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Clay tile roofs are often chosen for their unique Old World beauty, but this material offers homeowners additional benefits. Tile roofing materials are chosen for their versatility, durability, and longevity. Clay tiles are a low-maintenance option appropriate for cold and warm climates with an ability to withstand water, snow, and sun.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Clay Tile Roofing
Clay tiles can be found in many colors, shapes, and applications. No single roofing is best for every home, so consider the benefits and drawbacks of clay tiles.
- Durability: Clay tile roofs can withstand threats such as fire, wind, sun, snow, and hail.
- Insulation: Clay tiles can keep your home cool during hot weather and warm during cold weather.
- Longevity: Clay tile roofs generally last 100 or more years with proper installation and maintenance.
- Brittle: Although tile roofs are resistant to high winds, fire, and hail, individual tiles are brittle and break easily during the installation process.
- Cost: Clay tiles can cost three to four times more than asphalt shingles.
- Weight: Clay tile roofs are heavy; the roof’s structure needs to be assessed and possibly reinforced prior to installing a clay roof.
Benefits of Clay Tile Roofing
A properly installed clay tile roof may last more than 100 years. The raw materials don’t rot or decay, and they withstand the most common threats to typical roofs. The only significant threats to these roofing products are falling trees and mishandling by humans.
Clay tile roofs compete well against metal roofs and asphalt shingles when it comes to withstanding extreme temperatures, such as high heat and frigid cold. They hold up well under heavy wind and rain storms. Clay tiles also offer Class A fire resistance according to the American Society for Testing and Materials, meaning they have the lowest fire spread rate.
Although we found several clay roof warranties for 50 or 75 years, a properly installed and maintained roof won’t need to be replaced for your lifetime. Maintenance includes professional inspections every one or two years and prompt replacement of broken or damaged tiles.
Drawbacks of Clay Tile Roofs
The initial investment for a clay tile roof is high. Clay tile roofs are typically three to four times as expensive per square foot as an asphalt shingle roof.
Additionally, clay tiles have certain requirements for the roof structure to be successfully installed. You’ll need a steep roof slope, such as a gable roof, to install clay tiles. According to the International Code Council, the minimum allowable slope is a ratio of 2 1/2 to 12 inches.
If the roof pitch meets the minimum requirement but is less than a 4 to 12 ratio, a double underlayment is necessary, adding to your investment requirements. Furthermore, tile roofs require specific types of underlayment and must include an ice barrier if ice damming is a risk in your area.
Your roof will also need to be structurally capable of holding the weight of a clay tile roof. Clay tiles typically weigh between 700 and 900 pounds per roofing square (100 square feet), putting a lot of weight on your existing roof structure. If you plan to replace asphalt or concrete roof tiles, it may be necessary to reinforce the structure.
Aesthetics: Tile Styles
Clay tile roofs are often associated with Mediterranean and Spanish architecture. However, these tiles are available in many colors and types.
- Barrel tiles: Barrel tiles are also commonly called mission tiles. They are barrel-shaped and laid in an interlocking pattern, with the convex tile on bottom and the concave on top. Alternatively, the bottom tile can be a flat pan. These tiles are common in Italy and the hot, dry climate of the U.S. Southwest, as they warm up slowly during the day and release heat slowly at night.
- Flat tiles: These modern tiles offer the durability of traditional clay tiles but resemble the traditional appearance of wood shakes. They can be placed in an interlocking design or laid in a double thickness that creates a traditional shingle appearance. Flat tiles are available with a flat profile as well as a flat interlocking profile.
- French tiles: French tiles have interlocking sides and feature two flutes (vertical channels) for a dramatic look and to help water drainage. French tiles are generally available in lighter shades, such as peach and salmon, and they tend to be larger but lighter than Spanish and Italian tiles.
- Spanish tiles: Spanish clay tiles feature an S-shaped design and are a one-piece barrel tile, ideal for curving roofs. These tiles are energy-efficient and wind- and weather-resistant, making them a good choice in many environments. They are also fire-resistant.
Clay tiles have insulating properties that provide a temperature buffer for the interior of your home in both hot and cold weather. This in turn leads to lower heating and cooling costs. Additionally, lighter color terra-cotta clay helps reflect more sunlight, providing a cooling effect compared to darker-colored shingles.
Comparing Clay Tile with Other Roofing Materials
Clay tiles perform very well when compared to asphalt shingles and metal roofing. Although asphalt shingles are the least expensive, tile and metal last longer. This longevity and durability is part of the reason for the increased costs of metal and clay roofing. The cost of slate roof tiles is similar to that of clay. When it comes to durability and longevity, clay, concrete, and slate tiles perform best.
When confronted with damage from a fallen tree or from people walking on the roof, other roofing options, such as asphalt shingles, may be easier and less expensive to repair. If your roof has a low pitch, clay tiles aren’t a good match, but metal, concrete, and asphalt may be a good option.
Clay Tile Roof Maintenance
Proper maintenance will help your clay tile roof reach its full potential life span. Start by having a roofing professional inspect your roof about once a year, watching for signs of moss growth, mildew, cracked tiles, and other signs of trouble, especially at the edge of the roof where individual tiles are more exposed.
Broken tiles need to be removed carefully to avoid damaging surrounding tiles while keeping the overlapping pattern in place. If you keep extra tiles from the roof installation, you can ensure the new tiles will match.
You should also regularly clean your roof—again, it’s best to hire a professional due to safety concerns working on a clay roof. As dust and other organic matter settle on your roof, it can become home to algae, moss, and mildew. This is particularly true in very humid climates and in homes next to the ocean or lakes. Debris, such as leaves and seeds, can also clutter your roof and prevent the proper flow of water. Hire a roofing professional to clean your roof as necessary.
Some roof tiles, such as concrete, can be protected with primer or acrylic paint. This step provides added protection from UV rays, extreme temperatures, and varying weather conditions. However, applying a protective coating to terra-cotta clay tiles isn’t advisable due to the glaze added in the manufacturing process.
Clay tile roofs offer several advantages, including insulatory properties, longevity, and aesthetics. Although the initial cost is high, a well-maintained roof can last a lifetime, and it can boost the energy efficiency of your home. Consult a structural engineer or roofing professional to determine whether your home is a good candidate for a clay tile roof.
Clay Tile Roof FAQ
How many years does a clay tile roof last?
A clay tile roof lasts 50 to 100 years or more with proper installation and regular maintenance.
Why are clay tiles not commonly used for roofing?
Clay tiles aren’t commonly used for roofing because the tile itself is expensive, and they come with added costs, such as needing a reinforced roof structure and being difficult to install.
Are clay tiles suitable for snowy climates?
Clay tiles are suitable for snowy climates and perform well, resisting water damage as well as keeping the building warmer. It is essential that tiles in these areas are inspected and maintained every year.
Can clay tiles help reduce energy costs?
Yes, clay roofs limit heat transfer in and out of your home. This means warmer temperatures are kept out during the summer and kept in during colder seasons.