Quality factors in slates – Part I

Traditionally, the slate market has offered a wide variety of different qualities of slate. Each manufacturer has their own commercial references depending on the characteristics of its outcrops, so the market is full of specific commercial references, generating to a general confusion. The first class slate from a company may be very different from the first class of other company. In general, the quality criteria are similar for the entire sector (no alterable minerals, adequate thickness, uniform exfoliation, etc.), although it is the final use of the slate tiles which really define the specific requirements. For example, slate tiles used in Pyrenees, where the roof has to support the weight of the snow many days per year, have high thickness (8-12 mm), regardless of the presence of weatherable minerals. On the other hand, slate tiles used in Brittany, France, must be much more thinner (3-7 mm), without weathering minerals and smooth, uniform appearance. Broadly speaking, the different commercial varieties can be grouped into first, second and third quality, although there are plenty of references intermediate (rustic, first/second/third special quality, first/second economic, second selection, historical monuments selection, etc…).

The factors that determine the quality of a slate tile can be divided into three groups: petrological, tectonic and productive.

Petrological factors

These factors are referred to the mineral components of the slate and the spatial relationships among them.

Mineralogical composition

Slate is composed mainly of quartz, chlorites and mica, together with some other minerals present in variable amounts, like feldspars, chloritoid, tourmaline, carbonates, iron sulphides, etc. However, specific mineralogy depends on the petrological variety of the roofing slate (slate s.s., shale, schist, etc).

Sin título-1For slate s.s., the most typical variety of roofing slate, the average mineral proportions determined by different authors can be found at Table 1. Generally speaking, a good slate should have between 10 and 50 % quartz, 15 – 60 % chlorite and 20 – 70 % mica. Minor minerals like tourmaline, zircon, rutile, leucoxene and chloritoid are not important. Only carbonates and iron sulphides could affect the quality of the slate. Graphite fragments may also have some effect on slate quality by favoring oxidation processes, but only if there are iron sulphides in the slate. Further explanation on weathering of these two minerals can be found at their correspondent posts (oxidation and gypsification). Also, further explanation on slate mineralogy can also be found here.

Other petrological factors related with roofing slates quality are grain size, textural homogeneity and presence of sedimentation beds. These factors will be explained in following posts.

Pathologies – part I

Pathologies in roofing slates

The pathologies formed in slate roofs are mainly due to the presence of potentially unstable minerals (iron sulfides, carbonates and organic matter). These minerals may become altered by the effect of environmental agents, once the slate roof is finished. The pathologies are mainly associated with oxidation and gypsification processes of the cited mineral phases.

The oxidation is generated when the iron sulfides which may contain the slate became weathered, forming iron oxides. This forms reddish rust marks on the surface of slate tiles. This is mainly an aesthetic defect, as only rarely slate tiles disintegrate due to oxidation. However, it is the main fact in volume of complaints from slate customers (Figure 01). The presence of tiny fragments of organic matter may favor the oxidation processes.


Customers complaints by volume of monetary costs

The gypsification occurs when the carbonates react with the environmental SO2, forming gypsum. In this case, gypsum has larger size than carbonates, so a swelling may occur within the slate tile, causing it to disintegrate. Despite this, the incidence that this pathology in the customer complaints is significantly lower than oxidation, maybe since it is not as striking (Figure 01).

There are also other characteristic pathologies and minor defects but also must be taken into account.

Following the criteria dictated by ICOMOS, defects and pathologies found in roofing slates can be classified into 3 groups (Table 01).

Most common  pathologies in roofing slates

Most common pathologies in roofing slates

Further reading: Standard tests for the characterization of roofing slate pathologies