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history of roofing

History of roofing in New Zealand

Since people arrived in New Zealand they have endeavored to protect themselves from the changeable New Zealand elements.  The indigenous Maori built small houses or “whare” predominantly used for sleeping in.  The Maori people used materials found in forests and constructed the roofing by weaving.  These small wooden framed houses had roofs made from tightly woven grass and flax.

According to Te Ara the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, as well as providing shelter the roof of a Maori meeting house tells a story.  The more decorative meeting house form represents the body of a primordial ancestor. The ridge pole represents his spine, the rafters the ribs and the gable boards at the entrance are his outstretched arms.  The ancient ancestors face is represented by a gable ornament on the roof peak.

European Roofing

With no other building materials available the first European settler’s adapted timber constructed buildings. The first settlers in Otago built cob houses. The cob houses were built on a stone foundation to prevent damp. Thick layers of straw and clay were used to form the walls providing thermal protection. The roofs were constructed with wide eaves in order to keep out the rain.

New Zealand was heavily forested, so the main choice of house construction was wood.  The early settlers complained about the cold, draughty and flimsy housing. The roof structure took many forms wooden shingles, bark, bitumen soaked material and canvas.  Hence the name Canvas town, a settlement near Nelson.  Whatever the construction material, the usual practice was to build steep roofs of 30-45 degrees to facilitate the shedding of water. 

  The introduction of corrugated galvanized iron in Britain in the 1820s provided an easily transportable roofing material.  CGI is light and requires only basic skills to install.  Because iron rusts it was dipped in molten Zinc which prevents corrosion. The sheets were fixed with nails with a lead cap to prevent water penetration. Unfortunately the lead corroded the sheets and caused problems for many years until being replaced with Zinc screws.

Corrugated Iron 


 Corrugated iron has been one of the characteristic roofing materials in New Zealand for over 150 years. It remained the number one roofing material right up to the 1980s when it was superseded by Zincalume.  Zincalume is aluminum coated steel sheeting in the same style as CGI but with better corrosive protection.

During the 1930s an attempt was made to reduce the volume of imports into New Zealand. This resulted in an increase in tiled roofing. Tiles were manufactured in New Zealand but CGI had to be imported. Thousands of state houses were constructed using tiled roofing. You can still see many examples of these roofs constructed with Marseilles tiles and Winstone roofing tiles.

Metal tiles

Metal roofing tiles are a Kiwi invention and were first produced in New Zealand in 1956 by Martile roofing ltd.  The roofing tiles were pressed from an aluminum manganese alloy and then coated with High Bake Enamel. With a shortage of oil based paints, many of the iron buildings in Britain were covered in bitumen. This technique was used for the coating of Metal tiles in New Zealand. To prevent the tiles from sticking together during transportation a fine layer of stone chips was used to cover the tiles. The manufacturers found that customers actually preferred the look of the chipped tiles so it became one of the main features. As well as giving a pleasing appearance the stone chips provided a degree of thermal protection to the bitumen coating.  Modern metal roofing tiles use an acrylic coating that is extremely durable and lasts in excess of 50 years.

The growing demand for faster house builds has led to a substantial increase in metal tile roofing.  From humble beginnings of thatch and grass, New Zealand now leads the world in Metal tile roofing, exporting to over 130 countries.

Telephone 04803 34 79, Crown Roofing, 19/706 College Street, Te Aro, Wellington, 6011