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For that earthy look on your rooftop

Terracotta tiles are making waves and traditional simplicity is what makes their popularity go over the roof, writes T. NANDAKUMAR.

GROOVY LOOK: The most popular varieties are terracotta tiles with a groove design.

One of the most defining features of a building is the roof. A well-designed roof can lend character to a house and enhance its appearance. In modern architectural expression, the sloping tiled roof has emerged as a predominant design element. Traditional, yet contemporary, a sloping tiled roof marks a radical departure from the matchbox appearance of many modern buildings.

The most popular varieties are terracotta tiles with a groove design. Also known as Mangalore tiles, they are popular for their simple, earthy looks. Made of compressed clay and fired under controlled conditions, they come in single or double-groove design. The double-groove tiles are mostly preferred in windy areas because of their natural resistance to `lifting'.

Decorative tiles

Decorative tiles known by different names like Spanish, Archana, Gopuram and Pyramid are slowly catching up. Distinguished by their profiles, they come in different sizes and are mostly used on RCC roofs to enhance appearance and prolong the life of the building.

The appeal of traditional simplicity is the single most obvious reason for the rising popularity of roofing tiles. Builders feel that there is nothing to beat the rustic appeal of a tiled roof. But there are other benefits that are not so obvious.

The advantages

Says V.L.Heeralal of Heeralal Tiles, "Technological breakthroughs have rid the terracotta tile of its few disadvantages. A tiled roof is a great heat insulator and a waterproof cover."

An RCC roof is generally prone to cracking due to continuous exposure to heat. This often leads to leaks, which necessitate frequent repair. Using tiles to pave the roof eliminates the problem.

Apart from protecting the roof, the thermal insulation properties of clay also ensure that the insides of the building remain cool in the summer months. A sloping tiled roof enhances the appearance of the building, lending it a traditional simplicity.

Cost factor

Decorative tiles cost Rs.10 to Rs.14 per square feet depending on the style, while Mangalore tiles are slightly less expensive. Most of the popular brands in the market are manufactured in Thrissur, Chalakudy or Kozhikode. While Mangalore tiles are made of raw clay, the decorative versions use powdered clay. The clay is compressed and fired in controlled conditions.

Latest innovation

The latest innovation to hit the market is the glazed clay tile. A product of technological upgradation, glazed tiles are available in different colours to suit different architectural designs and concepts. They are more waterproof and resistant to moss and algae.

The reflective surface ensures better thermal insulation. Most glazed tiles come with a 30- year guarantee. They cost upward of Rs.65 per square feet.

Of the five Indian companies manufacturing glazed tiles, four are located in Kerala. The manufacturing process involves spraying a ceramic coating onto the surface of the tile and refiring it at 1,000 degree Celsius. The coating material known as `frite' is ground in a ball mill for 24 to 30 hours and loaded into a machine which sprays it onto the tile.


Says Joseph of Coloroof Tiles, "The hard-glazed surface provides unparalleled weather resistance. It also ensures low water absorption and dust accumulation. The roof looks beautiful and lasts for years".

Builders swear by the slick wet look of a glazed tile roof. The choice of colours is another attraction. Because of the price factor, the use of glazed roof tiles is mostly confined to hotels, beach resorts and commercial buildings. "But things are changing. Today, there are many families who would not mind spending a small fortune to enhance the aesthetics of the roof," says Mr. Heeralal.

Specialised work

Laying tiles on the roof is a specialised work. The paucity of skilled workers is a problem faced by most builders. "Even a minor flaw in tiling will stand out. The alignment and symmetry have to be perfect. The dimensional consistency of the tiles is also a major factor," says Mr. Heeralal.

Hollow terracotta blocks are also finding increasing use as a cost- effective heat insulation layer for flat- top terraces.

The blocks are lined up and plastered, creating a network of channels for air to flow through. The system is claimed to be capable of lowering the heat inside a building by several degrees. The blocks cost just Rs.12 per square feet.

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