What is Roofing Lead? (Why We Use it and Potential Health Concerns)

Roofing lead is made of a naturally occurring metal substance found in the earth’s crust. It can also be found in the paint used on roofs, which is why it’s important to know about its potential health hazards if you work on or around a roof.

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What is roofing lead?

Roofing lead refers to lead sheets or strips that are used in roofing applications to create a waterproof and weatherproof barrier. Lead has been used as a roofing material for centuries because of its durability and malleability. It is commonly used on flat or low-sloping roofs and can be installed in a variety of ways, such as flat-seamed, standing-seam, or shingle style.

Most roofing lead is made from a high-quality, pure lead alloy that is made to resist corrosion and the effects of the weather. It is often installed over a base layer of felt or other underlayment to provide an additional layer of protection against moisture and leaks.

Roofing lead is often used on both residential and commercial buildings, and architects and designers like it because of how it looks.

However, lead can be toxic if ingested or inhaled, so only qualified professionals who are familiar with handling it safely should install it.

What materials made with lead are used for roofing?

Here are some examples of lead materials that are commonly used in roofing:

  • Lead sheets: These are thin sheets of lead that are used to cover flat or low-sloping roofs. They are typically installed in a flat-seamed or standing seam style.
  • Lead flashing: This is a thin strip of lead that is used to cover and protect roof joints, edges, and other vulnerable areas where water can penetrate. Lead flashing can be shaped to fit any angle or curve in the roof.
  • Lead shingles: These are small, rectangular pieces of lead that are installed in a shingle-style pattern on a sloping roof. Lead shingles are often used in historic or architectural restoration projects.
  • Lead coated copper: This is a copper sheet that has been coated with a layer of lead. It provides the durability of copper with the waterproofing properties of lead.
  • Lead gutters: These are gutters that are made from lead and used to direct rainwater away from the roof and the foundation of the building. Lead gutters are durable, long-lasting, and can be custom-made to fit the specific needs of the building.
  • Lead drip edge: This is a type of flashing that is used to direct water away from the edge of the roof. It is typically installed along the eaves of the roof and can help prevent water damage to the roof decking and underlying structure.
  • Lead cames: These are strips of lead that are used to hold together individual pieces of glass in a stained glass window. While not technically a roofing material, lead cames are Used often in old or fancy buildings, they can add to the overall look of the building.

What are the benefits of using lead in roofing?

Provide waterproofing for roofs

One of the best things about using lead in roofing is that it keeps water out very well. Lead sheets and strips are highly resistant to water and can prevent rainwater from penetrating into the building, protecting the roof structure and the interior of the building from damage.

Provide structural support to the roof

Lead roofing materials are also strong and durable, which provides structural support for the roof. This can help extend the life of the roof and reduce the need for costly repairs and replacements.

Reduce heat transfer

Lead has a low thermal conductivity, which means it can reduce the amount of heat that is transferred from the sun to the interior of the building. This can help reduce cooling costs and make the building more energy efficient.

Prevent rainwater from leaking into the building

Lead flashing and gutters can help prevent rainwater from leaking into the building, which can cause damage to the roof, walls, and foundation.

Improve the aesthetics of the roof

For their aesthetic qualities, architects and designers frequently favor lead roofing materials. They can give a building a unique and attractive appearance.

Guards against lightning storms and radiation

Lead has the ability to absorb electromagnetic radiation, which can protect the building from lightning strikes and other forms of radiation.

Protect the roof from chemical damage

Lead is highly resistant to chemical damage, which makes it ideal for use in areas where there may be exposure to harsh chemicals.

Allows for weight reduction of the roof

Lead is a relatively lightweight material, which can help reduce the overall weight of the roof. This can be beneficial in areas where there are weight restrictions or concerns about structural load.

Allows for flexibility in design

Lead is an extremely flexible and malleable material, which means it can be easily shaped and molded to fit a wide range of roofing designs.

Reduces the risk of corrosion

Lead is very resistant to corrosion, so it can protect the roof for a long time and cut down on how often it needs to be fixed or maintained.

Environmentally friendly and recyclable

Lead is a sustainable and environmentally friendly material, as it can be easily recycled and reused. This makes it an attractive choice for building owners who are concerned about reducing their environmental impact.

Potential health concerns of lead poisoning from roofing lead

  • Memory loss: Exposure to lead can cause memory loss and impair cognitive function. This can make it difficult to remember information, learn new things, and perform daily tasks.
  • Nervous system damage: Lead can cause damage to the nervous system, which can result in a range of symptoms, including numbness, tingling, and weakness in the limbs.
  • Impairment of cognition: Lead poisoning can also impair cognitive function, which can make it difficult to think clearly and perform mental tasks.
  • Neurobehavioural effects: Exposure to lead can cause neurobehavioral effects, including aggression, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.
  • Disorders of attention and concentration: Lead poisoning can cause disorders of attention and concentration, which can make it difficult to focus and pay attention.
  • Personality changes: Exposure to lead can cause changes in personality, including irritability, mood swings, and aggression.
  • Major depression and suicidal ideation: Lead poisoning has been linked to an increased risk of major depression and suicidal ideation.
  • Neurotoxicity: Lead is a neurotoxin, which means it can damage the nerves in the body and cause neurological problems.
  • Hormonal effects: Lead poisoning can also have hormonal effects, which can lead to reproductive problems, such as infertility, and developmental delays in children.

How can I reduce exposure to roofing lead while working on roofs?

Step 1: Determine the type of lead work you do

The first step is to determine the type of lead work you will be doing. This can include installation, repair, or removal of lead roofing materials. Knowing the type of work you will be doing can help you better understand the potential risks associated with exposure to lead.

Step 2: Consider limiting work on roofs with lead

Consider limiting the amount of work you do on roofs with lead. This can help reduce the amount of exposure to lead and lower the risk of lead poisoning. For example, if possible, you may want to avoid working on roofs with old or deteriorating lead roofing materials.

Step 3: Ask your contractor if he or she carries a lead safe certification

Before working with a contractor, ask if they carry a lead-safe certification. A certified contractor will have the proper training and equipment to handle lead safely.

Step 4: Familiarize yourself with the dangers of lead exposure

Learn about the dangers of lead exposure and how to protect yourself. This can include learning about the symptoms of lead poisoning, how lead enters the body, and what you can do to minimize exposure.

Step 5: Follow safe working practices when working with lead

Follow safe working practices when working with lead. This can include things like wearing protective clothing and breathing gear and following the right safety rules when handling and getting rid of lead materials.

Step 6: Keep track of the amount of time spent on each step

Keep track of the amount of time spent on each step of the lead work process. This can help you identify areas where you may be spending too much time and can help you minimize exposure to lead.

Step 7: Make sure your contractor has a valid license and is compliant with applicable laws

Make sure your contractor has a valid license and is compliant with applicable laws. This can help ensure that they are following the proper safety protocols and are trained to handle lead safely.

Step 8: Check for testimonials from friends or family members

Check for testimonials from friends or family members who have worked with the contractor before. This can give you an idea of their experience and whether they have had any issues with lead exposure.

Step 9: Do some research on the contractor’s safety record

Do some research on the contractor’s safety record. This can include checking for any violations or complaints related to lead exposure or safety violations. This can help you make an informed decision when choosing a contractor to work with.

How durable is roofing lead?

Roofing lead is a very durable material and can last up to 200 years or more with proper installation and maintenance. Even though lead is soft and easy to shape, it can withstand harsh weather and doesn’t rust.

However, it is important to note that excessive foot traffic or other forms of physical stress can cause the lead to become damaged or dented, which can affect its lifespan.

The Mohs hardness scale measures the relative hardness of minerals on a scale of 1 to 10. Lead has a Mohs hardness of 1.5, which is considered mostly low in hardness.

This means that it is softer than most other roofing materials, such as metal or asphalt shingles, but it is still able to resist scratches and other forms of wear and tear.

In terms of its melting point, lead has a relatively low melting point of 621 degrees Fahrenheit (327.5 degrees Celsius). This means that it is vulnerable to high temperatures and can become damaged or distorted if exposed to excessive heat.

In roofing applications, lead is typically not exposed to temperatures that are high enough to cause melting or significant damage.

Table: Comparing lead roofing shingles to others on the market

MaterialPros compared to lead roofingCons compared to lead roofing
AluminumLightweight, highly reflective, resistant to corrosion and rustLess durable and long-lasting than lead, can dent or scratch more easily
ZincResistant to corrosion and weathering, long-lasting, easily malleableCan be more expensive than lead, may require skilled professionals for installation
CopperLong-lasting, highly durable, resists corrosion and weathering, attractive appearanceMore expensive than lead, can patina and change appearance over time
SteelAffordable, lightweight, durable, resistant to corrosion and weatheringCan rust or corrode over time, may require coatings for protection
WoodNatural, attractive appearance, can insulate against heat and coldRequires regular maintenance and treatment, can be prone to rot and insect damage, not fire-resistant
SlateHighly durable, long-lasting, fire-resistant, attractive appearanceMore expensive than lead, requires skilled professionals for installation
FlagstoneNatural, attractive appearance, durableCan be heavy and require reinforcement of the roof structure, can be prone to cracking and damage
PlasticAffordable, lightweight, easy to install, resistant to weathering and fadingMay not be as durable or long-lasting as lead, may not be as fire-resistant
CompositeAffordable, lightweight, can resemble other materials such as slate or woodMay not be as durable or long-lasting as lead, can be prone to fading or damage from weathering
CeramicAttractive appearance, highly durable, long-lasting, fire-resistantMore expensive than lead, can be heavy and require reinforcement of the roof structure, requires skilled professionals for installation

How does roofing lead compare to other roofing materials?

  • Durability: Roofing lead is highly durable and can last up to 200 years or more with proper installation and maintenance. It is resistant to harsh weather conditions, such as extreme temperatures, heavy rain, and wind. However, some other roofing materials, such as concrete tiles, may also last a long time.
  • Weight: Roofing lead is relatively lightweight compared to other roofing materials, such as concrete or slate tiles. This can make it easier to transport and install, and can also reduce the load on the building’s structure.
  • Aesthetics: Lead roofing has a distinctive appearance that is often associated with traditional or historic buildings. It can add a classic and elegant look to a property. However, some other roofing materials, such as metal shingles, can also provide an attractive appearance.
  • Cost: Roofing lead is generally more expensive than other roofing materials, such as asphalt shingles or metal panels. However, its long lifespan can make it a cost-effective choice in the long run.
  • Installation: Lead roofing requires skilled professionals to install it properly. The installation process can be time-consuming and requires careful attention to detail. Other roofing materials, such as asphalt shingles, can be installed more quickly and easily.
  • Environmental impact: Lead is a non-renewable resource and its mining and processing can have negative environmental impacts. Additionally, there are concerns about the potential health risks associated with lead exposure. Some other roofing materials, such as metal or asphalt shingles, may have less environmental impact and fewer health concerns.

How does roofing lead perform in extreme weather conditions?

Rain and moisture

Lead doesn’t get wet easily, so it is often used as flashing to keep water from getting into the roof. However, over time, exposure to moisture and acidic rainwater may cause the lead to corrode, which can lead to leaks.


Lead roofing shingles are heavy and have a low profile, which makes them resistant to wind uplift. However, if they are not installed properly, wind can lift or damage the shingles.


Lead is a soft and malleable material, which makes it less susceptible to damage from hail compared to other roofing materials like asphalt shingles. However, large hailstones may still dent or damage lead roofing shingles.

Snow and ice

Lead is a good conductor of heat, so snow and ice will melt quickly on a lead roof, preventing ice dams from forming. However, if the roof is not properly insulated, melting snow and ice can refreeze and cause damage to the roof.

Extreme temperatures

Lead has a relatively low melting point of 621 degrees Fahrenheit, so it can withstand extreme heat without melting. However, in extreme cold temperatures, lead can become more brittle and more prone to cracking.

How is roofing lead recycled?

According to the Mineralogical Society of America, there is an estimated recycling rate of over 90% for roofing lead. The process of recycling roofing lead involves several steps, which are as follows:

  1. Collection: The first step is to collect the roofing lead material from construction sites or other sources. This material may include lead roofing shingles, flashing, or other lead-based components of the roof.
  2. Sorting and cleaning: Once the roofing lead material has been collected, it is sorted and cleaned to remove any contaminants or impurities. This may involve manual sorting or the use of automated sorting equipment to separate different types of lead.
  3. Smelting: After the lead material has been sorted and cleaned, it is melted down in a smelter. The smelting process involves heating the lead to a high temperature until it melts, and then separating it from any remaining impurities or non-metallic materials.
  4. Refining: Once the lead has been melted down, it is refined to remove any remaining impurities or non-metallic materials. This may involve the use of chemical treatments or other refining methods to purify the lead.
  5. Casting: The final step in the process is to cast the refined lead into new roofing materials or other products. This may involve casting the lead into sheets or shingles, or using it as a component in other building materials.

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Author: Logan

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