Concrete tile roofs - collage and collection of various stylesConcrete tile roofs have a long lifespan and an elegant look. Like every type of roofing material, there are pros and cons to them. If Spanish, Mexican, or Mediterranean style architecture are your favorites, there’s a good chance that some sort of tile roof may be part of the home you love.

Concrete roof considerations – pros and cons

  • concrete tiles are often rated as 50 year roofs
  • they are more fire resistant than many other types of roofing materials
  • today they come in standard and light weights
  • they are expensive (but more affordable and hearty compared to clay tile roofs)
  • they may be rounded and look Spanish – Mediterranean, or they may be flat (there are many colors and styles)
  • there was a time when they were allowed to be installed without solid underlayment – there can be issues with that (do read this part below)
  • additional costs beyond the obvious (including permits and finals)

 

Long lasting materials, great fire rating

Concrete roofs may be expected to last up to 50 years (though I have seen some sites quote 30 – 50).  My experience, though, is that many homeowners won’t wait that long to replace their roofs as problems creep up with age. Concrete tile roofs enjoy a Class A fire rating.

Regular and lightweight options now

Concrete roofs are heavy, and the home needs to be engineered to carry that load. In some cases, homes are constructed with a lighter material, such as wood shake or composition shingle, and the homeowners later want tile. A good option for them may be the lighter weight concrete title roof. I had not heard of this at all until we were preparing to reroof our house.

Something to consider, though, is whether or not you want to add solar panels to your roof. When I looked into it (out of curiosity), I found that some solar panels cannot be placed on a lighter weight tile roof. (Please do your own research – you may find something different.)

Cost (in brief)

We reroofed in 2023 and it seemed like the cost to put on concrete tile was 3 or more times as much as if we’d put on a comp shingle roof. Ours did need more than just new tiles, but we decided to continue with tile as our Spanish style house would not have looked right with composition shingle. On the plus side, it will last far longer than the less expensive alternative!

 

Older concrete tile roofs and the underlayment issue

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Concrete tile roof 48 years old - townhouse complex in San Jose - view from underneath

From the about the mid 1970s to about the early 1980s, it was legal and common practice to install concrete tile roofs without solid sheathing or underlayment. During this period, the tiles were placed over open spaced boards or beams, also called skip sheathing. There was no plywood or other type of solid board beneath the tiles and there was no felt paper waterproofing.

The photo above is from a garage at a townhouse and is an example of this type of roof installation. That property was built in 1978.  You should not find this in newer roofs since the building code changed and it hasn’t been permitted for several decades.

My own house was constructed this way in 1977 and we learned first hand that it was a bit more challenging to keep water from intruding and leaks from happening. Without the underlayment, I suspect that we also lost more heat in winter and had less protection from the sun in summer. (We didn’t do a before and after analysis with our power bills.)

 

Concrete tile roof problem with no underlayment - 2019 raccoon on archway roof

 

It was also more challenging to keep wildlife out! We have a courtyard archway (not connected to our attic, thankfully) and in 2019, a mama raccoon moved some tiles, made a nest under the tiled roof, and brought some kits into the world there. Luckily, we hired Critter Catchers and that pro was able to convince them to move along.

With our real estate clients, if Clair and I see a concrete tile roof on a home that interests them, we’ll check the age of the home and also check out the current status of the roof – if it’s not original, that’s a big savings on future replacement costs. In many cases a pre-sale roof inspection will be provided and that should fill in the question of whether or not there is a problem due to lack of underlayment and felt paper.

Visual cues as to the age of the concrete tile roof

One way that you can tell that the roof is older is by focusing on the color and finish. The image below  is of the top of that same garage.  Note that the color is irregular with spots of white or gray. This is where the roof is delaminating. The gray patches are probably most visible in the further away roofline. Also, this is more likely to be visible on the south or west side of the property. If the view from the street is of the north side,  it may look younger than the back side.

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Concrete tile roof 48 years old - townhouse complex in San Jose - view from top

 

Here’s an image of a section of my home’s roof last year before we replaced the original roof. Our home faces south, so the wear is pretty visible – you can see the white spots a little bit in the nearby eaves, but significantly in the areas further back. If you’re considering a home and can’t get a great view of the south or west side, you might consider looking at Google or Bing Satellite View (but be aware that sometimes those are out of date).

 

Concrete tile roof - 46 years old

 

Replacing an older concrete style roof

Our neighbors across the street kindly shared this photo of our home getting a new concrete tile roof in 2023 (photograph from their 2nd floor).

 

Concrete tiel roof being installed

 

If your townhouse or house sports this type of roof from the 70s and 80s with the skip sheathing, you may be looking forward to replacing it and putting any roof headaches behind you.

The most painful thing, in my own experience, is the sticker shock of the cost of reroofing. In addition to the expensive materials and labor needed in the tear off and replacement, you’ll also need to include all new underlayment (and of course you can get upgraded materials that are supposed to help your energy efficiency). But there’s more.

Often the gutters and downspouts are replaced at the same time as the roof. That price needs to be factored in, too.

With the original design, you could possible go into your attic and see daylight. The roof kind of “breathes” – at least that was the case at my house  – with all of the small gaps here and there. If you have an attic fan, you did not need a lot of extra vents beyond the attic vents at the eaves as there was plenty of air able to circulate. Once the underlayment goes in, though, you will likely need to add O’Hagin vents, which blend in really beautifully withe the tiles are are almost invisible.

The image below shows some of our O’Hagin vents (the wire goes to an antenna which was not yet in place when my better half took this photo).  From a distance, they blend in very well.

 

O'Hagin vents on our roof - brown areas - they blend it at a distance

 

We did not add any new sun tunnels or skylights at this point, but if that was in the offing, doing it during the replacement makes a lot of sense. And it adds to the cost.

Last, but not least, don’t forget to pull the permits (or have your roofing contractor do that) – there is a cost to it, but whenever you do sell your home it will give peace of mind to the bidder on your home.

We also ended up with some drywall repairs in our garage ceiling. It looks like someone dropped a tile and it made a little crater in the ceiling with a crack extending in both directions (still on the “to do” list).

Adding solar, too?

If you are planning to add solar, it’s a really great idea to make sure that the roofing company and the solar provider coordinate. It will save you time, trouble, and money to do it that way. It also is helpful if those contractors have a track record of working together well. If you pick one or the other first, ask them which companies they’ve worked with successfully.

Finding a good concrete tile roofing contractor

There are not so many concrete tile roofing contactors in Los Gatos, the part of the Valley where I live. Many roofers don’t want to touch it, for some reason or another.

Using word of mouth references and online reviews are helpful, but nothing’s a guarantee. Even if you work with a highly regarded company, you could have a project coordinator who’s going through a rough patch or any number of things could  foul up what should be a great experience.  There are a lot of people involved and it doesn’t take much to mess up the schedule.

In our case, someone who ordered or received the delivery of the roof tiles didn’t happen to notice that they were not the right ones (that we ordered). There are so many choices that the colors are not always obviously different. Our job’s foreman only noticed when the tiles were placed on the roof that they didn’t match the color that the vent pipes were painted. It did say on it quite plainly what the model or style was, but no one double checked that it was X instead of Y. That grew into a HUGE delay since the roofers had committed to other jobs. So they left us and tended to those and then came back so that the other jobs could stay on time. (No, I was not happy.)

 

Reading related to concrete tile roofs

Fanciful roof art (on our Live in Los Gatos blog)

Home fire hardening (on our Belwood of Los Gatos blog)

Don’t let things grow on your roof! (on our Live in Los Gatos blog)

What can you learn from a frosty roof?  (this site)