The History and Beauty of the Terracotta Roof

The terracotta roof is a common architectural feature in Europe and around the Mediterranean. These roofing tiles are beautiful as well as durable and functional. Yet, despite its obvious benefits, terracotta roof tiles are not a common roofing material around the United States.

Terracotta RoofView in gallery

There are circumstances and areas where these roofing tiles work well and some where they do not. We are going to explore a brief history of terracotta to help understand this amazing material better.

The terracotta roofView in gallery

Also, we will consider some homes with terracotta roofing to see if you like the look and if it may be an option you want to consider.

The Terracotta Roof: A Brief History

Terracotta, which means “baked-earth”, comes from a coarse and porous clay from the earth. Ancient artisans used it to construct vessels like pots and sculptures because it was an inexpensive and moldable material. It has been used to create roofing tiles as long ago in coastal areas in Europe in ancient Greece and in Asia in ancient China.

The use of terracotta clay roof tiles throughout Europe and Asia continued into the Renaissance when explorers carried these tiles into the New World. Architects have found evidence of clay tiles in old English settlements like Jamestown and Roanoke. Spanish settlements in Florida also used clay roof tiles.

In the current era, many people use terracotta roofing tiles across Europe and all around the world. In the United States, architects have used clay tiles in Mission-style architecture as well as some Craftsman-style homes. You can see these roofs throughout California and the midwest.

Terracotta Roof: Pros and Cons

terracotta roofingView in gallery
Traditional Building Magazine

Terracotta roof tile has amazing benefits that will work well for many homeowners. However, there are drawbacks that make it a less than ideal choice for some situations.

Pros

  • Durability – If a clay tile roof is installed well, it can last over 100 years. These tiles are resistant to rot, fire, and wind. In addition, they are durable to some objects that fall from the sky like hail.
  • Style – The look of terracotta roof tile is unlike any other. They elevate the look of historic and contemporary buildings and give homes a rustic charm that is hard to match with other roofing tiles.
  • Eco-friendliness – Manufacturers can make terracotta roofing tiles from locally sourced raw materials. In addition, clay roof tiles have thermal energy properties that allow them to reduce the heat loss and absorption. Also, they create a good heat transfer barrier that keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Cons

  • Price – Clay tile roofs cost more than many other roofing materials like wood, asphalt, and metal. Terracotta tiles cost between $12-25 per square foot.
  • Weight – Terracotta roof tiles are heavy in comparison with other roof types. They weigh between 6 -15 pounds per square foot. Some roofs will need extra reinforcement because of the excessive weight of these tiles.
  • Fragile – If nothing falls on a terracotta roof, it can last forever, but accidents happen. Clay tiles break when someone steps on them or if heavy branches or other debris fall on them.
  • Limitations – Clay tile roofs work best in climates that do not drop below freezing on a regular basis as these tiles can crack if exposed to extreme temperatures. Also, they do not work well on steep pitched roofs as they will shake.
  • Moisture – By themselves, clay tiles do not stand up well to moisture. Therefore, to avoid leaks from rain, you should make sure that there is an installation of an underlayment to avoid water problems in the long run.

Types of Terracotta Tiles

There are many companies that manufacture clay tiles of different varieties. Each has a distinct style and design that is suitable for different types of homes.


Spanish Style

Spanish StyleView in gallery

Spanish clay tiles are shaped like an “S’. The right side of the “S” curve sticks up and the left side interlocks with the tile that is beside it.


Mission Style

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Mission style tiles are similar to Spanish tiles. However, the mission barrel tile shape is not an “S” shaped tile, rather they are a half-circle shape.

Roofers lay these tiles in patterns of interlocking convex and concave patterns.


French Style

French StyleView in gallery

The French-style clay roof tiles are one of the most durable and moisture-resistant clay tiles. These tiles interlock on all sides and have grooves that allow for drainage.


Interlocking Style

Interlocking StyleView in gallery

This types of tiles are flat and interlock with each other on all sides. These are known as terracotta roof shingles as these flat tiles look the most like asphalt shingles.

Terracotta Roof Styles and Inspiration

There are as many ways to utilize terracotta roofing tiles as there are house designs. We have gathered some amazing pictures for you to see the unique styles that are a result of using a terracotta tile roof.

Santa Barbara Mission

Santa Barbara MissionView in gallery
Exquisite Ceramics

This is a wonderful example of the mission style clay tiles. Notice how the roofers have laid the barrel-like tiles in interlocking convex and concave formations.

These tiles do not interlock on their own, but roofers utilize the rounded shape to create an interlocking style for greater durability.

Also, notice the moss growing on the tile. Moss in small amounts does not cause a problem, but excessive moss growth can retain moisture causing problems in the roof in the long run.

Mediterranean Patio

Mediterranean PatioView in gallery
Joani Stewart Interiors

Notice how the clay tile roof on this stucco home complements the overall look that echoes a sunny Mediterranean style. In addition, the deep red of the roof gives the home some added color to balance the dark red tile floor.

Traditional Brick

Traditional BrickView in gallery
Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Terracotta roofs look wonderful on Spanish and Italian-style buildings, but they also look amazing on traditional homes. Keep in mind that for many years, this was the roofing material of choice in northern Europe and England too.

This tile complements the light tones of the painted brick and creates an attractive contrast.

Variegated Roof Tile

Variegated Roof TileView in gallery
Ludowici Roof Tile

Terracotta roofing tile can have wonderful variegated colors that make it have more visual texture than your average roof of other materials.

We love how this multi-colored roofing tiles mirror the color of the window trim and the inlay in the walkway to create a cohesive look.

Modern Terracotta Roof House Colors

Modern Terracotta Roof House ColorsView in gallery
Ludowici Roof Tile

If you want to create a contemporary style home and use terracotta roofing tiles, consider a colorful tile. Ludowici creates clay tiles in bright colors for a beachy contemporary aesthetic style.

Eclectic Exterior

Eclectic ExteriorView in gallery
Dig Design

Lest you think that terracotta roofs belong just on grand mansions and large homes, consider this cottage in Melbourne, Australia.

This turn-of-the-century cottage has a French-style terracotta roof with a decorative ridge design to complete the delicate look.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Are terracotta roof tiles good?

Yes and no. Terracotta roofs work well in certain climates as they are durable, long-lasting, and energy efficient. However, in cold climates these tiles crack with constant exposure to freezing temperatures. Also, they are one of the most expensive roofing options.

What is the life expectancy of terracotta roof tiles?

If you have had terracotta roof tiles installed in the correct way, if you live in a warm and dry climate, and if the roof is not subject to large limbs and other debris, you can expect your clay tiles to last for 100 years.

Is a terracotta roof expensive?

For materials and installation, a terracotta roof will cost between $10-$25 per square foot. The price for the whole job is between $19,000-$35,000 with the national average around $27,000.

What color should I paint my house with a terracotta roof?

Traditional terracotta tiles are reddish in color. Therefore, the homes that look the best with this color tend to be light neutrals like white, beige, or ivory. However, some roofing companies manufacture clay tiles in different colors. These can be bright or mimic the look of wood shingles. When choosing an exterior color, it is best to echo the undertones of the roof with either cool tones or warm tones.

Can a terracotta roof be painted?

Yes and no. You can paint the roofing tiles, but the paint will not adhere well. Thus, the tiles will need to be painted on a regular basis to maintain coverage. The reason the paint does not stick to the tiles is that before they go one your roof, manufacturers glaze the terracotta tiles. This makes it difficult for paint to adhere to the terracotta surface.

Terracotta roof: Conclusion

A terracotta roof is not just a beautiful feature, it creates a link with the past. Historic homes and buildings have lovely terracotta tiles which have lasted for years and will continue to function for years to come.

In addition, this is a valid roofing choice for anyone who lives in the right climate, wants a stunning and distinctive roof style, and is willing to pay for a roof that will last for the ages.