A Month in Europe: Roof Tiles

Roof tiles fascinate me. Robert Heinlein said once that a house’s job, broadly speaking, is to keep off the rain. And to do this you have to have a good solid roof.

Terra cotta roof tiles date back a good 4 thousand years or so. You can easily find ones that the Romans made. That they’re still manufactured and used today shows great product design and adaptability. There are tons of different styles, varying from location to location. As I write this I am in Italy, which abounds in various styles of tile.

Have a look at this one. These are tiles that are almost shingles, large flattish interlocking slabs of terra cotta. They’re ridged so that you can overlap the rows of tile over each other, offsetting the joints so that the entire roof sheds water perfectly. Each tile we see here must be perhaps half, even a third only, of the entire roof tile. You can do an entire roof with only this kind of tile, just about. Notice that only at the ridge line do you need the half-pipe style of tile, to cover the gap at the top.

This second roof is more common further south. There are two kinds of tile going on here. The half-pipe tiles are easy to see. But between them are ranks of tiles shaped like a flat wide U. The half-pipe tile covers the gap between each column of flat U tiles. You start at the bottom edge of the roof and lay tiles going up to the ridge, overlapping the rows as you go and sticking the tiles down with mortar. The ridge is finished with a line of half-pipes. Notice, at the bottom edge, the plugs that keep critters from going up into the cozy terra cotta tunnels under the half-pipes.

Tile roofs are very heavy, and the building underneath it has to be sturdy. They also don’t stand up to freezing climates. But with solid walls and a terra cotta roof, this will probably last a century with only minor maintenance.

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2 thoughts on “A Month in Europe: Roof Tiles”

  1. Any time water collects on a roof is bad, by definition. I had not realized how much water that picturesque moss can hold — it gets quite squishy. In Sarlat-le-Canede the city fathers would powerwash the tile roofs once a year to blast off the discs of moss.

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