Tiles and Slates


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Roof tiles and slates on pitched roofs

If you live in a house with a pitched roof rather than a flat one, you will almost definitely have tiles or slates on the roof above your head. Modern tiles are generally constructed from either clay or concrete and include flat or plain tiles, pantiles, Roman tiles or more modern designs which interlock more effectively than the traditional products. Roofing slates include properly quarried slate or can be reconstituted, though there are also concrete tiles which are given the appearance of slate. In the United Kingdom, concrete roofing tiles are fitted on approximately 60% of all domestic roofs, clay tiles on 20% and slate on around 10%.

The main manufacturers of roof tiles and slates

According to the Clay Roof Tile Council, the five largest manufacturers of clay roof tiles in the United Kingdom, with over 90% of production are Dreadnought™, Keymer™, Marley Eternit™, Redland™ and Sandtoft™. Similarly, the British Precast Concrete Federation claims that Forticrete™, Marley Eternit™, Monier™ and Sandtoft™ account for over 95% of the manufacture of concrete roof tiles in the United Kingdom.

As for the suppliers of roofing slate, there are too many suppliers to list here due to the number of resellers and importers of new slate and recycled slate and the regional variations and specialities such as Welsh Slate.

Tiles and Slates – The Sandtoft™ Range

Tiles and Slates – Sandtoft™ Clay Roof Tiles

Tiles and Slates – Sandtoft™ Concrete Roof Tiles

Tiles and Slates – Sandtoft™ Slates

Tiles and Slates – A comparison of clay roofing tiles and concrete roofing tiles

First of all the similarities, both clay and concrete roofing tiles are energy efficient and good insulators, they have a Class A fire rating and are durable, requiring minimum maintenance. They can also look very similar although the manufacturing processes are very different.

Manufacturing process of clay roofing tiles
Clay roofing tiles are made from natural clay which is either extruded or pressed into shape before being fired in a kiln at high temperatures. Concrete tiles consist of coloured concrete which is formed in a mould then cured to harden off.

Cost of clay roofing tiles
Clay roofing tiles are more expensive than concrete roofing tiles and can be up to double the cost.

Colour range and colour fastness of clay roofing tiles
Whilst clay roofing tiles tend to be supplied in the natural red and orange clay colours, concrete roofing tiles are available in a much wider range of colours, with blue and grey concrete tiles available. Clay roof tiles will however, maintain their original colour for a longer period than concrete roof tiles do, which will fade over time.

Strength and durability of clay roofing tiles
Clay tiles can be brittle and are prone to cracking when walked upon whilst concrete tiles are much stronger. Undamaged though, clay tiles should last in excess of 100 years whilst concrete ones, 30 to 50 years would be the norm.

Water absorption and clay roofing tiles
Concrete roofing tiles will generally absorb more surface rainwater than clay tiles and this can result in the growth of mildew, moss and lichens.

Appearance of clay roofing tiles
Although strides have been made to manufacture concrete roofing tiles to resemble clay tiles, the more natural product certainly wins in the appearance stakes.

Tiles and Slates – A brief history of roofing tiles in the UK

On early pitched roofs the type of tiles and slates used for roofing tended to depend on the local availability of quarried materials. Not surprisingly therefore, natural hand-split slate was common in Wales, Scotland, the North West and the South West whilst heavy stone slate was used in the Pennines and the Cotswolds. And in areas in between, where other suitable products were unavailable thatched roofs were popular.

The growth in the use of clay roof tiles

Clay roof tiles were used widely by the Romans – a practice which continued in some monasteries after they left, though to a much lesser extent. But as the use of clay tiles did gradually spread, in order to stop manufacturers cutting costs by making smaller tiles, an Act of Parliament was required to set a minimum size of 10½” x 6½” and this later became the standard size. That standard is still used today for plain clay tiles, albeit converted to metric, at 265 mm x 165 mm.

The use of clay tiles expanded in Europe and particularly in the Netherlands when, in the 14th century the use of flammable materials for roofs was banned. It took the Great Fire of London in 1666 to bring about a similar ban over here and although the ban only affected London, it did help to popularise the use of clay roof tiles further afield.

The effect of the railways on the use of clay tiles and slates

Further developments, again on mainland Europe probably during the 16th century, brought to the UK the ‘S’ shaped pan tile which, by overlapping the adjoining tile, resulted in a more water tight roof and the need for fewer tiles for a given area.  Another driving force in the increasing use of tiles and slates, but not until the 19th century, was the growth of the railways.

This meant that for the first time it was both practical and economical to transport clay roofing tiles (often imported) and slate, (much of it from Wales) around the country so that these products could be used more widely. Slate particularly, began to be used on larger housing developments in city centres rather than country houses and there are rows and rows of terraced houses in many towns and cities still with slate roofs.

Tiles and Slates – The 20th Century

The growth in the use of clay tiles in The Netherlands, France, Germany and Spain was matched by similar growth in the use of concrete tiles in Britain. Concrete roof tiles were introduced to Britain in the 1920’s but they only became popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s during the huge growth in house building after World War Two.

Manufacturing processes improved to standardise the size and colour of concrete tiles, and together with their ease of use compared to slate and clay tiles, only helped to promote their popularity. Consequently, in the United Kingdom, concrete roofing tiles are fitted on approximately 60% of all domestic roofs, clay tiles on 20% and slate on around 10%. However, as with many other products, the fashion for clay tiles may be returning, particularly for select housing developments where architects and builders are attempting to put the emphasis back on the quality of the building rather than the quantity of them, as on large housing developments.