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What are Ceramic Roof Tiles?

By S. Pike
Updated May 16, 2024
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With their distinctive curved profiles, ceramic roof tiles impart a familiar and classic look to a peaked roof. The natural durability of baked clay and the material's long standing as traditional roofing tile — not to mention clay tiles' extraordinary longevity — conspire to keep ceramic roofs a familiar sight all around the world. Although ceramic roof tiles are commonly associated with Spanish and Mediterranean architecture, the tiles have dual origins: in China and in the Middle East, both around 10,000 B.C.

Clay roof tiles are typically curved, shaped like either an upside-down U or a sideways S, but some are flat. Placed on a roof, the tiles overlap each other, with their interlocking curves creating a ripple effect or flat surfaces mimicking a traditional shingled pattern. Some newer applications create a mosaic look, integrating solar panels that help power the house beneath. With their origins in clay, ceramic roof tiles can really take any shape, but because the tiles tend to be an expensive option relative to other roofing choices, custom-shape or -size tiles are unusual; mass-production creates the least-expensive options, as a rule.

Although ceramic roofs may outlast the houses they help protect, ceramic roof tiles are fragile, vulnerable to heavy impact or even the weight of a person walking on them. As such, repairing broken ceramic roof shingles can be a tricky endeavor. The method of repairing a broken tile depends on its shape, the method by which it is affixed to the underlying roof structure, and how it interlocks, if at all, with its neighboring tiles.

A important consideration in choosing roofing material is the total weight of the assembled roofing. Although they make a durable and natural-looking roof, ceramic roof tiles are among the heaviest roofing materials. Ceramic tiles can weigh more than 5 to 12 pounds per square foot (25 to 60 kilograms per square meter).

Similar in look but with a few significant differences, concrete tiles are an alternative to ceramic roof tiles. Like clay, cement can be molded into shapes and colored to complement a home's look. Cement's main advantages are cost and variety. Relatively inexpensive concrete tiles may mimic the appearance of slate or wood shingles, stone, or even of ceramic tiles.

Ceramic tiles maintain champion status, however, for their durability and colorfastness. They can have a lifespan that's twice as long as that of cement tiles, at around 100 years to cements' 30 to 50. The pigment on baked ceramic tiles is impervious to the elements, while cement's color will fade with time and exposure.

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Discussion Comments

By Feryll — On Sep 02, 2014

@Laotionne - This article says the Spanish roof tiles are heavy so they aren't going to be blown around like your average shingles. Sometimes after a heavy wind storm you can see shingles all over people's lawns, but I doubt this would be the same with the ceramic tile if they are installed properly in the first place. Still, you'll want to make sure your homeowner's insurance is up to date just in case.

For me, the biggest drawback to the ceramic is the price. I can pay less for a metal roof that will last for the rest of my life, so I'm not concerned that the ceramic tile roofing is going to last 10 or 20 years longer. I won't be around either way.

By Laotionne — On Sep 02, 2014

I would be concerned that the ceramic roof tiles might come loose and fall off the house. This could be bad for a couple reasons. They might break when they land on the ground and have to be replaced. Or they might fall and hit someone. They are heavy, and I bet they could cause a serious injury. That's a lawsuit waiting to happen.

By Animandel — On Sep 01, 2014

It's ironic that the ceramic tiles are one of the longest lasting roofing materials you can buy, yet they are fragile in terms of breaking. I would't want to spend the extra money for ceramic roof tiles and then have someone walk on my roof and break several of them, or have a branch fall and damage them. However, they do look pretty in the pictures.

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