Roofing Showcase in Central Florida: Preserving Period Tile Roofs

Today’s roofing showcase in Central Florida will cover the historic clay tile roof, which is a centerpiece in the southern U.S. Although clay tiles have a long life expectancy, effort is still required to preserve them. Here is an overview of the background of clay tile roofs and how they are maintained today.

History of clay tiles

Clay tiles can be traced to the very beginnings of civilization. Chinese and Middle Eastern temples started using them around 10,000 B.C. The Egyptians and Babylonians used them frequently for their buildings, and as people traveled more, their desirability also spread. They soon became a favorite in Europe, as well. When settlers first started arriving in North America, they brought this design with them.

Remnants of clay tiles have been found in Roanoke Island in North Carolina, the Jamestown site in Virginia and St. Mary’s in Maryland, with the earliest samples dated to 1585. Spanish settlers in Florida also used clay tiles for their architecture, and the trend continued with the French as they built New Orleans. Clay protected homes from fire and these roofing tiles remained popular.

Use started to decline in the 18th and 19th Centuries as more efficient production processes were developed for roofing material. Wood shingles became more popular, especially after there were methods of fire-proofing them. Metals like iron, copper and zinc also became more in demand due to their quick installation. Clay soon became less fashionable.

However, when the Italianate Villa style of architecture was the fashion, clay tiles were in demand once again in the late 19th Century. The new market increased the demand for clay tiles, and alternative materials with the clay look were also developed. With many of these homes still standing, there is a demand to preserve the look of their original roofs.


Clay tiles are difficult to preserve. They are very heavy, which challenges aging roof infrastructure. When the original wood pegs that held them in place rotted away, builders frequently replaced them with iron nails. The tannins from the metal caused the clay tiles to corrode and discolor.

There is also human error. Workers carelessly walked across the roofs, breaking many of the tiles. Some tiles replaced with modern workmanship in the 20th Century were often more porous than the original tiles, causing them to break down. In fact, many of the methods of making clay tiles now are not comparable to the older methods, which actually made them stronger.

With this knowledge, preservation emphasizes prevention. Inspection, repair and water accumulation control are all routine procedures. When there is an incoming storm, older roofs are often shielded from the elements—especially if they are already undergoing repairs.

Tiles still get replaced, too. The first strategy is to find other period tiles that match. There are tiles available from demolished homes or made in the same time period but never installed. If a match is not found, a matching tile will get moved from a less visible area and the non-matching tile put in its place. All this requires imagination and is helped by the fact that clay tiles are reusable.

Winter Springs Roofing & Repairs offers its own roofing showcase in Central Florida with options for tile roofs, chimneys and skylights. Contact us today if your modern masterpiece could benefit from restoration.

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