Terracotta is baked earth or clay and therefore a natural material that is produced in an environmentally friendly way without the addition of artificial or harmful substances.

Our producers use clay and sand from their own quarries, which contain minerals such as salt crystals, which determine the structure of the tile after firing. The extraction of raw materials for the production of terracotta from our own quarries therefore does not entail any transport costs.

Baking of the often manually formed products largely takes place in energy-efficient gas ovens. (Read more about the production of terracotta)

Because terracotta is a natural material, it can be recycled in a quick, easy and simple way, for example by pulverization. Terracotta can therefore be reused inexpensively for various purposes.

Terracotta that is formed by hand, such as pottery and tiles, are often ‘one of a kind’. No handmade product is perfect; small deviations in shape and color differences that arise as a result of manual processing make the product interesting; each product is unique! The irregularly rounded corners and the color variations of a terracotta tile, for example, created by firing in a wood-burning oven, give a lively atmosphere to the interior.

To make terracotta suitable for the glazing process (adding a glass-like layer that melts during the firing process) or for engobing (adding a clay-containing suspension to which coloring oxides have been added, which also melts during the firing process), terracotta has a low firing temperature necessary, which means low energy costs. Glazes and engobers ensure that the product is provided with gloss and thus not only has a decorative function, but also a protective one. Glazes and engobers are mainly used in the production of terracotta for crockery, wall tiles and bricks and roof tiles respectively. (View many types of handmade terracotta wall tiles from our producers)

A typical example of a terracotta floor in urgent need of cleaning

Terracotta’s versatility and durability make it suitable for many purposes. Examples are the traditionally used terracotta pottery and the terracotta cooking utensils that have been tried and tested for centuries – which are known for being heat-resistant and retaining heat for a long time – and the facade ornaments, roof tiles and masonry used in sculpture and architecture. (See our post “Sustainable design and construction with natural terracotta”)

But terracotta is also widely used in architecture, for example as a brick and as a floor tile. Such a timeless terracotta product, which also comes into its own in many interior styles, requires little maintenance because it has a high wear resistance. Terracotta floor tiles are sound-absorbing, available in various sizes and are finished with an anti-slip layer. It reduces energy costs due to the material’s ability to retain heat and is therefore very suitable for combination with underfloor heating. Terracotta is colourfast; the warm red or ochreous colour, which is determined by the burning of the lime and minerals such as iron in the clay during firing, does not change, even with prolonged bright sunlight. (View many types of handmade terracotta floor tiles from our producers)

Floors that are wrongly believed to have changed color after a number of years are likely to require cleaning rather than replacement. Incidentally, cleaning terracotta floors is not an annual necessity; depending on the degree of soiling of the floor, it would suffice for the floor to be cleaned every few years by an expert – because of the possible deterioration of the top layer of the floor by cleaning agents. (Read more about professionally cleaning terracotta floors)

In ‘nature-inclusive building‘, now seen as a solution to the biodiversity crisis, the value of terracotta as a natural product could be put to excellent use because the concept is not only limited to buildings, but also extends to the spaces beyond. The use of frost-resistant terracotta pottery is an application that has been in use for centuries, but many other applications may be conceivable.

Despite their great capacity to absorb water due to the porosity of the material, terracotta pots are frost resistant if fired at the right temperature. Especially for pottery in the northern countries, this quality of terracotta is highly valued. Floors for exterior use also meet this criterion.

A very modern application of terracotta are the stoves for private use made from terracotta pots, bowls and tea lights, which are being used as an alternative heat source due to the rising energy prices this autumn. Whether heating in such a way would be detrimental to health needs further study.

Unlike other materials such as wood, stone and other synthetic materials, terracotta is resistant to temperature fluctuations, so the risk of cracking is minimal. It is also highly fire resistant. Because of the insulating effect of the material, terracotta is used in the form of sun-resistant ‘flags’ along the facade of buildings. The University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, for example, has installed such a sun-resistant flag facade.

Another insulating application, but with regard to the protection of cold, are terracotta facade systems that, when installed technically, create a ventilating effect between the building and the facade cladding. (Read more about terracotta facade cladding and ventilating facade systems)

With regard to fire resistance, it is worth noting that after the Chicago Fire of 1871, when wood framing was still widely used in home construction, construction companies in Chicago turned to terracotta on a large scale in their projects.

Finally, terracotta seems to bring about a feeling of comfort and well-being; a state of ‘being’ that in the hustle and bustle of everyday life is of the utmost importance for our lives!

University of Queensland
Photo: Architect.nl
Ventilated facades in terracotta