Energy Initiative Blogs

What’s topping houses in Europe? A traditional material (Part 1 of a series)

by Dora Gacsi | Mar 05, 2015

All buildings need some type of covering or roofing if they are to be livable. There are many kinds of roofing used for different purposes across the globe. Here, I am looking at a roofing material typically used in Europe on residential buildings, and most importantly whether it is a sustainable option.

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Source: Wikipedia

The most common form of roofing used on residental buildings in Europe is ceramic tile. The advantages of using ceramic roofing materials include: 

  • Cost-Effective.  They have a lower cost over other types of roofing materials in Europe. Although clay roofing tiles cost a bit more than the traditional asphalt roofing materials used in the U.S., they will outlast most other roofing materials.  When looking at lifecycle costs, ceramic roofing tiles are the best option today.
  • Long life and Durability.  Today, most manufacturers provide a guarantee for 50 years. They are known to have been used in ancient civilizations, and it is still the primary roofing material used in Europe and Asia. Other roofing materials begin to decay the day they are installed, unlike ceramic roof tiles which can last centuries. They are also resistant to mold, rot and insect boring.
  • Strength, Connectability and Flexibility.  Another benefit of ceramic roofing tiles is their connectability (how the ceramic tiles connect to each other). The interlocking method of installation creates a stronger roofing system. Ceramic roofing tiles also allow for longitudinal movement, allowing for expansion and contraction of the material.

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  • Appearance and Design.  It can be used to create complex structures using different colors and architectural styles.  Over the years, many shapes have evolved including flat tiles, imbrex and tegula tiles, roman tiles, pantiles tiles, mission or barrel tiles, interlocking roof tiles and antefixes.

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Source: Fantastical Organie Architecture of Hungary’s Imre Makovecz

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  • Environmentally-friendly.  They are made of naturally occurring materials without depleting natural resources, don’t use chemical preservatives, and are 100% recyclable.
  • Energy Efficient.  They have superior themal capacity and ventilated air spaces to allow for better indoor temperature control. Compared to other roofing types, they have enhanced air circulation where air circulates above and below the tile, which helps the roof shed solar heat more easily.
  • Fire Safety.   Ceramic roof tiles are non-combustible. Tile roofs exist in any climate or region and can withstand fire, earthquakes, and the severest weather conditions, including hail, wind and snow.

Ceramic roofing tiles have disadvantages as well. They are heavy so the roof needs to be built strong enough to hold the extra weight. As a result, the additional structure could mean additional costs. The frost resistance of ceramic roofing tiles varies considerably, with newer technologies producing more frost resistant tiles. Frost damage occurs when the tile absorbs moisture through its pores or sits between the tiles and when temperatures drop, the water freeze and expands causing pressure that may become high enough to cause cracks in the ceramic tile. 

So how can we improve upon a pretty good roofing material?  Look for Part 2 of this series.


The Roofing Institute. (Accessed online on March 5, 2015.)

The Basics: Clay and Concrete Roofing Tiles. (Accessed online on March 5, 2015.)

Clay Tile Roofing. (Accessed online on March 5, 2015.)

Roofing Tile. (Accessed online on March 5, 2015.)

Tile Roofs Advantages and Disadvantages. (Accessed online on March 5, 2015.)

A Tetők. (Accessed online on March 4, 2015.)