Concrete Roof Tiles: Pros and Cons

Among the available materials to choose from, concrete tiles may present some attractive qualities for those considering roofing options for their new home or remodel. They have excellent longevity, lasting for decades with proper maintenance. Highly versatile, they are available in a wide range of shapes, styles, and colors to suit a wide variety of tastes. Plus they are extremely durable, with inherently high degrees of wind, impact, and fire resistance. For all these reasons concrete tiles are an increasingly popular choice among roofing materials. However, not every home or budget is compatible with concrete tile. In this article we’ll outline both their advantages and limitations for those considering concrete tiles as their roof material of choice.

What are Concrete Roof Tiles?
Concrete roof tiles are made using a combination of sand, cement, water, and iron oxide pigment which is mixed and then molded under high pressure and heat. Their consistent quality control, shape, and strength is ensured thanks to this standardized manufacturing process. The quality of concrete tiles very much depends on where you source them and, in many cases, what you are willing to pay. At the cheapest end of the market lie tiles that are obviously concrete, painted with a coating to make them look like something else (usually clay or slate). These poor quality versions are often prone to fading and damage. However, if you are willing to pay a little more, concrete tiles can be very convincing in their appearance, with plenty of texture and a good depth of color.

Origins of Cement-Based Roofing Products
Cements featured in construction in ancient times, but were not used for making roof tiles until mass production of the materials started in the 19th century. The first cement-based tiles were made in 1844 at the Kroher cement factory in Staudach, Bavaria. Until 1920 they were normally cast as square products, which were laid on the roof in a diamond pattern. In the early days, pigmented coatings were applied to the surface of the tiles, but efflorescence and poor color durability rapidly spoiled the appearance. As a result, uncoated tiles of plain concrete were preferred and quickly became popular.

Advantages of Concrete Roof Tiles
There are many sound reasons to consider concrete tiles, including their fire resistance, relatively low maintenance, longevity, and versatility.

Fire Resistance
Concrete tiles carry the highest (Class A) fire rating, reflecting their non-combustible nature. This rating is maintained throughout their lifecycle, with no supplemental treatments required to keep the roof at its Class A rating. This has led to its ever-increasing use for fire-resistant construction in wildfire prone areas.

Installed correctly, concrete roof tiles should be expected to last a very long time. Relative to other roofing materials, their life expectancy compares as follows:
Roof type Life expectancy
Asphalt shingles 20 years
Fiber cement 25 years
Wood shake 30 years
Clay tiles 50+ years
Concrete roof tiles 50+ years
Their lifespan – as apprised by the National Association of Home Builders – is substantially longer than many alternatives. As some tile manufacturers offer lifetime warranties, your concrete-tiled roof can last as long as your house itself. Given that during the building’s lifespan they will seldom need replacing if at all translates into an inherent economy over the long term.

Low Maintenance
Concrete tiles score very high on the durability index. This means that they are relatively easy to maintain, without the need for any intensive program of upkeep or application of protective treatments. At most, besides regular gutter cleaning as with any other roof, best practice calls for periodic pressure washing to remove unwanted algal or moss growth in order to realize the roof’s maximum longevity.

Style and Versatility
Few roofing materials are more versatile than concrete, which can simulate more expensive materials like slate and clay roofing tile. Concrete tile can even match the look of cedar shakes. Concrete roof tiles come in three styles, called profiles:
• Low/flat – no curves
• Medium – less than or equal to 1-inch high for every 5 inches in width
• High – greater than 1-inch high for every 5 inches in width

With minimal depth, flat tile delivers a clean look suitable to many architectural styles. Medium and high-profile tiles emulate the look of traditional Spanish, Tuscan, or Mediterranean architecture. Alongside the tile profile, concrete comes in a wide variety of colors. Brown and copper shades, for instance, mimic clay tiles. Beyond earth tones, you can opt for soft pastels like purple and blue. This versatility lends it well to a wide selection of different styles and colors: whatever period look suits your own personal style, you can customize your materials selection to obtain the aesthetic you are seeking.

Disadvantages of Concrete Roof Tiles
As with anything, concrete tiles have a few potential downsides that may prove deterring to some. These include their relatively higher weight per unit, brittleness of the individual tile units, and relatively higher cost as compared to wood or asphalt shingles.

One downside of concrete roof tiles is their sheer weight. When compared to lighter roofing materials such as asphalt composition shingles, wood shingles, or metal, concrete roof tiles are significantly heavier. This means that a house with concrete tile roofing needs a roof structure sufficiently robust to carry this incremental weight increase.

Concrete tiles are durable and strong, but also brittle. This means they will break if walked on improperly, a problem which could lead to roof failure and demanding of prompt attention. For this reason it’s almost always recommended to bring on a professional for any work done to a concrete tile roof.

More Expensive
Although more affordable than some options such as clay tile or metal, concrete tile roofing is relatively expensive, costing roughly twice that of wood or asphalt shingles. This incremental increase is compensated somewhat, however, by the fact that over their long lifespan concrete tile’s longevity should be expected to offset their initial expense.

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