Dear PoP – Terra Cotta Shingle Roof Repairs

“Dear PoP,

We live in a Petworth row house that has traditional “terra cotta”-style shingles on the front-facing roof section. Last year, we found a squirrel had made a hole (and subsequent nest) in the wood underneath that those shingles, and we’ve since developed a slow but steady leak in the roof. It’s worth noting that our main roof was re-surfaced less than five years ago, and therefore I believe the source of the leak is the front-facing section.

I’d rather not hire an expensive professional to do what could be a simple job (removing the shingles, repairing the wood, sealing the outer surface, replacing the shingles)…but this is all new territory for me. I am wondering:

1. Has anyone out there ever attempted to fix a problem like this? What was the process?
2. Does anyone know where you can buy replacement terra cotta shingles for typical DC row houses? (I haven’t seen them at HD)
3. If this requires a pro…does anyone have a reliable reference for low-cost roof repair?”

These are my favorite roofs! Anyone have experience fixing them?

7 Comment

  • Spanish tile roofs are awesome. Designed and built to be disassembled and reassembled. It’s a quality building material that will last 125-150 years, if not longer. You will never find a material of such quality and durability at HD (NEVER). The sheathing will always fail before the spanish tile.

    If you remove some of the tile, you might find a manufacturer’s mark. Post your email or a way to get in touch with you and I’ll use my 254 page book, “Historic and Obsolete Roofing Tile” to identify your original manufacturer. A big maker in the DC market was Ludowici out of Ohio. They’re still in Ohio making the same tiles they made 100 years ago. As you disassemble the roof, you’ll find that about 10-15% of tiles have deteriorated prematurely and replacements will be a good idea.

    Any reputable roofer can do a rowhouse mansard in one day with a crew of 2 or 3. One more day/man if there’s a complication like a turret roof or dormers.

    The one monkey wrench is paint. If the roof has been painted the tiles will deteriorate more rapidly. Spanish tiles lie on top of each other via gravity and a single nail. Around every tile is a gap of air that allows the sheathing underneath to ventilate and dry out if moisture ever gets past the tile. However, if painted, paint seals up those gaps in the tiles and does not allow the tile to ventilate moisture. Disassembled PAINTED tile roofs show cratering and spalling on the underside of the tiles. This is due to damp conditions and freeze/thaw cycling. You should expect to have to replace upwards of 75% of tiles if the roof has been painted.

  • I saw some at Community Forklift in Hyattsville the other day. Give them a ring.

  • A good roofing contractor should be able to hook you up with extra tiles. Community Forklift was my other suggestion. I understand the desire to save money and cut costs, but the roof is the single most important part of the house. Nothing else comes close in importance. The roof fails, the house fails. Get the best person you can find, and have them use the best materials they can get. You’ll save money down the road in headaches, repair costs, water and structural damage that can be hard to trace and hard to fix. Tile roofs look sharp. Good luck

  • Crin…hey there, I am the guy that posted this question (matthewhumke@gmail.com). Thanks so much for your very thorough response (and also to Lester & DCDiYer)…it’s much appreciated! I’ll try and get up this weekend to grab a tile to find a manufacturer’s mark, if you could send me your email. They aren’t painted…but I do think that you’re right about the 10-15% needing replacement regardless…so it’d be great to know how to source them.

    I had entertained the idea of repairing the underlying mansard/roof myself…but Lester’s feedback on the importance of a well-sealed roof (which I totally get), combined with your feedback that it would probably be a pretty straightforward job for a professional roofing crew, is making me think that a pro is the way to go.

    Not sure within your time estimate you considered the repair of the underlying mansard/roof surface. With that additional work in mind (my assumption it that only a small 3’x3’ roof area will need repair – although sealing the entire mansard area might make sense with the tiles off)…any ideas on what price range I should be shooting for with a roofing company? Any references?

    Thanks again guys!

  • Hey PoP World.

    Just a quick follow up to my original post.

    We ended up hiring Marvin from MG Roofing (240) 350-3638, and he was great. We needed to have our Spanish tile on the front part of the roof removed and the underlying wood repaired and sealed, then the Spanish tile put back (with about 20 of them replaced). He also replaced quite a bit of the flashing (the metal sheets the keeps water out of edges) and also resealed a number of cracks in our 5 year old main roof…all for $3500. He guaranteed the main roof “leak-free” for 5 years, and the front roof (with the Spanish tile) for 10 years. He was honest, great communicator…and really knows how to work with some of the older materials and building techniques you find on old DC row houses. I’d really recommend him!

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