Driving through Maryland and glancing at the roofs of houses won’t show visitors red tiled roofs. That is a shame because terra cotta roof tiles are not only pretty, but they typically outlast the building they are roofing. It is not uncommon to take away the rubble of a building that has fallen in and use the red roofing tiles on another incarnation of the building. Red tiles have been proven to last several hundred years.
A remarkable property of red tiles is that they are fireproof. This meant something in the early years of the country’s building, because people remembered the fires that obliterated London and Boston in the 1600s. In fact, that was how fire codes were established. People built using the natural clay deposits found in Georgia and Southern Maryland. In time, however, terra cotta tiles, which are quite heavy, gave way to wooden shingles. Houses and other buildings didn’t need such heavy framing to hold wooden shingles.
The typical Maryland roof is protected by black shingles for a few reasons other than fire. The Maryland climate is volatile, given its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and the Shenandoah Mountains. One would think the mountain chain would protect Maryland from the vestiges of weather patterns coming from Canada and the West. Instead, the mountain range exacerbates any weather patterns hitting Maryland.
Another reason is hurricanes. Some hit the Carolinas and then travel across the states before they run out of steam. Other hurricanes roar up the Chesapeake Bay, doing untold damage before pouncing on Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and points north. These storms demolish houses, so a terra cotta roof would do the homeowner no good. Trees will fall onto houses and rainwater would pass through unimpeded. Terra cotta is a porous material, not waterproof unless it is glazed.
One more reason Maryland homeowners prefer a black shingle roof is snow. Snow sits atop a house until it melts and runs off the roof into the gutters and drainpipes. If a roof were composed of terra cotta tiles, the glaze would keep the tiles from absorbing the water from the snow. However, it would seep between and under the tiles, damaging the support of the roof. Eventually it would rot the wood sheath underneath the tiles.
This is a concern due to the way the tiles are applied to the roof. After the framing is completed and the roof is sheathed, the red tiles are applied. The tiles come in different shapes, most of which to not interlock to make them waterproof. In that case, a waterproof material is laid underneath the tiles. The tiles are then applied beginning at the eaves, with each course overlapping the previous. This prevents leaking and guides any water toward the eaves, where the moisture will escape via gutters.
Indeed, since red tile is porous, if it is not glazed there is a danger of cracking and breaking during a freeze. Ice build-up beneath the tiles causes cracking and breaking when the tiles thaw. All this is nothing compared to the danger of mold and mildew caused by the moisture being trapped under the tiles. Professionals would be required to clean the roof and remove the mold and mildew, then seal the roof tiles.
It is much simpler for Maryland homeowners not to use terra cotta tiles to roof their homes. The durability and soundproofing qualities of terra cotta tiles cannot be denied, but the disadvantages to a Maryland homeowner also cannot be denied. Red tiles are better suited to a hot dry climate than to one as volatile as the Maryland climate.
The Maryland homeowner should also keep in mind that red tiles are quite heavy. It would be costly to build enough support into the roof to hold the terra cotta tiles. Added to this would be the cost of repairing storm damage to the roof.
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