Terracotta roof shingles and other ceramic roofs have a worldwide appeal, and practical value in temperate climates. Here’s an overview from an Old World POV.
Everywhere I look, terracotta roofing is used here on the Adriatic Coast where I’m living temporarily. Everywhere.
It’s just more of what I find is a European quality — building things to last. I’m a big fan of putting quality over price. I don’t think going cheap ever pays off, because you’re stuck replacing it again soon. It’s why I love quality tile and hardwood flooring — they’re able to last over a century if sealed and treated correctly.
But terracotta roofing tiles, wow, now there’s a stark difference from what most of us are using in North America (barring California and the American Southwest, of course). It may be more expensive when starting out, but it‘ll save you money in the long run.
Looking around here, there are terracotta roofs that date back as much as a century. Average life expectancy is 50 to 60 years before repairs are really needed. Besides longevity and just plain looking awesome, what other incentives are there in using terracotta on the roof?
Compared to asphalt, you can expect up to almost 50% better control over heat fluctuation with a tile roof. It keeps you warm in the winter by trapping rising heat, and in the summer, it’s fantastic because it reflects the sun and heat.
Why else would many of the world’s hot countries still be using them after so many centuries? In an energy-conscious age, this means your heating and air conditioning costs can be kept at a minimum.
Asphalt can be pretty flammable, but terracotta is one of the few roofing materials that’s fire-resistant. It’s suggested as a preferred roofing material in places that are prone to forest fires or which are in close proximity to neighbors who use fire for heat at home.
I didn’t even need to fact-check this category, but since I’m thorough, hey, I did. But everywhere I look here, I’ll see a terracotta roof with just a few new tiles scattered around. This is because it’s really, really easy to replace any broken or chipped tiles that might occur when a tree limb strikes it. Take the one or two off that need replacing, put the new ones on. It’s that simple.
Asphalt roofing is made with bitumen, which comes from crude oil. Do we need more oil-derived products in the world? Not really. Terracotta, however, is an all-natural product and can even be recycled.
Warranties are great
Some companies will offer you as much as a 50-year warranty on your terracotta roof. The tiles are generally impervious to air- and water-borne pollutants, and as proven in the Mediterranean’s harsh sun, is able to withstand harsh UV light without breaking down, more reason why they last so long.
Salt- & frost-resistant
Used for centuries by the sea, we know terracotta isn’t affected by sea salt in the air, but they’re also quite hardy in cold climates too. I’ve seen them used in high mountain towns here in Croatia, where they have bracketing installed to help keep snow in place on the roof rather than falling off, which can be quite dangerous if you’ve got enough of it.
(ed: in North America when it comes to extreme cold weather, the warranties on ceramics may not cover you above the sun belt, or outside of temperate zones. Always check with your vendor of choice on this particular issue).
More peace and quiet
Some reports state that terracotta roofs help to dampen sound all around, meaning you’ll hear as much as 30 decibels less noise when you’re relaxing in the house.
Safe for rainwater reuse
In places like Australia and Spain, where water conservation is critical, terracotta roofs are appreciated for their ability to help safely collect rainwater for reuse in gardens and other applications. If you’re interested in this benefit, make sure you’re checking with your tile provider to ensure that their tiles come with no harmful coatings.
If I had my way …
Terracotta has been used for roofing for centuries. Asphalt became king in America for some reason, but if I had my way, we’d all be using concrete, terracotta, or metal roofing applications, so longevity and Earth-friendliness are always goal one.