Pros and Cons of Tile Roofing

A man laying clay roof tile
Fotolia/Public Domain

Tiled roofs are beautiful and durable. They are also expensive and heavy, but that is perhaps to be expected from a roofing material that can last 100 years. Traditionally, most roofing tiles were made from slate or a fired clay or terra cotta product, but today's roofing titles are very often made from molded, tinted concrete. Roofing tiles can come in many shapes: curved, flat, fluted, or interlocking, and in many styles.

Tile roofing is a great choice for roofs that experience hot weather or exposure to salt air. This is why you very often see tile roofs in the Southwest, coastal Florida, and California. They can also be ideal for climates in which infrequent rains dump large amounts of water in a short time, since many styles are excellent at shedding rainfall from cloudbursts. If you’re considering tile roofing for your home, be aware that these roofing systems are very heavy and can break under certain conditions. Roof framing needs to be very sturdy structurally in order to support the weight.

Pros

  • Long-lasting: A tile roof can last over 100 years, especially when installed in the right climate. Clay and concrete tile roofs have been known to withstand hail, high winds, and even fire. Once you install tile, you will never have to install another type of roofing again. Just in case, most manufacturers will offer a 50-year warranty.

  • Impervious to rot and insect damage: Unlike wood, tiles roofs will never decay. 

  • Environmentally friendly material: Tile roofs are made from earth minerals, not chemicals, and they can be pulverized and recycled when they are removed. 

  • Energy efficient: The heavy thermal mass of tiles will help regulate indoor temperatures. 

  • Low maintenance: Leaks are almost unheard of, and it is very rare for tile roofs to require repairs or maintenance unless they break due to heavy impact.

  • Plenty of choices: Clay, concrete, and slate tiles come in a wide variety of colors and styles to match any home style, from Medieval to Contemporary European. Some styles even resemble traditional shingles or wood shakes. 

Cons

  • High cost: A clay tile roof system can cost two to three times as much as an asphalt roofing system. An average clay tile roof costs between $675 to $1400 per square (100 SF of roof area). Concrete tile roofs are more economical, with costs of $400 to $450 per square. This is offset, though, by the long life a tile roof will enjoy. Slate tiles are by far the most expensive, with average costs running between $1,000 and $4,000 per square.

  • Difficult installation: Installing tile roofing requires professional roofing contractors with extensive experience. The tiles will need to be measured, laid in a specific pattern, and checked so that no moisture gets through. This is not a DIY project.

  • Heavyweight: Your roof structure must be able to handle the weight of a tile roof, which may be as much as 850 pounds per square for clay tile and 950 pounds per square for concrete tile. An asphalt roof, by comparison, weighs only around 225 to 325 pounds per square. If you’re replacing shingle roofing with tiles, you should consult an engineer to determine if structural reinforcement is necessary, which will add to the cost of the roof. 

  • Tiles are brittle: While very durable, clay tiles, slate, and concrete tiles can be broken if they suffer a heavy impact, such as from falling tree branches, or even due to the pressure of walking on them. Repairs, when needed, can be expensive. 

  • Not suitable for all roof slopes: Tile roofs are suitable only for roofs with relatively sharp slopes. They should not be used on roofs with pitches less than 4:12. 

Tile Styles

Clay and concrete tiles are available in many styles to match any aesthetic goal.

  • Spanish tiles are the classic Southwest roof, resembling rows of lapping waves with troughs between the rows to carry water away. They are best suited for regions where rains might be infrequent but very heavy when they do occur. Clay, terra cotta, and concrete tiles are all available in this style.
  • Scandia tiles resemble Spanish tiles inverted so they are upside down. Visually, they give the appearance of sharp vertical ridges with wide scallop-shaped troughs. This style is common in architecture based on northern European styles.
  • Double Roman tiles resemble Spanish tiles, but the rows have distinct ribs that are quite visible. The water troughs are more frequent, though smaller. These tiles are often used in Mediterranean architecture. Often made of concrete, they are also available in clay and terra cotta.
  • Flat shake tiles are usually made of concrete and are fabricated to resemble the texture of granulated asphalt shingles or wood shakes. Slate roofs are also essentially flat shakes. These roofs have relatively flat surfaces that easily shed frequent light rains, but may not be ideal where heavy "gully-washer" rainfalls are common. These tiles readily adapt to almost any architectural style.
  • Pantile roofs are made of clay tiles formed into a flattened S shape, creating a ripple appearance. Pantiles are considerably lighter than most other tiles, and also cheaper.
  • Barrel tiles are also semi-cylindrical tiles like Spanish and Roman, but here the cylinders are slightly tapered so they are wider at one end. The tapering shape makes these a good choice on curved roofs.
  • French tiles look like an inverted form of the Roman roof, with much wider troughs for channeling away heavy rainfalls.
  • Riviera tiles are essentially a flattened form of double Roman tiles, in which the humps are flat ridges interrupting shallow, flat-bottomed troughs.