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Andy Johnson Owner of White Leaf Roofing - roofing contractor in Chandler, AZ

Andy Johnson
Owner & Founder of White Leaf Roofing

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Exploring the Rich History of Roofing in Arizona: From Clay to Modern Innovations

history of roofing in arizona

The history of roofing in Arizona is a chronicle of ingenuity under the desert sun. From the early indigenous structures to the contemporary high-tech designs, Arizonians have always looked to their roofs to provide comfort against the harsh climate. This article charts this transformative journey, highlighting how Arizonians have adapted their homes to both reflect cultural identity and to withstand the arid extremes.

Key Takeaways

  • Arizona’s roofing history is characterized by the evolution from basic materials like clay and thatch to sophisticated materials like asphalt and metal, influenced by factors such as climate conditions and the desire for energy efficiency and aesthetic appeal.

  • Spanish architecture has had a profound influence on the roofing styles in Arizona, with resilient clay roof tiles being a staple due to their ability to withstand the intense heat and harsh weather conditions.

  • The selection of roofing materials in Arizona is heavily influenced by the state’s climate, with materials needing to withstand extreme heat, UV radiation, and monsoon conditions, while maintenance and careful selection of experienced roofing contractors are key to roof longevity.

Arizona’s Roofing Journey: From Clay to Modern Materials

Clay tiles in Arizona's roofing history

The history of Arizona is told through the roofs of the homes that have housed its inhabitants, from the earliest dwellings to modern houses. The earliest roofing materials were:

  • Basic structures made of dried grass, branches, and fresh leaves

  • Mud and clay

  • Slate tiles

  • Terracotta clay

  • Copper

  • Tin

As civilization progressed, roofing materials evolved correspondingly. There was a noticeable shift towards the use of clay roofs, a practice with ancient origins in civilizations such as those in China and Mesopotamia, eventually manifesting in mud and clay-based dwellings in Arizona.

Several factors influenced the evolution of roofing materials in Arizona, such as:

In a notable transition, wood shingles were replaced by contemporary materials such as asphalt shingles, which have been widely favored for new roofs on residential properties since their introduction in the United States in 1901.

The Significance of Clay Tiles

The tradition of using clay tiles for roofing in Arizona has its roots in the 12th century, a practice inherited from ancient civilizations like China and Mesopotamia. The production of clay tiles requires a multi-step process involving the collection and crushing of clay over several days, sometimes with the addition of water and materials such as sawdust to achieve the desired composition.

The durability of clay tiles is a result of their resistance to rot, fire, and insects, as well as their energy efficiency and ability to withstand extreme weather conditions and wind. Furthermore, clay tiles, with their traditional and heritage-rich appearance, add warmth and appeal to a variety of architectural styles.

The abundance of clay in Arizona has spurred widespread use of clay tiles for roofing, owing to their aesthetic appeal and durability in withstanding harsh weather conditions.

Wood Shingles and Thatched Roofs

Wood shingles and thatched roofs also had their moments in the history of Arizona roofing. In the early days, cedar and redwood were frequently used for wood shingles. These shingles, often steamed and bent to resemble thatched roofs, were laid in evenly spaced overlapping horizontal rows, offering:

  • flexibility in various weather conditions

  • durability

  • resistance to insects and wind

  • natural appeal and insulation properties.

However, thatched roofs had a limited impact on Arizona’s early architecture. Nonetheless, some homes constructed between 1927-1930 showcased jerkinhead roofs that replicated thatch in the Spanish Colonial and Mission styles.

Modern Roofing Materials and Techniques

Today’s roofing techniques and materials have significantly evolved, shifting from basic structures to sophisticated systems, offering both durability and aesthetic appeal. Tin roofs, for instance, gained popularity in the United States from 1860 to 1920, with the first tin roof in the Arizona territory being installed on a retail store.

Contemporary roofing incorporates a variety of materials including:

  • Shingles

  • Clay tiles

  • Wood shake shingles

  • Asphalt shingles

  • Metal roofing

These materials, particularly metal roofs, are resistant to melting or warping under the intense Arizona sun and exhibit resilience against wind, sand, and storms. Architectural styles such as Ranch, Pueblo Revival, Contemporary/Midcentury Modern, and Spanish Mission have also influenced modern roofing materials and techniques.

The Influence of Spanish Architecture on Arizona Roofing

Spanish roof tiles in Arizona

Spanish architecture has left an indelible imprint on Arizona’s roofing styles. Structures such as the Mission San Xavier del Bac and the ruin of Mission San José de Tumacácori, dating back to the late 1600s and early 1700s, respectively, showcase this influence. Red clay roof tiles have become characteristic of Spanish Colonial and Spanish Mission homes in the region, reflecting the enduring influence of Spanish architecture on Arizona’s roofing styles.

Spanish roof tiles are particularly resilient to the climate of Arizona due to their composition of durable clay, which enables them to withstand the intense heat and wind. In addition, they offer advantageous features such as fire resistance and long-lasting performance.

Spanish Roof Tiles and Their Adaptation

Spanish roof tiles, distinguished by their iconic S-shape, impart a timeless Mediterranean aesthetic. Manufactured using sturdy materials like terracotta or clay, these tiles are offered in a range of natural hues. In Arizona, local materials such as clay, concrete, and sand are used in their production, making them well-suited to the local climate.

The thermal mass of these tiles is beneficial in reducing energy usage, making them an energy-efficient choice for the hot and arid conditions of the mesa region.

Barrel Tiles: A Unique and Timeless Style

Barrel tiles, also known as double roman tiles or Spanish barrels, stand out as a distinctive roofing style in Arizona. These tiles are characterized by their convex, barrel-like shape and are frequently used in Spanish-style or Mediterranean-style roofs. Their historical significance in Arizona dates back to their initial use by an innovative farmer who devised thin concrete planks that inspired others in the community to adopt barrel tiles for their roofing needs.

Barrel tiles are esteemed as a timeless style due to their distinctive and enduring aesthetic appeal. They are renowned for their longevity, energy efficiency, and resilience, with certain barrel tiles known to safeguard roofs for well over a century.

The Role of Roofing Contractors in Arizona’s History

Roofing contractors have played a significant role in shaping Arizona’s roofing history. From early professionals who worked with traditional materials to modern companies that utilize advanced materials and techniques, roofing contractors have been instrumental in Arizona’s architectural evolution. Prominent early roofing contractors in Arizona include Quality Tile Roofing and Global Roofing Group.

Today’s roofing contractors in Arizona benefit from advancements in technology and manufacturing processes, which provide them access to more durable and efficient materials. They have also tailored their practices to meet the specific needs and requirements of both residential and commercial roofing. The expansion of roofing companies in Arizona has also enabled the incorporation of solar technology into roofing, contributing to a more sustainable and energy-efficient built environment.

Early Roofing Professionals

In the early days, Arizona’s roofing professionals were skilled artisans who mainly worked with traditional materials like mud, clay, and thatch. They utilized methods such as constructing thatched roofs from trees, leaves, and forest debris, as well as using materials that were well-suited to the desert environment.

These early professionals faced difficulties such as:

  • the need for a cohesive organization to address their requirements and bring the industry together

  • the lack of standardized practices and regulations

  • the absence of a platform for networking and sharing knowledge

These challenges ultimately led to the formation of the Arizona Roofing Contractors Association (ARCA) in 1969.

The Growth of Roofing Companies

The burgeoning number of roofing companies in Arizona mirrors the state’s growing population and the increasing demand for high-quality roofing services. The expansion of Arizona’s population has had a notable influence on the growth of the roofing industry, as demonstrated by the substantial rise in the number of roofing contractors to 1,777 as of January 09, 2024.

To cater to changing customer needs, roofing companies have adopted new replacement techniques, materials, and integrated solar technology, thereby providing a varied array of solutions. Significant milestones in the development of roofing companies in Arizona include the establishment of the Arizona Roofing Contractors Association (ARCA) in 1969, and the transition from simple roofing materials to modern innovations like asphalt shingles introduced in the early 20th century.

Climate Considerations in Arizona Roofing

Arizona sun and roofing materials

The climate in Arizona significantly influences the choice and durability of roofing materials. The state’s intense sun and occasional storms pose unique challenges to homeowners. Exposure to the Arizona sun can result in common roofing materials, such as asphalt shingles, becoming loose and brittle, and clay or concrete tiles cracking and shifting.

Roofing materials that exhibit the highest resistance to Arizona’s climate include:

These materials have the capability to endure the high temperatures and UV radiation from the sun, as well as the diverse weather conditions including monsoon rains.

The Arizona Sun and Roofing Materials

The intense heat from the Arizona sun can result in the following problems for roofing materials:

  • Expansion and contraction, leading to cracks and other types of damage

  • Blistering

  • Deterioration

  • Damage to sealants

  • Cracking

  • Warping

  • Fading

  • Brittleness

  • Loss of flexibility

UV radiation is the main cause of these issues.

In the face of these challenges, clay and metal roofs are recognized for their exceptional ability to withstand the detrimental impact of sun exposure in Arizona. The hot and dry climate in Arizona, with summer temperatures frequently surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, necessitates the choice of roofing materials that can endure extreme heat and UV radiation.

Weathering the Storm: Roof Durability in Arizona


Roof durability is crucial in Arizona, as homeowners must contend with both the sun and occasional storms that can cause damage. Monsoons or heavy rains in Arizona can have various effects on roofs, such as:

  • Water ponding on flat roofs

  • Leaking underneath shingles or tiles

  • Overwhelming gutters and drainage systems

  • Causing damage to the roof structure and the interior of the building

Concrete tiling, clay, and metal roofs are recognized for their exceptional resilience in the Arizona climate. However, the primary climatic elements in Arizona that may result in roof damage are extreme heat, UV rays, and monsoon storms, in addition to other factors such as poor installation and lack of maintenance.

Roof Maintenance and Repair in Arizona

Roof maintenance in Arizona


Appropriate roof maintenance and repair are vital to extend the lifespan of a roof in Arizona. Frequent factors that necessitate maintenance for roofs in Arizona include:

  • Weathering

  • Inadequate maintenance

  • Substandard design

  • Improperly installed roofs resulting in leaks

  • Insufficient insulation

  • Structural failure

  • Water accumulation due to flawed design or installation.

Regular maintenance contributes to the extended lifespan of Arizona roofs by facilitating early identification and timely resolution of potential issues, while also providing protection against deterioration, damage, and unexpected obstacles.

Regular Maintenance for Longevity

Yearly inspection and maintenance are recommended to ensure the longevity of a roof in Arizona. Regular maintenance, such as cleaning and inspections, can help ensure the longevity of a roof in Arizona’s challenging climate.

In addition to regular inspections, addressing potential issues early on and ensuring proper drainage can help prevent significant long-term damage, particularly during the monsoon season.

Choosing the Right Roofing Contractor

Selecting the right roofing contractor is crucial for the maintenance and repair of roofs in Arizona. When selecting a roofing contractor in Arizona, it is important to consider factors such as their licensing, warranties offered, ability to provide references, and the payment structure.

To evaluate the experience and expertise of a roofing contractor in Arizona, one can inquire about the following:

  • The number of years they’ve been in business

  • Their physical location

  • Their level of roofing insurance

  • Request a complete company background

Additionally, conducting prior research, obtaining multiple quotes, and inquiring about warranties are recommended practices for assessing the contractor’s expertise.


From clay tiles and wood shingles to modern materials and techniques, Arizona’s roofing history is as diverse as its landscape. The influence of Spanish architecture, the role of roofing contractors, and the challenges posed by Arizona’s unique climate have all played a part in shaping the state’s roofing journey. By understanding this rich history and making informed choices about materials, maintenance, and contractors, homeowners in Arizona can ensure that their roofs stand the test of time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the brief history of roofing?

The history of roofing can be traced back to prehistoric times when materials like animal skins, mud, and branches were used to cover human dwellings. However, the first roofing material similar to contemporary options was the clay tile, with some dating back to 10,000 BC.

Why are the roofs flat in Arizona?

Flat roofs are common in Arizona because they help keep home utility costs manageable, especially in hot climates with temperatures reaching 120+ degrees.

Why do houses in Arizona have tile roofs?

Houses in Arizona have tile roofs because they are aesthetically pleasing, durable under the elements, and have a long lifespan. These factors make them a popular choice for the southwestern architecture in the region.

What are the roofs called in Arizona?

In Arizona, the roofs are commonly called concrete tiles, clay tiles, and sandcast tiles. These are the three main types of tile roofs found in the region.

What were the initial roofing materials used in Arizona?

Initially, roofing materials in Arizona included simple structures made of dried grass, branches, fresh leaves, mud, clay, slate tile roofs, terracotta clay, copper, and tin roofs. These materials were commonly used for construction in the region, reflecting the limited resources available at the time.