Tiles are mankind’s oldest manufactured roofing material, with the first use of clay tiles dating back to Ancient China. Throughout history, their durability made them the go-to choice for roofs in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In fact, today’s roofing authorities are reluctant to say exactly how long new tile roofs will last – they may last forever! 😉
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In the United States, tile roofing techniques traveled across the ocean with the Dutch on the East Coast and the Spanish missionaries along the Gulf Coast and out West. Roofing tiles were formed with clay and fired to produce the familiar orange-ish colors. Minerals could be infused into the baking process to create a colored tile and glazes could also be added to the natural terra cotta to increase the variety of colors.
With the abundance of trees in northern America, wood roofing soon replaced tile as a favorite house covering. Tile would go in and out of favor, owing to the vagaries of architectural styles. In the mid-1800s, when flat-roofed Italianate villas became a momentary rage, the demand for tile surged. In the 1920s American architects introduced Revival styles in Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial, Italian Renaissance and Mission designs which kick-started the clamor for tile roofs once again.
Tile Roofs Today
Today, clay and concrete are the two most common types of tiles used to cover roofs.
Clay tiles were historically hand-formed until the 1870s when tile making machines were first invented. Large manufacturing plants were then established in areas rich in clay such as the Ohio River Valley, northern Georgia and western New York. Today, almost all roofing tiles are machine-made.
The technology to fabricate tiles from cement became available in the 20th century. The gray concrete was impregnated with iron oxides to do duty as imitation terra cotta tile, imitation slate and even imitation wood shakes.
Tiles can be extruded to form nearly any shape. They can be churned out flat, as with shingles that overlap and interlock on a roof. They can be the familiar barrel style which are laid in vertical rows of half-circles. They can be S-tiles that have concave and convex troughs that overlap across a rooftop. No matter what shape tiles take, they are among the most decorative of all choices for roof coverings.
As with all roofing materials, but perhaps not so much as with tile, the upfront costs must be differentiated from the life-cycle costs. With the exception of some very high quality slate, clay tile is the most expensive roofing system you can get. Count on a tile roof costing two times as much as a wood shake roof and four times more than asphalt shingles. Depending on your region and the product you choose, expect to pay between $12.00 and $25.00 per square foot for a ceramic clay tile roof installed. Concrete tiles are less expensive than clay, so they would be on the lower end of the above pricing range.
The color, style, and grade of the tile you choose, including its weight and thickness, is what will determine the actual cost of materials, while installation costs will vary, depending on your location.
The Cost of a Typical Tile Roof
Thus, a typical 2,000 square feet tile roof will cost between $20,000 and $40,000, installed. Note: higher-end clay tiles can cost significantly more than low-end and mid-range tiles. Note: It’s not unheard of for a tile roof to cost as much as $50,000 installed, especially when you deal with a complex roof requiring a lot of tile cutting and labor.
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Concrete vs. Clay Tile
Concrete tiles are 30% to 50% less expensive than their clay counterparts, as far as the cost of materials. But, with similarly high labor costs, concrete tiles are only somewhat less expensive to install compared to clay ones. Also, keep in mind that clay tiles will last longer than concrete ones. A high-end clay tile roof can last for as long as 75 to 100 years, while concrete tiles will need to be replaced at half a century mark or earlier.
Choosing the Right Tile
When pricing tile roofs, keep in mind that not all clay tiles are alike. Check to be certain that the clay tiles you have in mind have been successfully in use in your region. Did you know? A tile that performs well in desert areas may not do as well in a drastically different climate. Investigate any tests that have been made on the tiles you are considering for your roof.
A tile roof requires a minimum slope of 4 to 12. Installing a tile roof is not a do-it-yourself project – industry reports calculate that over 96 percent of all tile roofs are installed by professionals. While the basics of laying down tiles is not complicated the cutting of tiles to conform to hips and valleys is another matter. Add in the complications of flashings, chimneys, solar panels and the like and you are quickly beyond the capabilities of even the handiest of handymen.
Another upfront cost encountered with tile roofs is the quality of what is underneath. Since tile is a permanent roof – most guarantees begin at 50 years and go past 75 years – everything underneath must be of similar long-lasting quality during installation. If the underlayment and flashings deteriorate under a perfectly fine tile roof, all of the tiles will need to come down. Fastening systems can also erode before a tile roof breathes its last breath, so high quality nails and screws are an absolute must. — This often means the use of high-priced copper or stainless steel.
Underlayment must also be waterproof. A clay tile roof is considered to be a water-shedding system, so windblown rain is expected to get in under the tiles and must be accounted for during the installation. Self-adhering underlayment that sticks to the roof deck and prevents leakage can be a highly desirable option for tile roofs.
Roof Support Requirements
Since tile is a heavy roofing material (concrete is lighter than clay – 600 to 1,200 pounds per square as opposed to 1,000 to 1,500 pounds per square) the structural support of the building must be taken into account. A typical commercial or residential building may or may not be ready to handle the load of a tile roof, so a building inspector should be consulted if there is any question of the need for additional bracing and structural roof reinforcement. The weight of tile also suggests a final additional up-front expense. If the desired tile is not available locally the cost of shipping heavy tiles can add several hundred dollars to the project.
If aesthetics and looks of clay tiles are highly desired, but the weight is a concern, there is a light-weight alternative to clay; stone-coated steel tiles, also available in barrel-vault style, and at a fraction of the weight of clay.
The additional costs for materials and labor for proper installation make tile seem like a pricey choice for a roof covering. But in many cases, those will be the final bills you ever see.
Consider maintenance. Or what you will not have to consider. Clay tile and concrete tile roofs do not rot when they get wet. Insects do not gnaw on tile roofs. They are durable in any climate from arid deserts to northern locales socked in by snow. There is no coating, sealing or painting required for a tile roof.
Maintenance is limited to things like gutters and flashing. Tile roofs tend to be more durable in storms than other types of coverings. The most common cause for broken tiles is careless walking. Broken tiles need to be professionally repaired, so if you need to walk around on your tile roof, learn how to do it properly.
Cost Savings from Tile Roofs and their ROI
A tile roof is an energy efficient money-saving insulator. The tiles and the air space created in their installation conspire to increase air circulation that reduces direct heat transfer from the roof to the house and eases summer air conditioning costs. In the winter this benefits homeowners by limiting the occurrence of ice dams
Clay tiles and concrete tiles are non-combustible. A properly installed tile roof will qualify for a Class “A” Flame-Spread rating throughout its life that means lower fire insurance premiums.
There are also savings to the planet from tile roofs. Both clay and concrete roof tiles are fabricated from natural earth materials that are in no danger of being depleted anytime soon. Plus, they are manufactured with no chemical preservatives. And if the time should ever come to replace a tile roof those tiles can go straight into the recycling bin to emerge someday as new tiles or some other products.
And there is one thing you can never put a price on – how good a tile roof looks on your house. Tiles roofs are not only historically appropriate for many high-styled buildings, but they look spectacular on just about any structure.
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