Pros and Cons of Clay Tile Roofs

Clay tile roof on home in Dallas, Texas

Clay tile roofs have been around for thousands of years and many are still standing centuries after installation. Thanks to their durability and curb appeal, these tiles are the most popular roofing material in the world. We looked into the pros and cons of clay tile roofs, so you can find out for yourself what makes this material so timeless.

What is Clay Tile Roofing?

While asphalt shingles may be the most popular type of roofing material in the U.S., it cannot compare to the spread of clay tile as a roofing option throughout the rest of the world. Clay tiles invoke images of Mediterranean villas. 

Known for their distinct red color, most tiles are composed of terracotta clay. The clay is baked and molded into individual tiles, and tiles are often glazed with fluxes, earth minerals, manganese, silica, or aluminum oxide to increase durability and aesthetics. Both temperature and heat time affect the density of the baked and molded tiles.

Pros of Clay Tile Roofing

clay tile roof
Photo Credit: Pxhere

It is easy to see how clay tiles have dominated the world market of roofing materials. They are durable, weather-resistant, and energy efficient. 

Durable

Clay tiles have been around for about 5,000 years. They are one of the oldest roofing materials, and like slate, last over 100 years. In fact, clay tile roofs from Ancient Greece still exist today. 

Low-Maintenance

Clay tile roofs are extremely low-maintenance. Unlike some materials, they do not require repainting or power washing. These roofs only require an annual inspection and cleaning. 

When cleaning your clay tile roof, never use a pressure washer. Instead, wash the surface with gentle, low-pressure rinsing and mild cleaning detergents. Always be sure to replace broken tiles as soon as possible to prevent widespread damage and increase the lifespan of your roof.

Fire-Resistant

Clay shares many of the same qualities as stone. These tiles are non-combustible and extremely fire-resistant, carrying the highest rating of Class A. Clay tile roofs are a great choice for fire-prone regions like California and Texas. 

These roofs allow air circulation under the installed tiles, reducing heat transfer, which also reduces heat transfer and spread during a fire. 

Numerous Styles

Your roof accounts for 40% of your home’s overall curb appeal. Clay tiles are versatile, suiting any architectural style, including colonial and contemporary. 

Tiles can be flat or round and shaped to simulate other materials like slate or wood shakes. The natural materials soften with age and many colors, shapes, and profiles are available. The dominant types of tiles include: 

  • Mission or Barrel Style
  • Spanish Style S-shape
  • French 
  • Mediterranean
  • Asian
  • Interlocking
  • Flat shingle to mimic slate

Weather-Resistant

Clay is a naturally impervious material with an average water absorption rate of less than 1%. It can handle both heavy rain and dry weather conditions. The low absorption rate makes clay naturally mold- and algae-resistant and impervious to rot and insect damage.

These roofing systems can stand up to salt, wind, rain, snow, ice, hail, rapid freeze/thaw cycles, and even earthquakes. 

Wind-Resistant

Because of their density and natural ventilation, clay tiles are incredibly wind-resistant. The roofing material can handle sustained high winds up to 125 mph. 

Impact-Resistant

Many clay tiles carry a Class 4 impact rating and can handle hail up to 2 inches in diameter, approximately the size of a tennis ball.

Impact RatingHail Size
11.25 inches in diameter, quarter-sized
21.5 inches in diameter, ping-pong ball-sized
31.75 inches in diameter, golf ball-sized
42 inches in diameter, approximately tennis-ball sized

Seismic Loading

Clay tiles are the only roofing material in the world tested for seismic loading. These roofing systems exceed current seismic load requirements, making them a superb choice for areas like California and Hawaii. 

Energy Efficient

While commonly found in tropical climates like Florida, clay tiles perform equally well in cold regions. High insulation properties and installation design create necessary airflow beneath the surface of your roof, increasing your home’s energy efficiency.

Many clay tile varieties meet ENERGY STAR standards and are cool roof rated, lowering your average annual utility costs by up to 20%.

Cons of Clay Tile Roofing

clay tile roof
Photo Credit: Pxhere

Clay roofing tiles stand the test of time while remaining aesthetically beautiful. The popular material is an energy-efficient and eco-friendly choice, but it is not without its drawbacks. 

Heavy

One of the primary attributes that makes clay tiles so attractive as a roofing option also contributes to their downside. Clay is a dense material that is durable and impermeable, however, this also makes it heavy. 

The heavyweight roofing system weighs 60 to 80 pounds per square foot and is not suited for every roof structure. Structural reinforcement and proper roof framing are necessary to support clay tile roofing. 

Roof reinforcement is often not a problem for new builds. However, if you are completing a re-roofing or roof replacement project and switching to tile, be sure to have an inspection performed to ensure your roof can support the additional weight. 

Expensive

Clay tiles are a high-cost, luxury roofing material and one of the most expensive materials on the market. The average cost to install a clay tile roof is $24,500, including labor and materials.

Fragile

Clay tiles feature high impact resistance, but that doesn’t mean they are not fragile. Never walk on your clay tile roof or rest heavy tools on top of it. While the material can handle the occasional beating from heavy hail, the stress caused by the force of your body weight can cause the material to bend and crack, leading to leaks.

Requires Specialized Installation

Unlike traditional shingles or metal roofing, clay tiles require specialized installation techniques to ensure they are waterproof. A professional roofing contractor must assess your unique roof, and the roofing company must cut tiles, create angles, and fit custom shapes to ensure your roof is sealed. 

How Do You Know If a Clay Tile Roof Is Right For You?

What’s not to love about clay tile roofing? It’s beautiful, durable, eco-friendly, and energy efficient. However, it does not work for every roof type. While clay tiles perform equally well in both tropical and cold climates, the material requires roofing structures with sharp slopes. 

Roofing contractors cannot install clay tiles on flat roofs. A slope of at least 4:12 is required, and you need to ensure your roof’s structure can support the weight of the tiles.

FAQ About Clay Tile Roofs

How long does the color of clay tiles last? 

Most clay tiles naturally soften with age, but this results in a minor difference. The color of your new tile roof will last indefinitely, and the roofing material fades less than most. There are no artificial pigments for the elements to wear away. Most manufacturers warranty against fading for 50 years.

What are some alternative roofing materials similar to clay tiles? 

Clay tiles are uniquely beautiful and durable, but they are also heavy and expensive. Alternative roofing materials to consider include: 

Concrete tiles perform the same as clay tiles for half the price.
Slate roofing matches the durability and high-end aesthetics of clay tiles.
Stone-coated steel offers the look of slate without the high price tag or weight.
Solar tiles offer advanced energy efficiency and savings.

What are the signs my roof needs to be replaced? 

Damage sneaks up on you thanks to poor roof maintenance habits. Watch for these sneaky signs it is time to replace your roof:

● Damaged, loose, curled, missing, or mossy shingles
● Damage or discoloration around vents, chimneys, or skylights 
● Sagging areas 
● Visible leaks or water damage
● Grit (flakes of asphalt shingles) in your gutters
● Your roof is over 20 years old
● Neighbors are having their roofs replaced

Clay Tile Roofs Next Steps

Clay tile roofing continues to gain popularity across the U.S. If you are in the market for a new roof or want to explore re-roofing options, contact a LawnStarter roofing pro to learn about clay tiles and determine if your home is right for the durable material.

Main Photo Credit: Jeff Herman / LawnStarter

Kimberly Magerl

Kimberly Magerl

Born and raised in Springfield, Illinois, Kimberly Magerl enjoys growing fruits and vegetables in her garden. When she isn't gardening, Kimberly enjoys trying new recipes and cooking with her home-grown herbs.