Terracotta, totally natural

Terracotta tiles are among the best material for verandahs, terraces and sit-outs as they absorb water, let it evaporate and stay non-skid.

Ever wondered what could have been the choice for floor finish before machines came along? Even with machines around, not every time we had a distribution system, so their products had only a limited reach. This meant most parts of India had to find their own local solutions, which curiously depended upon mother earth. Consolidated mud floors topped with cow dung layer, appears to be among the local solutions, found nationally. It continues to be practised even now in villages and low-budget homes. However, the practicality of floor usages and frequency of maintenance reduces its popularity, giving way for improvised and compressed earthen tiles called terracotta tiles.

Initially produced as hand-made and sun-burnt clay tablets, soon people realised various modes of pressing mud into thin, strong, flat tiles. With the clay industry evolving a few centuries ago, floor tiles became a common product along with roof tiles. The costs incurred in the machine-made, kiln-burnt and well-finished tiles must have made them exclusive during the early decades, naturally finding their way into royal homes, houses of the rich, important public buildings and such others. Commonly found in historic structures, terracotta tiles are a surprise testimony to the durability of processed mud.

Though there are optional shapes, square tiles are better since they do not highlight the dimensional variations commonly found in kiln dried tiles. Some masons try placing them touching each other, but having a normal joint gap works better in the long term. Being factory produced, these tiles cannot be polished or repaired at site, hence careful laying is important. Though terracotta tiles are strong, they are prone to develop surface scratches, hence placing heavy furniture, pulling them around or doing heavy duties like workshop activities are not advisable. Tiles once brought to the site need to be stored away from sun and rain, due to their short shelf life in exposed conditions.

Terracotta tiles are among the best material for outdoors where water may come in – verandahs, terraces and sit-outs. They absorb water, later let it evaporate and stay non-skid. Accordingly, different grades for outside and inside are in the market. The occasional cracks in old buildings are more due to settlement of the structure, and not due to weak tiles. Slight fading may happen, yet the colour is integral throughout the depth of tile, hence lasts many decades. These tiles can be all over the house, but look good at informal family, study or sunken courts, but are not for kitchens and pooja rooms, where varied liquids may spill over. When it comes to heritage restoration and ethnic interiors, terracotta rules the market.

Top amongst green materials

In the list of green flooring materials, terracotta is among the top, with least embodied energy, life cycle cost and re-usability following demolitions as hard aggregates. They are totally natural, mostly local, generally economical and comparatively easy to lay with the best of earthy appearance — more than enough reasons for a studied reconsideration in these days of artificial materials.

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Posted on August 4, 2012, in designs and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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