Why using terra-cotta tile could be the best thing for your next project

When it comes to green and sustainable products, terra-cotta tile is widely considered one of the top premium building materials the industry has to offer. The production method is simple—taking dirt, shale, water, and applying fire. It’s about as natural as it gets. So what are the major product benefits?

Terra-cotta is green, recyclable, sustainable, durable, low maintenance, and fire-resistant—not to mention that it has had proven success for thousands of years. Its strengths in terms of thermal insulation, ease of installation, and aesthetic quality provide a new scope for architectural creativity.

For thousands of years, cities of old-world Europe, Asia, and beyond have used clay roofing’s proven technology and performance as a pillar of architecture and design. Inspired by this philosophy, we at Ludowici incorporate old-world craftsmanship with modern production technology to design equally enduring terra-cotta products that stand the test of time.

The benefits of Ludowici’s terra-cotta reach far beyond durability. Made from the earth and creating zero waste, our terra-cotta tiles are 100% recyclable, energy-efficient, and free of toxic and synthetic ingredients. Our tiles do not require chemical cleaning, which protects the environment from harmful run off.

One of the other great benefits of terra-cotta tile is its inability to burn. Many non-fire-resistant roofing products require expensive treatments to meet fire codes. With Ludowici tile, extra steps and added costs are eliminated and replaced with peace of mind. All Ludowici products are Class-A fire-rated without special treatment when used in the proper assembly.

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Ludowici’s Classic Interlocking tiles can be used in roofing or wall cladding applications and come with a 75-year warranty, including color. Photo courtesy of Ludowici

Made From, and Kind To, Mother Earth

Our products earn many certifications and ratings from the organizations setting the standards for sustainability: Cool Roof Rating Council, Cradle to Cradle, U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, Energy Star, and ASTM Grade 1.

The Cool Roof Rating Council is an independent, non-biased organization that’s mission is to implement and communicate fair, accurate, and credible property energy performance rating systems for roof surfaces. Ludowici has more than 26 colors rated with the Cool Roof rating program.

Products that qualify for the holistic Cradle to Cradle certification program are not only efficient but also demonstrate a positive impact on people and the environment. Ludowici products have a material reutilization content score of more than 30.

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California State University Monterey Bay uses terra-cotta wall cladding and rainscreen and sunscreen systems from Terreal North America, a subsidiary of Ludowici. Photo by Robert Benson Photography

The US Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System objectively measures the sustainability of buildings and building materials by their impact on several environmental quality criteria. Ludowici is proud to contribute toward LEED certification by offering products that support MR: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization Material Ingredients and SS: Heat Island Reduction credits.

Energy savings upwards of 20% are common with a Ludowici roof when compared to asphalt. Many of our standard colors meet or exceed the minimum SRI requirements for credit. Additionally, we offer sunscreen systems through Terreal North America that provide an attractive way to direct and diffuse sunlight from building exteriors, creating an effective means to reduce solar heat gain while maintaining daylighting.

Choosing this natural, environmentally-friendly material allows for a smaller footprint, which is one step in the right direction.

Designed to Last

Many other tile products, such as concrete tiles, require regular re-coating, painting, or chemical cleaning to ensure the longevity of their appearance and performance. Our terra-cotta tiles are guaranteed to last 75-years, requiring minimal maintenance.

Ludowici terra-cotta tile is also more than just beautiful. The tiles are backed by one of the best material warranties in the industry. We give you peace of mind that your investment will last for many years to come with a 75-year material warranty, including color, on every tile we produce.

All Ludowici terra-cotta products have been proudly manufactured in the USA since 1888. Our commitment to quality has never changed, which is why we are one of the world’s most trusted sources for distinctive architectural terra-cotta. Our customers can expect their investment to last a lifetime, and rest easy knowing we’ll be there, now, and years to come.

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The Lutheran Church of Hope in Grimes, Iowa, has wall cladding made up of Ludowici and Terreal North America terra-cotta tile. Photo by Nick Merrick

The Durability of Terra-Cotta Tile

Through exceptional raw materials, profile engineering, and our manufacturing process, Ludowici terra-cotta tiles are made to withstand more stress than any other clay tile products on the market. Our production process allows tiles to form into a dense, vitrified material with the highest strengths available—essential for peak performance. Many of our tiles can resist loads of more than 1,000 pounds before breaking.  Additionally, every tile Ludowici manufactures is made to last a lifetime in any climate and is always ASTM C1167 Grade 1 Certified.

Not all terra-cotta tiles are considered equal. The breaking strength of terra-cotta roof tiles is a critical measure of how long you can expect your roof to last. A tile that breaks easily is dangerous. Pieces can move and fall during a storm to create exposure to water leakage, leaving building owners unaware of the irreversible damage. At Ludowici, we create terra-cotta products through superior craftsmanship that equates to unmatched durability and endless inspiration for your project.

Our tiles have the highest wind uplift capacity and weather performance of any clay tile on the market. The high-quality composition of our tiles results in very high breaking strengths, allowing them to resist wind stress during extreme weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. When properly installed, high-quality terra-cotta tiles can sustain winds in excess of 125 miles per hour—the kind that would easily strip off many other roofing materials.

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Kimpel Hall at the University of Arkansas has a terra-cotta façade from Terreal North America. Photo courtesy of Ludowici

Terra-Cotta Tile for Every Style

One question we often get is if terra-cotta products only come in Spanish and Mission styles. Our answer is always, definitely not! Today we offer a wide range of architectural terra-cotta products available for roofing, wall cladding, solar shades, and quarry floor tile applications. Many of these products are flat tiles with clean crisp lines that can be used in numerous types of architectural designs. There are also profiles that replicate slate and shake textures and are an excellent alternative to wood shake and natural slate products with the longevity of 75 years.

At Ludowici we offer more than 40 standard roof tile profiles, all made from the highest-quality terra-cotta available. In addition to our standard field-tile profiles, we offer hundreds of accessory piece and custom options to trim and finish your project. Our specialty items will make your project a durable, architectural statement for years to come.

Ludowici has been customizing products for its customers since it was founded in 1888. As a result we have shaped thousands of different tile profiles and are still able to reproduce any tile we have ever made. In addition to reproducing old and historic tile pieces, we regularly work with architects, designers, and building owners to develop custom tiles and installed tile designs that set their projects apart.

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Terra-cotta tiles give facilities managers peace of mind because of the minimal maintenance required and their extended warranty. Photo courtesy of Ludowici

Weighing Your Options

Is terra-cotta heavy? The short answer is: It can be. Terra-cotta roofing and cladding materials can have installed weights ranging from 6 lbs/SF to 18 lbs/SF. For steep slope, hard roofing products, 6 Lbs./SF is considered lightweight, and many times will have little to no effect on the building’s structural framing design.

At Ludowici we lead the industry in offering several lightweight terra-cotta products to choose from. Our unique interlocking designs and profile engineering help provide less pieces per square to meet many weight requirements. These products can be produced in any Ludowici color, are color permanent, and come with our industry leading 75-year material warranty.

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Ludowici and Terreal North America offer a wide range customizable color and texture options. Photo courtesy of Ludowici

An Infinite Range of Colors

Terra-cotta can have a color range that extends far beyond just reds and oranges that are often seen in flowerpots or planters. Take for example the gleaming top of the New York Life building in Manhattan. Those are Ludowici terra-cotta tiles dipped in 24K gold. In fact, the tops of many colorful landmarks around the United States have a high possibility of being Ludowici terra-cotta tiles.

There are a few terms to know the difference between when working with terra-cotta tiles: the tile’s natural color and the tile’s glaze color. The tile’s natural ‘through body’ color is often confused with the glaze color. This color is the natural color range produced by the clay body that makes up the tile. Our ceramic and glazed products produce a natural color range, and these variations create a depth and visual interest seen as a desirable quality of working with terra cotta that other materials don’t offer.

Glazing is the color added onto the tile before going into the kiln. There are many add-on techniques and textures to consider when developing beautiful tile coloring: spotting, misting, restricting range, gloss, weathering, and more. Our tiles are fired at the extreme temperature of 2,100°F for 24 hours to ensure the glaze has been properly fused onto the tile. This fusing process guarantees our color will not fade over time, no matter how harsh the climate.

We’ve developed a vast color pallet of more than 50 standard colors. And with the ability to custom match almost any hue, our color options are endless. We are proud to provide by far the strongest color warranty on the market—where color is included for the duration of our 75-year limited material warranty on every tile.

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Ludowici offers terra-cotta tiles that reflect the unparalleled beauty of the past with the technology of the present, perfect for any type of building. Photo courtesy of Ludowici

Lowest Life Cycle Costs

When you compare the lifecycle costs of our terra-cotta tiles to other roofing materials, Ludowici always comes out as your top investment. Depending on the size, weight, production method, and the colors and textures applied, many profiles begin at the affordable price of $300/square (or $3.00/sf) for field tile materials. Although all items can be upgraded and customized, our terra-cotta products are available in a wide range of affordable price-points.

Building owners, architects, and designers work with our team to determine the best tile options based on their budget and roof system requirements. Considering the lifetime use of our product, the value of your peace of mind is priceless.

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gb&dPRO members are recognized experts in their fields and contribute opinion columns as one of their member benefits. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and may not reflect the view of gb&d. We are committed to a diversity of voices advocating for high-performing, sustainable built environment practices. We’d like to hear what you think about this article or any of our other coverage. Send us an email at [email protected].