This article series discusses best practices in the selection and installation of residential roofing. This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons. Our page top photograph shows some old clay tile roofs located in Patczuaro, Mexico.
Tile roofing accounts for about 8% of new residential roofs
in the United States, primarily in the Southeast, Southwest,
and on the West Coast. In addition to its durability and
natural beauty, tile is impervious to fire, insects, and rot,
and it can be formulated to withstand freeze-thaw cycles.
When colored white, tile roofing has been shown to reduce
cooling costs by up to 22% for barrel or flat tile (compared
to black asphalt shingles in tests conducted by the Florida
Solar Energy Center).
Since most tile roofs carry a 50-year
warranty and a Class A fire rating, they are a popular
choice for high-end projects, particularly in warm
Nearly all roofing tiles in the United States were traditional
clay until the 1960s when concrete tile first gained
acceptance. Concrete tile now dominates most tile roofing
markets, primarily due to its lower cost (see Table 2-4 above).
Where weight is a concern, options include lightweight
concrete tiles or fiber-cement shingles, which typically
weigh even less. Fiber-cement roofing typically simulates
slate or wood shakes and provides a Class A fire rating at a
cost comparable to wood shakes.
Tile Shape Choices for Clay, Concrete, & Composite Tile Roofs
All roofing tiles can be classified as high-profile, low-profile, or
flat (see Figure 2-17).
Common high-profile roofing tiles include
two-piece pan-and-cover Mission tile and one-piece Spanish
Low profile roof tile styles include a wide variety, many with
a double-S shape that creates multiple water courses.
flat roof tiles are shaped and colored to simulate slate or wood
shakes. In general, patterns using smaller tiles cost more per
square for both materials and labor than patterns using larger
Clay Roofing Tile Properties & Features
To make clay roofing ttiles, moist clay is extruded through a die or cast
in a mold and then fired in a kiln until the clay “vitrifies,”
fusing the particles together. Complete vitrification will
create a strong tile with very low water absorption, which
protects tile from freeze-thaw damage in cold climates or
damage from salt air in coastal areas.
freeze-thaw cycling is expected, roof tiles in the U.S. should comply
with ASTM C1167 Grade 1, which allows minimal water
absorption. Grade II tile provides moderate resistance to
frost action, and Grade III tile is porous and should not be
used in freeze-thaw areas.
When buying clay tile, look for at least a 50-year warranty
on both durability and fading. Costs vary widely,
depending on quality, style, and the shipping distance
required. In general, patterns using smaller tiles will cost
more for both materials and labor.
Color Choices for Clay Roof Tiles
Clay tiles come in a wide range of colors. Colorthrough
tile takes the natural color of the clay, ranging
from light tan to pink and red. Other colors can be added
to the tile surface as a clay slurry before firing, but slurry
coatings are only suitable for warm climates, as they
cannot withstand freeze-thaw cycles. Clay tile can also be
colored with ceramic glazes to create a durable, glass-like
surface in just about any color. In general, clay tiles do not
fade in the sun.
Blended Pattern Choices for Clay Roof Tiles
Some jobs require the installer to
mix two or three different colors in a random pattern. The
best way to achieve this is to premix bundles on the ground
with the correct proportion of each color, then send them
up to the roof for installation. Periodically inspect the roof
from the ground for hot spots or streaking.
Clay Roof Tile Styles
Clay roof tiles are available in traditional
two-piece styles, one-piece profiles, and flat profiles
Designs are either overlapping or interlocking, with
protruding lips that lock the tiles together and form a
weather seal. Many flat clay tiles interlock. Interlocking
designs are recommended for regions with heavy rain or
snow. Manufacturers provide special trim tiles to seal the
voids formed at ridges, rakes, and hips.
Pan and cover clay roof tiles. This traditional two-piece style, also
called barrel- or Mission-style, is installed in pairs
with the cover tile overlapping the pan tile. It provides
an attractive high-profile look but is labor-intensive
and expensive to install.
Variations include Roman
and Greek profiles, which have flat, rather than
curved, pan tiles. Tiles typically range from 8 to
12 inches in width and from 16 to 19 inches long.
Spanish Clay S-tile roofing tiles. These one-piece tiles provide the
high-profile look of traditional pan-and-cover tile
but with simpler installation. The most popular
S-tiles measure about 13 inches wide by 16
long. Other common sizes are 8
Flat shingle clay roof tile. These are laid in a double thickness,
like slate. Widths range from 6 to 8 inches, lengths
from 12 to 18 inches.
Interlocking clay roof tile. These are either flat or low profile
and are laid in a single thickness with a 3-inch
overlap. They have interlocks on the sides with
channels or ribs, and butts may also lock into the tops
of the underlying shingles. Contours and ribs add
strength to the tiles. Widths typically range from 9 to
13 inches and lengths from 11 to 16 inches.
Details about clay tile roofing installation, inspection, maintenance, and repair are at
Concrete tiles were introduced to the United States in the
early 1900s, but they did not catch on until the 1960s. They
now account for more than half the tiles sold in the United
States. In Europe, over 90% of new houses have concrete
tile roofs. Concrete tiles cost as little as half as much as
clay and offer both traditional and flat styles that simulate
slate roofing and wood shakes.
High-quality concrete tiles should last up to 50 years in
arid climates and up to 30 years in hot, humid climates.
While some early products faced problems with freeze-thaw
cycling, most newer formulations are made to withstand
winter weather. In cold climates, make sure the product is
warranted for freeze-thaw durability.
Special lightweight concrete tiles weighing under
600 lb per square are gaining in popularity. Although they
cost more than standard concrete tiles and are more prone
to breakage, they are easier to handle and suitable for
applications where the roof structure cannot support
the weight of standard tiles. Lightweight tiles cannot
support foot traffic without adding walking pads to distribute
weight or filling the space under the tiles with
polyurethane foam. They are also not recommended
for high-snow regions.
Color Choices in Concrete Roofing Tiles
Concrete tiles can be surface colored with a slurry
of iron-oxide pigments applied to the surface or have the
color added to the concrete mix for a more durable, and
expensive, through-color. Through-color choices are more
limited, and the colors are more subdued. Either type of
tile is also sealed with a clear acrylic spray to help with
curing and efflorescence. While the color-through tile will
hold its color better than the slurry type, particularly under
freeze-thaw cycling, all concrete tile coloring can be expected
to fade and soften over time. Surface textures can
also be added to flat concrete tiles to simulate wood shakes
Concrete Roof Tile Styles: Spanish S Tiles, Low Profile Double Roman Tiles, Flat Shake Tiles
Concrete tiles are available in
shapes that simulate traditional clay styles as well as flat
profiles that simulate wood or slate (Figure 2-19 at left).
Most concrete roofing tiles are designed with an interlocking channel on the
left edge that is lapped by the next tile.
tile is a head lug at the top and series of ridges at the
bottom. The head lug fits over the top of a horizontal 1x
batten, if these are used.
Otherwise the concrete roof tile sits directly on the
roof deck. The ridges at the bottom (called nose lugs or
weather checks) match the profile of the tile below, creating
a barrier against windblown rain and snow.
Concrete roofint tile Manufacturers
provide special trim tiles to fill in the large voids
that profile tiles leave at ridges, rakes, and hips.
many sizes are available, the most common concrete tiles
measure 12 to 13 inches wide by 16
or 17 inches long.
Concrete Spanish S-tile. These provide the look of traditional
two-piece Mission tiles but with simpler installation.
Nearly all have interlocking side channels.
Interlocking low-profile concrete roof tile. These have a less pronounced
double-S shape and interlocking joints and
side channels. Heads and butts may also interlock or
Interlocking flat concrete roof tile. These simulate clay roof tiles,
wood shakes, and slate. Ridges, hips, and rakes are
easier to seal than with curved tiles.
Concrete roofing alternative designs, products, details, drawings, and photographs of concrete roofing tiles and construction are at CONCRETE ROOFING
Fiber-Cement Roofing Tile Properties
Early generations of fiber-cement roofing products using
asbestos fibers were used successfully in the United States
for over 50 years. Articles discussing these products, including cement-asbestos roofing shingles, corrugated roofing, and related products are found at:
Newer formulations introduced in the
1980s and 1990s used wood fibers instead of asbestos and
were marketed widely in the western United States as a
fire-resistant alternative to wood shakes. Made from a
mixture of Portland cement and wood fibers, they weighed
400 to 600 pounds per square and were designed to imitate
slates or wood shakes. They promised excellent resistance
to insects, fungus, fire, and weathering and carried warranties
ranging from 25 to 50 years.
Performance Problems of Fiber Cement Roofing Tiles: Cement + Wood
Within five years of installation,
however, many of the fiber-cement shakes began to
deteriorate. Problems included surface crazing, cracking,
delamination, and softening and resulted in a number of
lawsuits against key manufacturers and several companies
abandoning the product. The problems were generally
linked to high water absorption, which created an alkaline
solution that was corrosive to the wood fibers.
See our complete "List of Fiberboard & Fiber Cement Roof Shingle Warranty Claims Companies & Website" found at CEMWOOD ROOFING (American Cemwood fiber cement roofing shingles,shakes, and roof failures) for details about fiber cement roofing failures, product identification, warranties, and warranty claims information.
Also see and also see FIBER-WOOD & FIBERBOARD ROOFING where we describe similar products including Masonite™ Woodruf™ fiberboard roof shingles,™and similar products shown here.
Some products have fared better than others. In general,
products that are steam-cured in an autoclave will
have lower water absorption, but they tend to be more
Duralita™, an alternative to both clay roofing tiles as well as other fiber reinforced cement roofing products.
Many fiber cement roofing products sold in the U.S. are represented as complying with
ASTM C1225, a standard for nonasbestos fiber-cement
roofing shingles; but in its current form, this standard does
not guarantee long-term durability.
Watch out: Only a product with a
proven long-term track record in a specific climate zone
should be considered.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about clay tile roofs
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The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
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Green Roof Plants: A Resource and Planting Guide, Edmund C. Snodgrass, Lucie L. Snodgrass, Timber Press, Incorporated, 2006, ISBN-10: 0881927872, ISBN-13: 978-0881927870. The text covers moisture needs, heat tolerance, hardiness, bloom color, foliage characteristics, and height of 350 species and cultivars.
Green Roof Construction and Maintenance, Kelley Luckett, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2009, ISBN-10: 007160880X, ISBN-13: 978-0071608800, quoting: Key questions to ask at each stage of the green building process Tested tips and techniques for successful structural design
Construction methods for new and existing buildings
Information on insulation, drainage, detailing, irrigation, and plant selection
Details on optimal soil formulation
Illustrations featuring various stages of construction
Best practices for green roof maintenance
A survey of environmental benefits, including evapo-transpiration, storm-water management, habitat restoration, and improvement of air quality
Tips on the LEED design and certification process
Considerations for assessing return on investment
Color photographs of successfully installed green roofs
Useful checklists, tables, and charts
Roofing The Right Way, Steven Bolt, McGraw-Hill Professional; 3rd Ed (1996), ISBN-10: 0070066507, ISBN-13: 978-0070066502
Slate Roofs, National Slate Association, 1926, reprinted 1977
by Vermont Structural Slate Co., Inc., Fair Haven, VT 05743, 802-265-4933/34. (We recommend this book if you can find it. It
has gone in and out of print on occasion.)
Roof Tiling & Slating, a Practical Guide, Kevin Taylor, Crowood Press (2008), ISBN 978-1847970237, If you have never fixed a roof tile or slate before but have wondered how to go about repairing or replacing them, then this is the book for you. Many of the technical books about roof tiling and slating are rather vague and conveniently ignore some of the trickier problems and how they can be resolved. In Roof Tiling and Slating, the author rejects this cautious approach. Kevin Taylor uses both his extensive knowledge of the trade and his ability to explain the subject in easily understandable terms, to demonstrate how to carry out the work safely to a high standard, using tried and tested methods.
This clay roof tile guide considers the various types of tiles, slates, and roofing materials on the market as well as their uses, how to estimate the required quantities, and where to buy them. It also discusses how to check and assess a roof and how to identify and rectify problems; describes how to efficiently "set out" roofs from small, simple jobs to larger and more complicated projects, thus making the work quicker, simpler, and neater; examines the correct and the incorrect ways of installing background materials such as underlay, battens, and valley liners; explains how to install interlocking tiles, plain tiles, and artificial and natural slates; covers both modern and traditional methods and skills, including cutting materials by hand without the assistance of power tools; and provides invaluable guidance on repairs and maintenance issues, and highlights common mistakes and how they can be avoided.
The author, Kevin Taylor, works for the National Federation of Roofing Contractors as a technical manager presenting technical advice and providing education and training for young roofers.
The Slate Roof Bible, Joseph Jenkins, www.jenkinsslate.com,
143 Forest Lane, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127 - 866-641-7141 (We recommend this book).