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Metal Roofing vs. Spanish Clay Tile: Which Roof Material is Best?

Spanish clay tiles and metal are both common roofing materials used on residential, commercial, and architectural properties. Discover the different characteristics of these two materials and how each one can affect your final decision.

Let’s face it: Buying and installing a new roof can be expensive, no matter what material you end up choosing. That’s why you should always consider the considerations, pros, cons, and differences of all your buying options before you make a decision.


Two common roofing materials to choose from are standing seam metal roofing and Spanish tiles (typically ceramic or made of clay). We often get questions about the distinct differences between these two materials, and if one is better than the other.


The shortest answer is: It depends.


While our main product category at Sheffield Metals is metal roofing, we 100% understand that metal roofing is not suitable for every home or building owner. That’s why we do our best to educate buyers with the unbiased facts about the various material choices out there.


In this article expect to learn:


Spanish Clay Tiles - Characteristics, Advantages, & Disadvantages

The practice of using clay tile as a roofing material has been around for centuries, with some uses dating back to China as early as 10,000 B.C. Using clay roof tiles eventually spread throughout Asia and Europe, where new styles and advanced options became available (including what would eventually be coined as “Spanish tiles”). This building material finally made its way to America during colonization in the 17th century and continues to be used as a roofing material to this day. 


Advantages of Spanish Clay Tiles

Longevity - One of the most significant reasons home and property owners install a Spanish tile roof is that it has been known to last decades. There are some instances where clay tile roofs have been structurally sound for upwards of 100 years. Determining the exact number of years a roof will last is challenging, but limited extreme weather exposure and proper maintenance help to prolong the life of a Spanish tile roof. With certain manufacturers, a clay tile roof system may come with the option for up to a 50-year warranty.


Reduced heat transfer - Spanish clay tile is one of the most preferred roofing materials if you live in an area where heat transfer into a building is a concern. According to the Tile Roofing Industry Alliance, “roofing tiles have a natural thermal resistance in the raw materials themselves that are created by the larger cross-sectional areas of the tiles while installed.” Also, because Spanish tiles are installed individually instead of an overlapping style, the air space around the tiles creates natural ventilation that acts as a barrier of heat transfer. This allows indoor building temperatures to stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.


Specific architectural look - The overall “look” of your property (and neighborhood) is a variable that you should consider. Specifically, Spanish tiles can tend to stand out with its terra cotta, brown earth tones, and rustic reds type of color palette. You’ll notice that the majority of buildings with Spanish clay tiles are concentrated in some areas of the United States. The traditional “S” style Spanish clay tiles tend to complement the Mediterranean and Spanish architectural influences popular in places such as Florida, Georgia, the Southwest U.S., and Southern California. So if you’re located in a New England or Pacific Northwest region, Spanish tile might not go with the architectural style of the area.


Eco-friendly - As mentioned, most Spanish tiles are made from clay (or terra cotta clay), a regenerating natural element found in the Earth that is not in any danger of depletion. Most clay tiles are made without the use of chemicals or other hazardous materials. Additionally, Spanish tiles can easily be recycled and ground up for use in future items.


Lower maintenance & easy replacement - Spanish tiles do not require frequent maintenance to be performed. For the most proactive approach, it’s recommended that Spanish tiles are inspected one to two times (by a professional) per year to look for:

  • Leaks and water damage
  • Leaves, branches, and other stuck debris
  • Cracked or damaged tiles
  • Birds and other animals

Luckily, if there are one or more tiles that need replacement, you don’t need to rip up an entire section of your roof. The damaged Spanish tiles can be removed and replaced with relative ease.


High fire resistance - Like metal roofing, clay tiles often carry a Class A fire rating (UL 790 - Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings), meaning that it’s least likely to combust or catch fire. 


Disadvantages of Spanish Clay Tiles

Fragile - One of the most significant disadvantages to Spanish tiles is how fragile they are when met with enough force, which means they’re easier to chip, crack, and fall apart. This comes into play at all points of a roof’s lifecycle:

  • Pre-installation - Contractors have the make sure the clay tiles they’re installing haven’t been broken during transport or by the handling of workers.
  • During the installation - Since clay tiles are installed using screws that go through the holes in the material, it’s not hard to break the clay with the wrong amount of force or tension when attaching the fastener.
  • After the installation - If a clay tile roof is left undisturbed, it can last for 100+ years. However, if someone walks incorrectly on the clay tiles or if a large enough object (brach, etc.) hits the surface, clay tiles can break relatively easily. 

Additionally, cold temperatures and repeated freezing and thawing can weaken Spanish clay tiles, which is why this roof type is most common in warmer climates.


Higher cost than metal roofing - As far as pricing goes, installing Spanish tiles is not a cheap venture. According to Modernize, the materials are not the expensive part, it’s the installation that costs more because it tends to be time-consuming (especially if the “S” style tiles are smaller). On average, the overall cost to install Spanish clay tiles ranges anywhere from $13 to $20 per square foot.


Heavy - Clay roof tiles are some of the heaviest materials out there that you can install on your roof. Depending on the style and size, Spanish clay tiles can weigh anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds per square foot. This is partially a good thing, as the heavier the material, the harder it is for it to be lifted off of the roof deck. However, it tends to be more on the negative side because the added weight puts more of a strain on the building structure. That’s why it’s critical to ensure the building frame can withstand the extra weight, and your roof deck is strong enough to support the roof.


Strict slope requirements - For a Spanish clay tile to be able to drain water adequately, the absolute minimum slope is 2.5/12. For a 2.5/12 up to a 4/12 pitched roof, it’s recommended that you use two layers of underlayment to ensure water doesn’t leak through. For 4/12 slopes and higher, considered steep slope for clay tiles, only one layer of underlayment is necessary.


Limited color options - Spanish tiles are most commonly known for their reddish-orange color, which are made of either clay or terracotta. While the red/orange color does fit with some architectural looks, it’s not suitable for every building or homeowner, which may or may not be a drawback. However, specialty colors are available upon request, including blues, greens, blacks, or whites, but you will have to pay a higher price for the coated tiles. However, if you do want the colors available for metal roofing, you have the option to choose metal tiles that have the same look as Spanish clay tiles.


Standing Seam Metal Roofing  - Characteristics, Advantages, & Disadvantages

The use of metal as a roofing material has been around for centuries and has origins dating back to the 3rd century B.C. in Sri Lanka. The use of metal roofing, typically lead or copper, rose to prominence in the 17th century and eventually made its way to the United States in the early 1800s. Advancements over time added iron, steel, aluminum, and zinc as proper metal roof options. Today, various metal roof styles are used all over the country, as metal roofing is one of the best choices for residential, commercial, architectural, and structural properties.


Advantages of Metal Roofing

Longevity - Metal roofs can last decades, and most manufacturers promise a life span of 40+ years for most Galvalume and aluminum roofs. This is especially true if it’s installed correctly and properly maintained over the years. On the other hand, some metal materials, such as copper and zinc, have even been known to last 100 or more years.


Lightweight - Metal roofing is a more lightweight material than most other roof types, but it’s over five times lighter than a clay Spanish tile roof. For reference, a 24-gauge Galvalume (steel) roof weighs anywhere from 1 to 1.5 pounds per square foot. Or, an .032 aluminum roof weighs less than .5 pounds per square foot. 


Durability - When compared to different materials, such as wood, clay, plastic, or glass, metal stands out as the strongest and most resistant to puncturing, breaking apart, and degrading. This comes in handy in several ways, especially if the roof is subject to:

  • Strong winds - Tornadoes, hurricanes, dust storms, etc.
  • Falling debris - Sticks, branches, leaves, etc.
  • Rain and wind-driven rain
  • Snow, ice, and hail
  • Mold and mildew
  • Rodents and other pests

Low slope ability - Metal roofing is less strict when it comes to minimum slope requirements, but is still dependent on what type of profile is used. For example, snap-lock systems should only be installed on roof pitches of 3/12 and above, unless otherwise approved by the manufacturer. On the other hand, mechanically seamed double-lock metal roof systems are suitable for low-slope applications:


Highly Recyclable - Metal roofing is 100% recyclable, so any unused/old panels, tear-off metal, and leftover scraps can be recycled for use in future products. On top of that, some coils and sheets used to make metal roofing panels may already contain previously recycled metals. For reference, metal roofing materials can either be pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled content:

  • Pre-consumer recycled materials – Scrap metal content produced during the manufacturing stage that has been recycled for future use.
  • Post-consumer recycled materials – Excess materials that have already been used by a consumer at one point in time and have been recycled for reuse.

 

Low maintenance - When compared to other roof types, the required maintenance for a metal roof is generally minimal, especially if the roof was correctly installed. That being said, performing maintenance on a metal roof shouldn’t be overlooked, as it could make or break a system if a problem exists without your knowledge. For a metal roof, cleaning and surface-level maintenance should be performed about every 18 months and in-depth structural maintenance about once every two years (usually performed by a trained professional). 


Unlimited color choices - Since metal roofing sheets and coils are coated in paint systems from reputable manufacturers, such as Sherwin-Williams, metal roofs can come in any color. If you’re looking for a neutral earth tone, a vivid or bright color, or even a textured/metallic finish, manufacturers can custom order any color (for an added cost). Plus, the paint systems used in metal roofing are tested in real outdoor environments to ensure it will last for decades, which is why many metal roofs are supported with paint warranties.


Cool roofing energy savings - The availability of cool metal roofing, defined as painted or coated metal products that reflect the sun’s energy to dissipate heat, helps to reduce heat that is transferred into a building or home. This can result in total cooling cost energy savings ranging from 7% to 15%, according to the Green Building Alliance.


High fire resistance - Metal roofing is typically Class A fire-rated and noncombustible, making it the most resistant to catching fire. This is important in regions prone to wildfires because if hot ashes/embers fall onto the surface a metal roof, it has the highest potential of NOT catching fire.


Disadvantages of Metal Roofing

Mid to high cost, but cheaper than Spanish tile - Much like Spanish tile, metal roofing is not considered a “budget” roof material. The price of a metal roof fluctuates depending on where you live, the profile you choose, the color, and a whole other set of considerations. That being said, on average, the cost of a standing seam metal roof system ranges from about $7.00 to $12.00 per square foot. So while the cost of a metal roof is more expensive than a shingle roof, a standing seam metal roofing is actually cheaper than a Spanish clay tile roof. 


Skilled installers required - Experienced, qualified, and knowledgeable metal roof installers are a critical component of ensuring a metal roof will perform to its high standards. However, since metal roofing requires more refined skills and attention to detail, there are significantly fewer installers who are capable of correctly installing metal roofing. That’s why it’s essential to do your research and due diligence to find the best metal roof contractor for you


Restrictions within HOAs & municipalities - There are communities, Home Owners Associations (HOAs), and historical districts that don’t allow metal roofing to be installed on properties within its jurisdiction. In places where it’s banned, metal roofing is thought of as looking too “industrial” or goes against the neighborhood’s general look. 


Oil canning - Oil canning is an inherent characteristic of light-gauge, cold-rolled flat metal products and is described as the perceived waviness in the broad, flat areas of metal panels. While oil canning is only an aesthetic issue and will not affect the integrity of the roof system, some home and property owners see it as unsightly. Luckily, there are methods of reducing the likelihood that oil canning will occur.


What to Consider Before Buying Metal Roofing vs. Spanish Tile

Budget

Both metal roofing and Spanish clay tiles are premium roofing materials. Even so, there is a difference in price, as standing seam metal roofing will be less expensive. If you have a limited budget, you might want to stick with a metal roof. But if you’re in a situation where you can splurge on a more expensive roof, Spanish tile might be right for you.


Location & Environment

Spanish tile has distinct locations around the country where it is more prevalent due to the architectural theme of the region. For example, you won’t find many Spanish tile roofs in New York or Colorado. But if you go to California or Florida, you will see Spanish tile everywhere. On the other hand, metal roofing is common in most parts of the U.S., especially in mountainous and coastal environments.


Metal and Spanish tile roofs perform well in threatening weather environments, as both often come engineered with passing uplift and water penetration testing standards. If you have questions about specific testing requirements for your location, contact the product manufacturer for assistance.


Your Building/Home Properties

  • Slope
    - Both Spanish tile and metal roofing are not suitable for flat roofs, but there are more strict slope requirements for Spanish clay tile. If your roof slope is 3/12, nearly any type/profile of metal roof can be installed. You can also install a Spanish tile roof at 3/12, but it requires two layers of underlayment, which will drive up the cost.
  • Support structure - Spanish clay tile will weigh down on your building’s frame and support structure because it’s nearly 6x to 10x heavier than metal roofing is. It’s imperative to know what your walls and framing can withstand before you buy.
  • Heat transfer - In warmer climates, heat transfer is always a concern. Luckily, both metal roofing (cool metal roofing, specifically) and Spanish tiles have properties that help reduce the amount of heat that is transferred into the building.
  • HOA & municipalities - If you live in a neighborhood where you have an HOA or another municipal group, you should verify that the roof material that you choose is allowed.

Your Style

When you’re deciding between metal roofing and Spanish tile, it’s helpful to know the style you’re going for. These two materials have very different looks; metal roofing tends to be a little more modern and sleek, whereas Spanish tile is more traditional and rustic. Additionally, metal roofing comes in more color options because it’s painted, which gives you more range to choose a roof color that fits what you envision.


Wrapping It All Up

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing between metal roofing and Spanish clay tiles. 


Luckily, both materials make great roof options. And, if you’ve read through the advantages, disadvantages, and personal buying considerations outlined above, you’ll be more equipped to make the right choice.


As a starting point, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much money am I comfortable spending on a roof?
  • Are there skilled and qualified contractors who install these materials in my location?
  • What roof material is popular on other buildings or homes around me?
  • What colors will look good on my roof? What colors do I personally like?
  • Does my HOA restrict different roofing types?
  • Will my building structure support a heavier roofing system?

With over 20 years of manufacturing metal roofing products, Sheffield Metals knows it’s not always an easy decision to make on your own. Whether you’re leaning towards buying a standing seam metal roof, Spanish tile roof, shingle roof, or otherwise, we’re here to help make sure you feel confident in choosing the roof that best fits your individual needs. 


To learn more or to ask us your questions about selecting a new roof, contact us today to speak with one of our experienced metal roofing specialists.


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Julianne Calapa

Julianne CalapaJulianne Calapa

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Sheffield Metals is a leader in the distribution of coated and bare metal products, as well as Engineered Standing Seam Metal Roof (SSMR) & Wall Systems. We specialize in providing painted Galvalume® and aluminum for the architecturally driven metal panel industry. Sheffield Metals has the ability to meet a wide array of needs with more than 50 colors continuously stocked. We can also match virtually any custom color to suit a particular project.


 

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