Clay Roof Tiles: Pros & Cons, Terracotta, Installation Cost

When you think of Terracotta, does it ring a bell because of your history teacher? Or maybe you saw a documentary about some ancient warriors made out of the material?

Well, it just so turns out that it isn’t just used for building ancient clay warriors but Terracotta clay roof tiles offer very good protection against the elements for your home. Terracotta, in fact, is a specific color of clay roof tiles.

Terracotta roof

A little bit of History and How it’s Made

The word is in fact Latin, meaning baked-earth. The clay is first formed before it’s left to dry. Once dried, it is placed in a kiln  where the temperatures go up to 1,800 °F. The reaction that takes place causes oxygen to react with the iron content, and the final result is a reddish color of the clay.

Clay fired in a kiln has many purposes including what we’ll be talking about in this article, which is clay roof tiles, but ceramic floor tile has gone through the same process.

Although the process itself creates some very strong tiles, these aren’t waterproof by themselves and they must be either glazed or sealed to stay watertight. The glazing that is applied usually consists of liquid glass or enamel and will provide a lifetime of protection against water.

Without this protection the shingles will also be susceptible to staining. When the glaze has been placed on them, they’ll be placed in the kiln.

Terracotta has been used for a long time for a variety of purposes including sculptures, pottery, roof shingles as well as masonry.

Why Is The Choice of Roofing Materials so Important?

Choosing the right roofing materials for your home is incredible important for a number of different reasons. The roof clearly offers protection against the outside elements, and one of the main things to make sure of is that there are no roof leaks that could potentially be causing damage to your property. Untreated water leaks can cause costly damage that may mean you need to get your home restored.

The insulation and HVAC units are all doing their part of the work, although without a good roof to protect your home, those elements in itself won’t help much.

Pros and Cons of Terracotta Clay Roof Tiles

Since clay roof tiles are not your only option available, we want to make sure that you make the right decision in the process, which involves knowing everything about their pros and cons too.

While there are different opinions online as to which is the better material, you as the homeowner are the one who finally makes the verdict. Producers of clay tile will obviously tell you that their products are the best. Producers of concrete tile will argue theirs is.

Pros

  • Clay tiles look beautiful – there’s basically nothing more iconic than seeing a red clay tile roof. There’s simply something majestic about it that other materials are unable to compete with.
  • Its durability – when you have clay roof tiles installed on your home, you know you’re installing a roof that is bound to last a very long time too.
  • Rot is not a problem – if you’re getting wooden shingles installed on your home, there’s the constant risk of rot associated with natural products.
  • Insect-damage is not a worry – again, wood is prone to insects and other animals damaging it such as woodpeckers.
  • Freeze/thaw cycles won’t cause problems with clay – other materials will be affected by freeze and thaw cycles, but clay fares well despite of it.
  • Very little maintenance required – who doesn’t like a construction material that won’t have you running around trying to keep it looking good the whole time?
  • Not a new kid on the block – clay roof tiles have been around for a long time and it’s not like there are a lot of new problems arising as a consequence. Whenever a new construction material comes out, it needs to be tested over time to see how well it does. Clay has already passed that test a couple of hundred years ago.
  • Good insulation offered – it’s both important that you keep your home well insulated, but also that good ventilation is offered to keep the air quality high and humidity at appropriate levels, which is why roof vents are traditionally installed too. Air can circulate under the tiles, effectively offering those different properties you’re looking for in a home.
  • Easy to replace – if one needs to be replaced, the work involved is not too difficult for a pro to do.
  • A lot of beautiful colors available – while Terracotta tiles are red in their colors, you can get clay tiles in many different colors.
  • Eco-friendly – clay is an eco-friendly material that is even easy to recycle too which ensures that it doesn’t put unnecessary strain on the environment.
  • Cool roofs are becoming a thing with clay roofs – lighter colored roofs will be better at reflecting the sun’s rays and that also means your energy bill will be lower as a consequence. A lot of clay tile manufacturers now use processes to ensure that more light is reflected so that your energy bill won’t increase exponentially.
  • Good manufacturer’s warranty against color fading – many manufacturers will provide good warranty against color fading.

Cons

With that mentioned, it’s also worth mentioning that the material does have some drawbacks.

  • It’s not a light material – the weight of the material could require that additional support is added to make an installation possible. If not, the roof trusses may not be able to handle the weight.
  • Not the cheapest material to go with – the material in itself isn’t cheap, and when you add to it that additional support may be needed, it only increases the cost of installing the material. The good news is that more modern homes are likely to have sufficient support to be able to allow its installation.
  • The tiles can break when stepped on or mishandled – work that needs to be done on the roof should be done by a pro for various reasons including the fact that they’re more aware of relevant safety features, however if your gutters need repair or replacement, walking on top of this type of roof can cause the shingles to break at which point they will need to be replaced.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommended installation guide – manufacturers will specify how much overlap is required to keep water and moisture from getting in behind the tiles.
  • Not ideal for low-pitch or flat roofs – there are other materials that are better if you’re installing a roof with a low pitch.
  • These roofs may be prohibitively expensive if you’re too far away from a manufacturer – since they way so much, it might simply be too expensive to get the material transported great distances before having it installed on your home.

Make Sure the Grade of the Tile is the Right One for Your Climate

Many different roofing materials come in different grades and clay tiles are no different, and it’s important that you get the right grade or you may start experiencing unnecessary problems with your roof.

Grade 1 – these have the best ability to withstand harsh winters and their respective freeze-thaw cycles. As such, they’re good to use anywhere in the country.

Grade 2 – these will tolerate more moderate freeze-thaw cycles than Grade 1. They’re also less water-resistant.

Grade 3 – the most permeable of the different tiles and they should only be used in areas with mild climates.

Cost of Clay Roof Tiles

different types of roof shingles

Clay Roof Tile vs Concrete: Cost and Other Features

The ingredients in concrete tile roofs include cement, water and sand, and as with clay they go through rigorous heat and high pressure to be formed. The process will make the tile water-resistant and tough. It can also be painted to better accommodate your desires for looks, and there’s a wide range of shapes and sizes available for you to choose between.

Clay, on the other hand, don’t have cement in it but rather have clay. The time they spend in the kiln, as well as its temperature will affect the density of the clay, and in comparison has the disadvantage that they cannot be painted as can concrete, which means you will need to ensure that you are happy with the selection you make the first time around.

During their production, the pigment is bonded to the clay.

Cost

The cost aspect is a variable where concrete is better than clay since clay tiles are usually 25% more expensive than concrete. Clay is, however, a generally better-suited contestant and can be used everywhere, assuming you got the right grade for your climate. The cost of clay tiles can easily be $10-20 per square foot installed. However, the material has a lot of different advantages which is why it’s still the preferred material between the two. When you read those, the difference in price will come as no surprise to you.

The safest way to make sure you’re not overpaying for the project is to get quotes from competing roofing contractors for the project.

How Heavy They Are

Although the density and therefore weight of clay is affected by the time they spend in the kiln, concrete is reported to be an average of 40% more heavy than clay, which creates certain difficulties during the installation, which also means that they should only be installed professionally. While clay is heavy, the additional weight makes it even more important to ensure that your home has the necessary support before you start installing it.

Cracking

In colder climates, clay will crack more often than is the case with concrete due to the freeze-thaw cycles, although it can be avoided with the proper grade of material.

Water Absorption

The increased water-absorption rate of concrete means it has a higher tendency to develop mildew. It’s also the feature that actually makes it able to be painted according to your wishes, while that’s not possible with clay.

Maintenance

With regards to maintenance, clay is also the winner. Since the water-absorption rate is so low with clay, the decreased risk of mildew simply means you get a material where maintenance will not be an issue.

Durability

Concrete is generally expected to last around 40 years, but clay will last significantly longer than that and can even last significantly more than 100 years when you make sure to get the grade that matches with your local climate.

While being more expensive, our recommendation is still that you go for clay roofs.

The Best Clay Tile Suppliers and Manufacturers

Boral

Boral’s wide range of both clay and concrete tile gives you the opportunity to get the roof installed that you always dreamed of, They carry both flat tiles nad mission style ones. In order to ensure proper installation, they offer everything from roof flashing to hip and ridge products to go along with your project.

Ludowici

Ludowici is a trusted name in the clay tile space with more than 130 years of earning the trust of their customers. With a selection of more than 40 different profiles and styles, you’re sure to find something that works for you. Their 75-year warranty also ensures that you won’t be facing any costly repairs any times soon. The perfect roof requires the right trim, which is why Ludowici also offers trim pieces in decorative fashions.

Having been around since 1888, they sure know a thing or two about clay tile.

MCA Tile

MCA Tile provides their clay products for both residential, commercial and institutional purposes, which is why they’re proud to have companies such as Bellagio Hotel and Texas Tech University as clients. They also claim to be the leader in cool roof tile in the US with a solar reflectance rate of 42%.

Redland Clay Tile

Their product range includes Alfaro, which is very heavily influenced by the Spanish style. They also offer a range of flat tile options, two-piece tiles and more. Their color selection is also impressive, being able to offer your home the finish you desire.

Clay Tile Roof Styles

While clay tile comes in a lot of different styles, there are especially 4 of them that seem to have stuck around.

Spanish Tile Style

House with Classic “S” Mission tile

This style is made so that each style is shaped like the letter “S”. Because of it, each tile will both serve as cover and pan. MCA Tile refers to these as the classic “S” mission. The ones sold by MCA carry Grade 1, making them appropriate for all parts of the country. These require 90 pieces per square.

Spanish style tile
Photo credit: mca-tile.com

Mission Tile

These are less labor intensive to install as it only requires 75 of them per square, although the Spanish tile is the more traditional one. The Spanish tile also looks more smooth and wavy. Although they require fewer pieces per square, each tile is heavier and weighs in at 10.5 lbs.

They’re also commonly called Barrel tiles.

Mission style tile

Photo credit: mca-tile.com

Flat/Interlocking Clay Shingles

MCA’s interlocking tiles weigh an average of 8.14 lbs each, and it takes 108 pieces to a square. They offer a 50-year limited warranty on this product.

French Tile

French tile

The French style has locking tabs at both the top and the sides and will create a slightly different look from what you might be used to associating with Terracotta tile.

How Do You Lower the Cost of Installing a Clay Roof?

There are several different things you can do to lower the cost. When you’re finding out which style to go for, you should look at how many pieces that go per square. The more pieces per square, the higher the associated labor cost will also be for installation.

Additionally, you should avoid doing big custom requirements for your roof as those will inevitably also be driving up the cost of installing roof clay shingles.

The contractor may also charge more for product that weighs more per square as it will need to be moved up and managed too.

Clay Tile Roof Life Expectancy – How Long Does it Last?

With their 75-year warranty, Ludowici has proven that clay tile roofs are built to last no shorter than that time span, although they’re claimed to easily be able to last more than 100 years when they’re properly installed.

While it is a significant investment, the long life expectancy makes up for it, and you’ll have a building that will prove that nothing parallels it in looks.

Faulty design and improper grades of material may end up affecting how long the roof is able to last. While the roof is installed with certain overlap between the shingles, windblown rain is still at risk of making it in behind the shingles. To keep this from potentially causing water damage, a waterproof membrane is installed underneath, although it will need to be done so that it doesn’t cause problems with condensation.

What Maintenance is Required for Clay Roofing Tiles?

While we have previously mentioned its limited requirement for maintenance as one of the appealing things with the material, it still makes sense to take a look at what you should be doing once you in fact do end up having it installed on your home.

No matter what, you should always make sure that appropriate safety precautions are taken when the maintenance is happening, although we encourage you to go with a pro to have it done. Since you’re talking about dangerous work, you will want to make sure that the contractor has the necessary licenses and insurance to do the work. License requirements for roofing contractors vary by state and so does insurance requirements.

Only using a professional with the right licenses ensures that you do not end up becoming liable if something goes wrong.

Thorough Roof Inspection

Given their ability to crack, a thorough roof inspection is recommended once per year. You will want to make sure there are no signs of cracks or leaks, and if there are, have them repaired. You can either use a ladder to get closer to the roof and better be able to inspect it or you can use binoculars.

Cleaning

Cleaning the tile is probably the second most important aspect of maintenance, after inspecting it to ensure no leaks occur. Periodic cleaning will help get rid of mold and algae which affect both the appearance but could also end up loosening the shingles otherwise.

What you need to know is t hat wet tile tends to be extremely slippery, and it doesn’t get less slippery from having moss on top of it, and if you choose to walk on top of the roof yourself, you should ensure that the shoes you are using have god traction as it can be incredibly dangerous to fall from a roof. As the dry areas are less slippery than the wet ones, make sure to avoid standing in the high-risk areas.

Walking on Clay Tile

While you’re very much recommended not to do the work yourself, contractors will often use sheets of plywood on top of the shingles when they’re working on them. This strategy helps in avoiding that too much pressure is applied to one specific spot which is what is most likely to cause breakage. Additionally, you should aim to use the lower third of the tile to stand on, which keeps you safer and lessens the risk of cracking a tile. Don’t step on hips or valleys as these are even more prone to breakage.

The best results are achieved when you wash clay tile every two years, since this will keep those elements away. The pressure washer you’re using should be set to 1,200 PSI, although you should always follow the recommendations provided by the manufacturer. Use a bleach and water solution to help remove the mold and algae. The water should not be sprayed in a 90 degree angle, and it’s also important to keep the nozzle a good amount of distance away to prevent doing damage. One foot of distance is the general recommendation.

Faux Terracotta Roof Tiles

Faux Terracotta roof tiles, or otherwise referred to as synthetic ones can provide the same appearance as the real thing would. Roofeco boasts that you can get a completel maintenance-free roof, not having to worry about leaks, cracks or moss, which you would be worrying about with the real thing. This roof can also have the screws hidden rather than exposing them, and it’s simpler to install because it weighs less. Their claim is that it might take just 30% of the time it would take to install the real thing.

It doesn’t require any maintenance, but it will also not have the same beautiful look as real clay will, as it will look “too perfect”. This is how serious they are about the material not breaking.

Faux Terracotta Roof Tile