Amongst Bemuda’s many charms, its signature white roofs are hard to miss, conspicuously set off by the rainbow of pastel colours of the homes that have made the island famous. But this distinctive hallmark of Bermuda architecture is not just about aesthetics. Designed with safety and sustainability in mind, these unique roofs have evolved over four centuries to be a functional feature of Bermudians’ everyday lives. Hurricanes occasionally hit the small mid-Atlantic island in the summer and fall, toppling trees, rattling shuttered windows and peeling off roofs. To protect houses against the gale-force winds, a Bermudian roof is traditionally made with limestone and coated with a layer of cement. This material is complemented by a stepped shape that protects it from the uplift effects of a hurricane, due to the lack of exposed edges, creating a strong, self-supporting structure. The scarcity of freshwater on the island has also made these roofs an environmental solution and necessity. Rain is the timehonoured water supply here, and more than half of the potable water consumed on the island comes from it. Bermudian roofs are sealed with a nontoxic whitewash that reflects the sun’s heat and sanitises the water as it runs off into a holding tank. To collect it, an integral gutter is made at the bottom of the roof edge, which then sends all the accumulated water to a cistern. Once there, the pump is used to deliver it throughout the home. By law, every house must collect 80 percent of the water that falls on its roof. Some Bermudians still uphold the old and very unique Roof Wetting Ceremony, where a bottle of Gosling’s black rum is poured over a newly erected building or home. The ritual was born out of an old ship-christening tradition that has long been a part of the island’s history.
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