Selecting your roof tiles

a slection of concrete roof tiles in differnt styles and colours

Offering the home owner a wide choice of colours, shades and styles, roof tiles can be easier to work with, especially for the novice roofer. The UK is well looked after by companies operating at either end of the price spectrum. Larger companies like Marley, Russell and Sandtoft look after the mass market sector, whilst independent manufacturers like Dreadnought offer a more bespoke and traditional roof tile that is more suitable for prestige properties.

At first this wide choice can be bewildering for the home owner – the key differentiations are as follows:

Interlocking Tiles – amongst the cheapest and most convenient way to cover a pitched roof, some are also suitable for low pitches. These roof tiles are large so you do not need a lot of them to cover a normal sized roof (just ten tiles is enough to cover one square meter).  Interlocking tiles do not always work well on complex roof designs as they can be difficult to cut. Concrete interlocking tiles tend to be fairly chunky and may look cheap, whilst the higher quality thinner clay interlocking tiles can be pricey.

Pantiles – before interlocking tiles became fashionable, pantiles (tiles with an ‘S’ shaped profile) were popular, especially in the east of England.  Pantiles work well on almost any type of roof adding a quality and perspective not found with plain or interlocking tiles. Many colours and profiles are available manufactured from either concrete or clay.

interlocking brown pantile roof tiles form waves across the roof
interlocking pantiles

Plain Tiles – Plain tiles are a good option for traditional roof designs and are available in many shades and colours, both traditional and modern. It takes approximately 60 plain tiles to cover one square meter of roof, so they can take longer to install than interlocking tiles, but the end result can be very pleasing.

close up of five Keymer handmade clay tilesClay or concrete, handmade, handformed or machine made?

Handmade – a handmade tile is one that is completely made by hand. Desirable especially in period properties or where you are looking for a unique appearance and a warmer, deeper colour or shade.

Machine made tiles offer the home owner a very standard and consistent roof cover. Translating into a cheaper price, the downside is that one roof may look like any another.

Handformed tiles are a middle ground choice that offer some of the unqiue character of a handmade tile but at a cheaper price.

Clay tiles – traditional “Spanish” style clay tiles are the most well-known tiles, but there are many other designs available today.  Clay tiles tend to last slightly longer than concrete tiles (40-50 years).  Whilst clay tiles are slightly more expensive than concrete, they are warmer in colour and are much less likely to fade as the tiles age,

Concrete tiles – Concrete tiles offer a cost advantage but may not be as durable or colourfast as clay tiles. Cheaper concrete tiles also tend to have the colour ‘painted’ on one side of the tile which is more likely to wear off in time.

close up of a concrete plain tile roof

Choosing your Roofing Materials

Before sitting down and wading through catalogues of roof tiles and roofing materials, it’s probably a good idea to take a step back and think about your roof, property and location as one complete picture.

hand cut forna slate installed on a conical roof
Slate Roof Tiles to Protect Your Property

For a start, it’s the roof that will be protecting your property and it needs to withstand all that British weather can throw at it for many years to come. It’s also one of the first things that people see when they look at your house. A great roof that fits in with the local surroundings may make your property easier to sell and could well add significant value.

Our series of Quick Guides are designed to help you understand a little more about the roofing materials available today, some of their pros and cons, as well as a few hints and tips to help you get best value for your money.

Popular Roofing Materials

Each type of roof material has unique properties that make it more or less suitable for particular styles of property, locations or budgets. The design you choose will depend on your own preferences, your budget, planning restrictions and the size and style of your roof. You may also wish to consider following the lead of other roofing stock in the area your property is located:

a close up of a penrhyn welsh slate roof
Beautiful Hard Wearing Penryhn Slate

Slate – slate has been a popular roofing choice since Victorian times. With the best slate offering a natural finish, low maintenance and an expected life of well over 100 years, it can offer you great value for money. What’s more, slate can be fixed to most roof designs and rarely looks out of place.

Remember that most natural slate should normaly only be installed on roof pitches of more than 27 degrees. Because it is a natural material, it also requires a little more skill to install then standard roof tiles. There are however several manmade slate-like alternative roofing materials which have a similar look and are far easier to lay, especially for the inexperienced roofer. Some of these can also be used on lower pitches than natural slate.

Whilst prices of slates vary between £10 and £150 per square meter, expect to pay somewhere around £25-£35 per meter for a good quality slate that you can expect to last upwards of 75 years or so.


Tiles – perhaps due to the wide choice of colours, shapes and quality available, roof tiles excite more conversation and debate than almost any close up of a roof made from dreadnought red clay tilesother roofing material.

As well as being able to manufacture specific sizes, shapes and colours, some tiles can be made to interlock with one another. Apart from making them easy to install, this feature allows them to be used on low roof pitches – some as low as 15 degrees (far lower than any natural slate).

Lifetime expectancy of tiles vary considerably – dependent on the type of tile and local conditions, expect them to last anything between 30 and 70 years.

If you are reading this article in Britain, then you are spoilt for choice. Many of the world’s leading tile companies with heritage dating back many hundreds of years are located here – finding your ideal tile shouldn’t be too difficult.

Budget tiles, mass produced from concrete and costing from as little as £7 per square meter are readily available in plain shapes and colours. Tiles with more interesting profiles and cambers (curves in their profiles) are available in richer colours as you head up the price scale, with the best handmade clay tiles costing anything upwards of £50 per square meter.

Thatch – thatched roofs look beautiful, are great insulators and are full of old world charm. Contrary to expectation, if treated with respect they should not present too significant a fire risk. They do take time to install and are considerably more expensive. They also require a lot of maintenance – you should budget to replace your thatched roof every 30 years or so.

Thatch is most suitable for use on steeper roofs with a pitch of at least 45°.

pretty plants make up this green roof above a classy wooden building
Green or Eco Roofs Need Careful Planning

Green roofs – Green or turfed roofs are a popular feature of many new eco buildings. As well as adding an interesting visual dimension, they have great insulating properties. Green roofs are typically built up in layers and best suit modern design buildings with a fairly shallow pitch. Designers should pay careful attention to the waterproofing system, of which many different types are available.

For the owner, it is well worth looking at the final specification prior to choosing a green roof design. You may find that the materials that make up the waterproofing layers (bitumen membranes, mastic asphalt or polymer fabrics) challenge your eco requirements – natural slate might be a greener choice.

Green roofs also require a lot of regular maintenance. Because many of the new systems have only been in use for a relatively short time, lifetime expectations are as yet unproven in the long term.

Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings

In a listed property, it is likely that you will be required to replace roofing materials like-for-like. Where original stock is not available (or are far too costly to be realistic), speak to your planning officer and try to obtain a list of modern alternative materials that are allowable. Reclaimed slate or tiles may be one alternative solution in these instances.

Even if you property is not listed or located in a conservation area, it’s always worth checking with your local authority or housing association to find out if there are constraints on the type or colour of roofing material that you may use.