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Clay or Cement? Which Tile is the Best Choice for Your Roof?

Updated: Apr 3

The distinctive charm of a cement (aka concrete) or clay tiled roof, especially on a classically styled home, is undeniable. Tiled roofs have been used in Europe for thousands of years, and the fact that centuries-old tile roofs have survived to the present day is a testament to their longevity. The durability of tile roofs holds true here in Florida every time a hurricane plows through. The typical tile roof can withstand Category 4 hurricane winds of 150 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s Saffir-Simpson scale. With additional reinforcement, they can also hold up against the winds from a monster Cat 5 storm. Best of all, both clay and cement roofs have a very long lifespan.

Traditionally, says Bill Nelson for, roof tiles are made of clay or slate—the slate split from naturally occurring stone into flat shingles and the clay molded into flat or arched shapes then fired and sometimes glazed. Let’s look at the differences between the two.

Cement roof tiles

CEMENT ROOF TILES STAND THE TEST OF TIME Also known as concrete tiles, cement tiles are molded and tinted to mimic the shape and appearance of clay, but at significantly less cost. As with clay tile, cement tile roofs must be installed by experienced professionals. Manufacturers project cement tile roofs to be good for fifty years or more. Cement tile is resistant to damage from hail, and because of its weight, it stands up well to high winds.

Nelson suggests thinking of cement tile as “roof armor”, reminding us that the main purpose of most roofing is to protect the underlying structure from water penetration. That, however, is not a tile roof’s primary job. Even though cement tiles (and clay ones as well) are molded with overlapping and interlocking joints, tile roofs are not completely waterproof. Wind-blown rain easily infiltrates the tiles. Not to fear! This is why cement tile roofs include an underlayment layer beneath that protects your home from the forces that promote its deterioration—temperature extremes, ultraviolet from sunlight, wind and water.

Fitting cement tiles to a complex roof design with multiple angles and obstructions is especially tricky, time-consuming and costly, because tiles must be individually cut to fit with a special saw. That makes cement tile best suited to roofs with broad expanses and a minimum number of interruptions.

CLAY ROOF TILE HAS MANY BENEFITS Besides its attractiveness, clay tile offers other benefits. A clay tile roof can be expected to last for close to 100 years, and its color resists bleaching or fading. Clay tile is dense and absorbs very little water. Because of the way the individual tiles are installed, replacing a damaged tile is relatively simple. However, clay tile roofs are susceptible to cracking from extremes in temperature and damage from impacts such as falling tree branches, so the ease of replacement is a good thing to have. The biggest disadvantage of clay tile, however, is its cost. At $700 to $1000 per square (100 square feet), clay tile is one of the most expensive roof coverings you can choose, however it is a worthy investment.

Traditional style home with terra cotta clay roof shares details on clay tiles. Produced by baking molded clay, the density of the clay is determined by the length of time and temperature at which it is heated. Colors of clay tiles for your roof range from shades of white, yellow, orange and brown. The most commonly used clay color is terra-cotta. Another color alternative to these natural earth tones is to add enamels to the tile to create any color of roof tiles. High kiln temperatures permanently bond this color to the clay tile to preserve the shade. As a result, there are a wide variety of tile profiles, styles, finishes and colors available in clay. Because clay tiles are made from a natural earth derived material, they are environmentally friendly and easily recycled. And did we mention that they last a good 100 years?

Clay roof tiles are resistant to strong winds and cannot be destroyed in a fire. Because of the way they are shaped, clay tiles protect the underlayment of your roof, while also creating an air pocket thereby helping to insulate and isolate any unwanted heat or cold from being transferred to your home’s attic space.

Either way, regular inspections are a good idea to maintain your tile roof in its most pristine condition. Call us at J. Sweet Construction for good advice and roofing referrals; put our 25 years’ experience to work for you, with honesty and integrity!


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