Copper Tops Barrel-Vault Roof on Showcase Home

October 2001

When it comes to homebuilding design, “tradition” and “innovation” often exist at opposite ends of the architectural spectrum. Finding a balance can be a struggle, but tucked into a steep, wooded hillside lot in one Atlanta suburb, a gently curving barrel-vault copper porch roof finds harmony somewhere between design history and novelty.

The copper roof, and the house it is attached to, were commissioned by This Old House magazine and designed by Jeremiah Eck Architects of Boston for the 2002 International Builders Show. The house showcases new products, materials, interior design trends and architectural innovations for the magazine’s readers and was on display for the estimated 70,000 homebuilding industry professionals in February.

Cu Barrel-Vault Roof

Although the house incorporates many innovative and even imitation products in its construction—such as a recycled-rubber “slate” shingle for the main roof—the project was dubbed the Timeless House by the magazine. “It’s really all about making new construction feel familiar,” says TOH Building Editor Alex Gant. “This house distills so many elements of older, classic homes.”

One of those “timeless” elements is the porch roof made up of solid copper sheets. Long regarded as a premier construction material in homes as well as commercial and public buildings, copper lends an important touch of authenticity to the project, Gant explains, and serves as a counterpoint to the novel and imitative materials used elsewhere. “Our first choice for this roof was copper,” she adds.

When installed in October 2001, the roof was as coppery-bright as a new kettle, but its shine soon faded, and eventually it will adopt a familiar blue-green color, or “patina.” Because of this weathering process, copper roofs are among the most durable, lasting 100 years or more.

“Copper has a fantastic patina all its life,” according to the architect. “Bright when it’s new, a very attractive brown as it begins to oxidize, then 10 to 15 years out it gets that soft, lovely green color that you see on the Statue of Liberty and on many roofs.”

Asked if he had considered maintaining the bright finish, or treating the copper to more quickly achieve an “aged” effect, Eck feels those options would have only increased the project’s cost and would not have been worth the effort. While barrel-vault roofs are not yet common in home construction, he says, his firm has been asked to design others, and he expects to see more, with today’s emphasis on complex rooflines.

With five bedrooms and baths, a home theater and a designated “party room,” the 4,200-square-foot home is valued at $935,000. The solid-copper sheets used to create the roof, along with other copper products including plumbing pipes, rain gutters, chimney canopies and decorative accents throughout the interior and exterior of the home, were provided by the Copper Development Association, a trade organization representing the U.S. copper, brass and bronze industry.