The History Of Roofing Felt
The earliest examples of using tar paper to protect roofing dates to the California Gold Rush of the 1800’s. As people flocked west to try to make their fortunes in gold, entire towns sprang up overnight, and were often considered to be temporary dwellings as they might be abandoned as quickly when the gold was gone. There was a need for cheap and easy coverings for roofs; tarpaper filled that need nicely.
Roofing practices evolved with technology, and the role of tar paper, or some protective layer between the roof sheathing and the top material, evolved as well. When asphalt shingles were first introduced, it was discovered that the sap that leached out of wooden roof sheathing caused the asphalt shingles to break down and deteriorate faster.
Originally constructed by literally putting tar on paper, the problems with that earliest form of roofing protection included a tendency to rip and the fact that it will start to rot if the paper gets wet. The next improvement came in the form of heavier papers. Asbestos was used as a waterproofing agent with great success, but as researched emerged detailing the health hazards of that material, use of asbestos in construction had to be discontinued.
Fiberglass roofing felt was introduced, and while it worked for waterproofing, it proved to be too brittle for some applications. A landmark advancement in roofing materials came when polyester was developed as the fiber base for the roofing felt. Organic roofing felt options begin with rag felt, a material made from the fibers of rags.
Virtually impossible to tear, and able to withstand the demands of extreme weather, the roofing felt of today is a far cry from the tar paper covering the shacks of those early gold rush towns. Stronger, sturdier, and easier to work with, today quality roofing felt is required as a roofing underlayment under many municipal building codes, and under most roofing shingle manufacturer’s warranties.