What You Need to Know About the History of Tile Roofs

Tile has a history dating back to the Neolithic Age – roughly 10,000 B.C. – when clay tile was first used for roofing in China and then a small time later, in the Middle East. From these two areas, the use of tile roofing progressively spread throughout Europe, Asia and around the world. In areas of Europe, Asia, South America and Australia, tile roofs often have a lifecycle of 100+ years when they’re installed correctly.

Clay tiles are one of the most distinguishing and enhancing historic roofing materials because of their great variety of shapes, colors, profiles, patterns, and textures. Traditionally, clay tiles were formed by hand, and later by machine extrusion of natural clay, textured or glazed with color, and fired in high-temperature kilns. The unique visual qualities of a clay tile roof often make it a prominent feature in defining the general appeal of a historic building. The significance and inherently fragile nature of historic tile roofs dictate that special care and precaution be taken to preserve and repair them.

Clay tile was a widespread roofing material for residential structures throughout the Romanesque Revival period.

Clay tile has one of the longest life expectancies among historic roofing materials—generally about 100 years, and often several hundred. Yet, a regularly scheduled maintenance program is essential to lengthen the life of any roofing system. A complete internal and external inspection of the roof structure and the roof covering is suggested to determine condition, potential causes of failure, or source of leaks, and will benefit in developing a program for the preservation and repair of the tile roof. Before beginning any repair work on historic clay tile roofs, it is vital to identify those qualities important in contributing to the historic significance and character of the building.

Recognizing Common Problems & Failures

While clay roofing tiles themselves are most likely to deteriorate because of frost damage, a clay tile roof system most commonly fails due to the breakdown of the fastening system. As the wooden pegs that fastened the early tiles to hand-riven battens rotted, they were often replaced with iron nails which are themselves easily corroded by tannic acid from oak battens or sheathing. The deterioration of metal flashing, valleys, and gutters can also lead to the failure of a clay tile roof.

Another area of possible failure of a historic clay tile roof is the support system. Clay tiles are heavy and it is important that the roof structure be sound. If gutters and downspouts fill with debris, water can back up and seep beneath roofing tiles, causing the eventual deterioration of roofing battens, the sheathing and fastening system, or even the roof’s structural members. During freezing weather, ice can build up under tiles and cause breakage during the freeze/thaw cycle. Consequently, as with any type of roof, water and improperly maintained rainwater removal and drainage systems are also chief causes for the failure of historic clay tile roofs.

Clay roofing tiles can also be damaged by roofers walking carelessly on an unprotected roof while making repairs, or by overhanging tree branches, falling tree limbs, or heavy hail. Broken tiles may no longer provide a continuous waterproof surface, thereby allowing water to enter the roofing structure, and may eventually result in its deterioration if the broken tiles are not replaced in a timely manner.

Although modern, machine-made clay tiles are more uniform in appearance than their handmade counterparts, they also have the potential for failure. Occasionally, entire batches of mass-produced tile can be defective.

Does your home have a tile roof that needs replaced or repaired? Check out our portfolio. Hazlett Roofing & Renovation has over 100+ years of experience specializing in Tile Roofing. Contact us today at (216) 246-8004 or (330) 773-1018.