Zinc is a cool metal that heats up architectural details on homes. Durable and rustproof, zinc weathers to an attractive matte gray color, which has a modern appeal, yet stands the test of time, says Gary Davis, spokesman for A. Zahner Co., a 115-year-old metal fabricator for architectural buildings throughout the world and based in Kansas City, Mo.
“In Paris, the batten-seam roofs, constructed in the 1800s, were made of zinc,” he says. “The light reflects off these historic rooftops, and I’d like to think the use of zinc may also contribute to Paris being known as the ‘City of Light,’ especially at sunrise.”
Zinc can turn ordinary house shutters, roofs and guttering into extraordinary architectural details, while opulent outdoor options can also include cupolas, dormers and finials. The use of zinc can give a home character that will last for more than a half-century, yet has an aesthetic that will never go out-of-style.
“People choose zinc for projects because it doesn’t require treating or painting and is relatively maintenance-free,” Davis says. “Zinc’s patina achieves a warm natural gray hue that has a noble, understated quality to it.”
Zinc is a naturally occurring element on the periodic table, but when used as a building material, it is fabricated as an alloy. Most commonly, the alloy is 99.995 percent pure zinc, with trace quantities of copper and titanium, which makes the metal easier to work with and gives it structure and strength.
Most commonly found on high-end houses in the form of zinc roofing, architectural details can also become adornments on any home, but expect to pay up to two times as much as you would for the same product made of stainless steel, Davis says. “Zinc is a beautifully neutral metal,” he says. “While aluminum needs to be painted, stainless steel remains shiny and copper can have issues with run-off, zinc doesn’t compete with the landscape.”
American Camp is one such residential project that was built facing the Pacific Ocean by Suyama Peterson Deguchi, an architectural firm in Seattle. This 1,300-square-foot San Juan Island, Wash., retreat home has a vaulted roof shell, which is covered in battens made of zinc.
“I use zinc on projects, primarily because of its organic nature; it becomes even more beautiful as it ages,” says founding partner George Suyama. “Zinc has a timeless appeal that is connected to place. It’s not about fashion, and is appropriate forever.”
When rolled zinc first comes from the mill, it is shiny like aluminum. As the material is exposed to air, humidity and pollution, it weathers, and naturally creates a gray-colored patina that can take two to five years to develop. For homeowners who don’t want to wait for zinc to gather a honed patina naturally, manufacturers also offer pre-weathered zinc, which is achieved by uniformly exposing the zinc to an acidic bath in the factory.
“Zinc by its nature is very malleable and is easily pressed into molds, creating forms that can top a parapet or be used as a scupper for draining rainwater,” Davis says. “Zinc is also used to decoratively clad walls and in gutter systems, because rainwater run-off will not stain the surfaces below, as copper will.”