Concrete tile roofs: pros and cons

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

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What is a “cool air return”? What are “heat registers”?

Cool air returnWhat is a “cool air return“? Silicon Valley home hunters are very likely to encounter both heating vents (also called heat registers) and cool air returns in houses, townhouses and condos across the South Bay Area. They are found wherever a home enjoys central forced air heat with ducts and vents. (Some Victorian houses have forced air heat but it is only brought to perhaps one main room or area in the house!)

The purpose of a cool air return is to feed the furnace with a supply of cooler air to be heated ad then circulated back into the rest of the dwelling via the heat registers or vents. Often the cool air return is found near the floor. This makes sense when you consider that the hottest air will rise, leaving cooler air nearer the ground. Heat registers are often near the floor (and near a window), but if the home is on a slab foundation and has forced air heat, the vent will be on the ceiling.

How can I tell the difference between the cool air return and a heat register or vent?

Generally speaking, the vents for warm air are long and narrow, and the cool air return is much larger and boxier in shape.  Below please find an image of heating vents.

Heating ventsThe first example of a heating vent is probably the most typical you’ll find in Silicon Valley: it’s metal, kind of a dark gray color.  Older ones (homes from the 50s) have an even narrower shape but still tend to be metal, sometimes painted dark brown.

The next example is usually found where the property has hardwood floors.  The idea is to make the vent blend in and be less noticeable. Naturally, the wooden vents come in a variety of colors to match the many types of woods that might be found in a residence.

By and large, cool air returns and heat registers are pretty ugly. The wooden vents are a nice step above the usual offerings.  Several companies sell nicer cool air returns and heat registers or vents, though. So if you are remodeling and want to get away from that “tract housing feel”, a few custom touches might be just the ticket for a more unique feeling home. (more…)