations can pose many challenges to roofing contractors. But when done correctly, a renovation on a classic home maintains the structure’s unique style, provides modern performance and even helps to preserve the rich history of an area. This kind of challenge was presented to Highland, Md.-based Certified Inc. when the roofing company was called upon to install a new roof on a historic mansion in Laurel, Md. By choosing the right roofing materials and utilizing proper techniques, the contractor was able to successfully preserve the home’s Victorian appearance and character using today’s safer, more affordable and reliable products, while also meeting the requirements of the local Historic District Commission.


Formerly known as the Phelps mansion, this Victorian-style house was built in 1888. The mansion was the home of Edward Phelps, who served as the first mayor of Laurel. Throughout his seven terms in office, Phelps modernized the rural community by overseeing the addition of electric street lights; brick-paved roads; a telephone system; and a railroad that connected Laurel to Washington, D.C.

Jim Lessig, Certified’s project manager, was immediately drawn to the project when it was referred to him by a previous customer. “I was very interested in the project due to the historic nature and elaborate architecture of the home,” he says. “It wasn’t the largest project of the year for us, but definitely the most interesting and intricate.”

The Phelps mansion is located in the Historic District of Laurel, an area that is part of the original town. In the 1970s, a Historic District Commission was established to ensure the preservation of homes and businesses and keep the area’s small-town charm. When it came time to install a new roof on the mansion in June 2013, the homeowners worked with the commission to receive approval on building materials and roofing techniques based on a set of guidelines drafted by the organization.

Sunny Pritchard, coordinator for the Historic District Commission, describes the mansion as a magnificent old home that “sits on a sweeping piece of land and looks grand and proud with its high roof lines, gables and big open porches.” To Pritchard and the rest of the commission, it was imperative that the roof retained the home’s noble, Victorian look.


Certified was faced with a historic challenge: How could it imitate the look of the home’s original slate roof while providing the safety and durability of today’s products? The answer came in the form of asphalt shingles, which were selected for the renovation and were approved by the historic commission.

“We chose to use asphalt shingles because they were able to mimic the historic look of the original slate tiles while providing modern performance and reliability,” Lessig notes. “The commission approved the shingle because in their view it gave an authentic slate look that maintained the house’s turnof- the century appearance.”

The chosen shingles are individually colored using precision color technology which allows a roof to maintain the color, contrast and authentic look of natural slate. Natural slate is expensive and takes a specialized labor force to install because the process is an art form. Natural slate can also be a heavy product and breakage can occur when you install it. Asphalt shingles provided a great value for the project, while mimicking the look and tone of slate from the curb.

Contractors used a combination of low- and steep-slope materials on the roof, and added built-in copper gutters to really make it stand out. The end result was a roof that is beautiful and durable. The home retains its ability to transport passersby back into a time of horse-drawn carriages, top hats and hoop skirts.


Since the installation, the Phelps mansion’s new roof has gained national attention. In February, the historic home received one of the asphalt roofing industry’s top honors—the Quality Asphalt Roofing Case-Study Awards (QARC) Bronze Award. The annual QARC awards program is run by the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA), Washington, D.C., and recognizes roofing projects that demonstrate the beauty, durability, reliability and affordability of asphalt-based roofing products.

The Bronze Award recognized the contractor’s choice of an asphalt roofing product that was easy to work with and provided a safe working environment while successfully replicating the 19th century look and feel of the home.

Because of Certified’s excellent work and the unique products used for the project, this historic mansion will continue to represent the image of the original Laurel district and help preserve the area’s history for many more years to come.

“I would have loved to be one of the preserved boards in this house so I could have recorded the happenings throughout the years,” Pritchard notes. “That is what old homes have, a history of happenings, and if you let the roofs and boards decay and rot and eventually fall down, all of that history goes with it. We want to preserve both—the boards and the history.”

Highland Slate shingles: CertainTeed Corp.

Learn More about Asphalt Shingles 
To learn about the color process and how asphalt shingles are made, check out this video from the Washington, D.C.-based Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association.

Learn about ARMA and the QARC awards program.