Earth Right Homes and gardens

Stay cool with clay tiles

One of the most ubiquitous architectural elements around the world is the clay roof tile. Clay tiles have a history dating back to the Neolithic Age. They were first used as roofing in China and then in the Middle East. Soon after, the use of the clay tile for roofing gradually spread throughout the world. The material has been seen as an integral part of architecture for thousands of years and in many cultures, clay roof tiles carry with them a sense of timelessness and tradition.

In India, the first clay tile factory was set up in Mangalore in 1860. Called ‘Mangalore tiles’, these were made from the hard laterite clay available in the area and became popular for their colour, shape and quality. The deep red shade of the tile is due to the high iron content in the clay used.

There are multiple advantages of using clay roof tiles. Here are a few of their myriad benefits:


When installed correctly, they could have a lifespan of almost 75 years, making it a durable and sturdy building material. Being modular, they have minimal maintenance requirements and in the case of any damage only the affected tiles usually require replacement.


Available in several shapes, colours and sizes, clay tiles are testimony to the varied regional soil types and the skill of artisans. The different shapes were derived from the many methods of installation. Some of these include: flat tiles, pot tiles (curved and handmade), pan tiles (similar to pot tiles but differ in the process, and are widely used in villages), S-shaped tiles (Allahabad tiles), and so on. Besides these, clay tiles also offer opportunities for customisation to fit different roof shapes.

Varied colours can be brought out in the tiles during the firing process as heat leads to chemical changes that can alter colour. The tiles can also be glazed to create varied colours other than the natural unglazed terracotta, creating a unique aesthetic.

Environmental sustainability

Insulation: Due to the undulating shapes of these tiles, they allow for continuous airflow, ensuring the space below is cool, thereby reducing our reliance on air conditioning.

Recyclability: A clay tile is 100% recyclable. It can be crushed and re-introduced into tile production. Or, if properly salvaged, they can be reused as roof tile.

Responsible manufacturing process: Modern advances in tile manufacturing are starting to take into account environmental sensitivity where production waste is re-introduced into the manufacturing process and production uses water captured and recycled back into the process, thus preventing pollution.

Eyes on solar

Today, solar roof tiles are starting to become popular. These are solar panels that would fit into the frames of clay tiles, serving as building integrated photovoltaic systems.

By sourcing raw materials responsibly and using environmentally sensitive manufacturing processes, clay tiles can be one of the most sustainable building materials available today that would also encourage local artisans and bring out our unique regional diversity.

The author is the founder of Green Evolution, a sustainable architecture firm

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 8:30:06 PM |

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