22nd Apr 2024 -

Clay roof tiles have stood the test of time as one of the most trusted roofing materials, prized for their durability and eco-friendly characteristics. In an era where sustainability is paramount, the benefits of clay roofing tiles extend beyond their timeless appearance.

This article examines the inherent durability and sustainability of clay roofing tiles. From longevity to reducing energy consumption, tiling a roof with clay tiles offers a compelling solution for those looking to build eco-conscious structures.

What is a clay roof tile?

Clay tiles are made from natural clay that is moulded into various shapes and then fired in a kiln at high temperatures. Common shapes include flat shingles, barrel tiles and interlocking clay roof tiles.

The manufacturing process plays a crucial role in determining the quality and durability of clay tiles. High-quality tiles are made from dense, well-purified clay that is free from impurities and fired at optimal temperatures to achieve strength and weather resistance.

Clay tiles are installed in an overlapping pattern. Each tile slightly covers the one below it. Combined with the natural properties of clay, this overlapping design offers excellent protection against water infiltration and other environmental elements. Tiles are typically secured to the roof with a drill using nails, screws or wire ties.

5 types of clay roof tiles

Clay roof tiles are widely available in 5 distinct styles and profiles. In addition to shared properties including fire resistance, each offers unique characteristics suitable for different applications.

Barrel/pan tiles - The classic semi-cylindrical tile shape. 
 - Comprising a curved top cover tile overlapping flat pan tiles.
 - Best suited for low-pitched roofs of 4:12 pitch or less common in warm climates.
 - Creates a distinctive wavy, textured look with deep shadow lines.
 - Excellent weather resistance because of its overlapping layers.
Interlocking tiles - Flat profiles with tongue-and-groove-shaped edges that interconnect.
 - Can offer improved wind resistance with proper installation techniques.
 - Available in multiple plan view shapes like arrows, squares, hexagons, etc.
 - More uniform appearance than barrel tiles.
 - Often used on steeper roofs but suitable for 4:12 pitch or higher.
French/flat tiles - Simple, flat profiles with parallel rain ridges or grooves.
 - Versatile for use on low or steep slopes.
 - Allows you to create a smooth, clean-lined appearance.
 - Can be staggered like bricks or installed in patterned designs.
Single-lap/pan tiles - Flat profile tiles that overlap each other vertically in rows.
 - A cost-effective compromise between flat and barrel tile styles.
 - Can create visual effects similar to barrel tiles but on steeper roofs.
 - Suitable for pitches of 5:12 or greater.
 - Offer improved weather protection over standard flat tiles.
Clay pantiles - A variation of barrel tiles featuring an "S" or curved shape.
 - The curved pantile design allows tiles to interlock for improved weather protection.
 - Often used for roofs with pitches between 4:12 and 7:12.
 - Create a smoother, more refined look than traditional barrel tiles.
 - A durable option that requires specialised installation.

Are clay roof tiles sustainable?

When it comes to sustainable roofing solutions, clay tile roof materials are among the best options available. Clay tiles offer various environmental benefits over their lifespan. 

1. Longevity and durability

With proper installation, clay tiles last approximately 30-50 years or more without replacement. This is significantly longer than asphalt shingles which typically only last 15-30 years. The longevity of clay eliminates the recurring embodied energy and waste created by having to frequently reshingle. 

2. Natural and renewable materials

Clay tiles contain no synthetic or petroleum-based components. The clay and shale used to make the tiles are available from surface mines and quarries. Clay can often be sourced within fairly close proximity of where the tiles will be installed. This allows tiles to be produced from fully natural, renewable raw materials.

3. Low embodied energy

The firing of the clay tiles in kilns at temperatures between 980-1148°C (1800-2100°F) accounts for most of the energy required. However, this energy is balanced by the long lifespan. In contrast, concrete tiles need higher kiln temperatures of around 1204°C (2200°F). They also require more complex industrial processes, resulting in higher embodied energy.

4. Recyclable and reusable

At the end of their life, broken clay tiles can be crushed down and recycled into cement or as a base material for manufacturing new tiles without losing quality. Tiles that remain in good condition after removal are commonly reused on new roof installations.

5. Cool roof performance

The natural red and terracotta colour tones give them a solar reflectance of 30-50%. This compares to darker roofing materials like slate or asphalt. Both may only reflect 5-25% of solar radiation. By absorbing less heat from the sun, clay tiles can help reduce energy costs.

6. Improved indoor air quality

Roof clay tiles contain no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that could potentially off-gas and reduce indoor air quality. Tiles also do not absorb or release other chemicals or contaminants. The fired clay material is hypoallergenic and will not create an environment for mould, bacteria or other allergens to grow. This promotes better indoor air quality.

7. Water permeability

While underlayment is required, the porous nature of clay allows any moisture penetration to slowly evaporate and release from underneath the tiles over time. This avoids trapping the moisture against underlayment and roof decking where it can cause deterioration. It helps increase the longevity of the full roof system.

How to maintain a clay-tiled roof

Clay tile roofs last a long time with proper installation and maintenance. However, neglecting maintenance will lead to issues like broken tiles, deteriorated underlayment and even structural damage. To keep your clay tile roof in top condition, follow these maintenance tips.

Annual inspection

Conduct a visual inspection of the full roof at least once per year. Be sure to look for the following.

  • Cracked, broken or missing tiles.
  • Deteriorated sealant around ridge caps, vents, skylights, etc.
  • Debris accumulation in valleys or around protrusions.
  • Damaged or deteriorated underlayment visible from underneath.
  • Loose nails or fasteners.
  • Fungus and mildew growth.


Clay tiles accumulate grime, moss and debris over time. This holds moisture and damages tiles or the underlayment. Occasional cleaning is recommended every 3-5 years.

  • Use a roof brush or air blower to remove loose debris.
  • Mix a solution of mild detergent and warm water.
  • Scrub tiles gently with a soft-bristle brush and the detergent solution.
  • Rinse thoroughly with clean water.
  • Avoid harsh chemical cleaners which can damage tiles.

Repair or replace tiles

Broken or cracked tiles should be replaced promptly. Replacement will prevent water intrusion and damage. 

  • Locate and remove any damaged tiles, setting them aside.
  • Scrape away old sealant from the area.
  • Apply a generous amount of roofing sealant to the area.
  • Set and secure the new tile in place, pressing firmly into the sealant.
  • Apply additional sealant around edges as needed.

Sealant maintenance

Roofing sealants used around spaces such as vents, chimneys and skylights will deteriorate over time. Check sealants annually and reseal as needed.

  • Remove any cracked, dried, or failing sealant.
  • Clean and prep the area per the sealant manufacturer's instructions.
  • Apply a high-quality polyurethane or silicone-based roofing sealant.
  • Tool the sealant for a smooth finish and proper adhesion.

Underlayment repair

If areas of the underlayment are damaged, they should be repaired quickly to maintain a waterproof barrier. However, the underlayment should not need full replacement more often than every 20-30 years on a well-maintained roof.

  • Remove any damaged tiles to access the area.
  • Cut away any deteriorated underlayment down to the sheathing.
  • Install new self-adhesive underlayment and overlapping seams.
  • Re-install tiles, setting them in a generous amount of sealant.

Clay tile roof vs concrete tile roof: What is the difference?

While both clay and concrete are popular materials, there are several key differences to be aware of. Below is a detailed comparison examining clay vs concrete roof tiles.

Material composition - Made from natural clay and shale fired in a kiln.
 - Relatively lightweight but very dense.
 - Naturally occurring warm colour tones like reds or browns.
 - Composite mix of Portland cement, sand and water.
 - Heavier weight per tile than clay.
 - Can be tinted to various colour tones.
Tile profile/style - Traditional barrel style is most common.
 - Also flat or slant tiles and interlocking styles.
 - Rustic, textured look with slight variations in tone and shape.
 - Commonly produced in low-profile flat styles.
 - But also barrel and interlocking designs available.
 - Smoother, more uniform appearance.
Durability - Extremely durable and freeze/heat resistant.
 - Expected service life of 30-50 years.
 - But can crack or break more easily than concrete if struck.
 - Very durable, estimated 50-100 year lifespan.
 - More resistant to breaks than clay.
 - But can be prone to colour fading and efflorescence over time.
Weather/climate performance- Excellent thermal resistance in hot climates.
 - Porous nature allows some moisture drainage.
 - Requires extra waterproofing underlayment.
 - Retain less heat than clay in hot climates.
 - Less porous and better water resistance.
 - But may require additional roof venting.
Installation - Require skilled labour and specialised fasteners.
 - Cut tiles must be done pre-installation.
 - Lighter weight means easier installation.
 - Can be challenging for DIY due to weight.
 - Field cuts made with masonry blade.
 - Interlocking designs improve wind resistance.
Cost - Higher upfront material and installation costs.
 - But an extremely long lifetime can offset costs.
- Generally more affordable material costs.
 - Wide range of prices for different styles.

Can you buy clay roof tiles with speedy UK delivery?

At Building Materials Nationwide, we offer an extensive selection of clay roof tiles. Our options include traditional plain clay roof tiles and interlocking designs in terracotta, brown and red clay roof tiles. With proper installation and maintenance, our natural clay tiles provide durability for years to come.

We welcome trade customers to open a trade account to streamline buying clay tiles and all other materials. Trade accounts offer quick online ordering, competitive trade pricing, potential flexible credit options and one-on-one account management. 

Our knowledgeable team also assist you in selecting the ideal clay tile profile, colour blend and accessories. Apply online today to experience the convenience of a trade account. If you have any questions, contact us for a chat.

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