Recycled tile gives old materials new purpose and offers exciting looks for new and remodeled homes
A granite quarry in San Jose, Calif., struck an unusual business agreement with the Fireclay Tile factory next door. The quarry gives its rock dust to the tile company, which uses it to create its Debris series—a name that unabashedly markets the product’s 60% recycled content.
Small and large manufacturers all over the country have caught on to the trend of re-using discarded window glass, porcelain toilets, and leather seat scraps from nearby manufacturers, turning factory trash into high-end tile treasure.
“They didn’t know what to do with all the dust they were making,” says Fireclay spokesperson Teresa Cooney, “so the owner of Fireclay, Paul Burns, who is also a scientist, figured out how to incorporate this into a tile for a sustainable cause.”
Recycled bottles go into the glass mosaic tiles made by Hakatai, scraps from leather belts turn into EcoDomo leather tiles, and old soda cans make Alumillenium’s decorative metal tile backsplashes a novelty. These are just a few of the tile companies striking deals with local landfills and industrial plants to re-use and reduce waste.
“I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get a day where people want to unload their recycled bottles,” says Megan Coleman of Stardust Glass, which receives enough refuse from window and door factories near Portland, Ore., to manufacture glass tiles with recycled content as high as 97%.
Demand for recycled-content tile is on the rise because pros and homeowners who want sustainable interior tile find it looks the same (or even better) and behaves the same as traditional ceramic products.
“The level of recycled content is pretty important in terms of how we determine what materials we pick for our projects,” says San Francisco architect William Duff Jr. “[Recycled tile] has a much better story and everyone will feel better about it. In some instances, a recycled tile may be the right tile just from its look and feel.”
The recycled content ranges anywhere from 10% to 100%, and manufacturers offer a variety of materials, including glass, ceramic, aluminum, brass, wood, bamboo, porcelain, cork, and terrazzo. Some companies produce hundreds of color choices and glaze options.
“Any time you have an attractive product, it sells itself,” says Minneapolis architect Greg Kraus, “but then you can add in that component of saying, ‘This is a product that has a significant amount of recycled content in it.’” Kraus uses recycled products from Crossville, which recently carved out a place in its expansive line for the recycled-ceramic EcoCycle series.
“The product itself is at a good price point, but I think it helps to save cost in terms of manufacturing,” says Kraus.
But free dust, door glass, and debris do not necessarily lead to a lower-priced product. Says Duff, “some recycled tiles are going to be less expensive than a conventional tile and some are going to be more.”
Tucson, Ariz., interior designer Lori Carroll tells her clients the cost can range from 20% to 25% higher than its un-recycled counterpart.
The price is the same for traditional high-end porcelain tile as it is for Mosaic Tile’s Italy-imported recycled porcelain tile, says that company, and cost is comparable as long as you evaluate the recycled tile within its sphere of quality, material, and function.
FINDING A HOME
Thanks to the growing popularity of the green movement, recycled tile is on the rise from obscurity, finding a home on bathroom walls, kitchen countertops, and interior floors.
“It used to be the universe of green materials was fairly small,” says Duff, “but that’s growing larger and larger. Where we are today is a very different place than where we were five years ago; there are enough options available that you can pretty much achieve anything that you want.”
But like with all new products, questions linger. While Kraus says the recycled tile he uses has no maintenance, durability, or installation issues that are different than standard tile, Carroll raises the question of how long the sustainable product will last because its presence is fresh to the market.
Still, the future for recycled tile looks bright, according to pros and manufacturers, who predict a wider variety of styles to hit the market as more recycled-tile companies set up shop in the U.S.
Fireclay Tile has been making handpainted decorative Cuerda Seca tiles for over 15 years. Beyond our natural, lead-free glazes, we paint our cuerda secas onto our recycled Debris Series clay body, creating what we believe is the highest quality, most sustainable decorative tile available anywhere in the world. Cuerda Seca tiles compliment installations and projects of almost all sizes, whether it is a poolside fountain in a luxury hotel or stair risers on your condos front steps, cuerda seca bring elegance and sophistication to your designs. And with over 60% locally sourced recycled materials, it not only looks beautiful but is crafted with our natural environment in mind.
Cuerda Seca is a Spanish term for wax resist handpainted tiles. The technique came from Persia to Spain, and the intent is to ensure the glaze paint does not run from one part of the design to another during kiln firing. Today we use a proprietary formula for the wax resist to ensure both efficiency as well as high quality. Historically, a combination of animal fat, grease and mineral pigments such as iron or manganese were used as the medium for controlling the glaze pooling. Glazes are then inlaid with bulb syringes into areas between the lines, and for our Cuerda Secas we use all of our own glazes creaed for our Debris Series tiles.Thus, there are over 112 glaze colors to choose from!
In this blog post we take you through a brief glimpse into what Cuerda Seca designs we offer and how to choose the design right for you, how we make our Cuerda Secas, and we conclude with installation pictures that highlight the beauty and diversity one may find by incorporating Cuerda Secas.
Choosing the Right Design
We have created 3 Design Colorways - Mediterranean, Tuscan, and Peacock - on our most popular designs to make the ordering process easier for many. These colorways are based on colors we feel go great together, and the designs create gorgeous patterns and are appropriate for numerous settings. These colorways are not stocked, but they can potentially be created in less time than our standard 4 week lead time.
The square tiles shown above are available in 4x4 ($24) or 6x6 ($28) and the rectangular tiles are available in 3x3 ($20).
Customize Your Own
We offer over 150 cuerda seca designs which are available to view in our online cuerda seca catalog. We maintain them all as graphic line drawings to allow you the ability to pick and choose colors as you want them. For example, here are 8 popular designs seen in line drawing format:
Each segment within the line drawing can be handpicked by the color of your choice from our 112 Debris Series Glaze Colors. Here is an example of our beautiful San Sebastian design in our standard Mediterranean colorway overlaid on the original graphic with the color key below it. Notice the letters in the graphic on right, which correspond to the colors in the color key below and in the picture on the left side:
When ordering your cuerda seca design, having a color key like the above ensures your unique design will come out exactly like you want it. And if you think designing your own colorway might be too much, perhaps make some tweaks to our Design Colorways to create something unique but guided.
Also, one key thing to note is 32 out of 112 of the Debris Series Glaze Colors have a white engobe base. These "engobed" glaze colors can not be incorporated onto the same Cuerda Seca as non-engobe because of this engobe base layer. Thus, when designing, pay attention to whether the glaze color is engobed or not. We generally recommend sticking to the non-engobed colors to keep it simple.
Our Floreza series was designed with ultimate beauty and flexibility inmind - paying homage to gorgeous flowers, stems, and flower pots. Like our "Design Colorway", we have developed 3 standard colorways, with 18 beautiful pieces to each colorway. The design combinations are truly nearly limitless!
One aspect of the Floreza series that makes it unique is it’s ability to create vertical accents from horizontal boarders.The 6x6 “Pot” tiles allow the floral design to litterally grow to heights of 6”, 12”, 18”, 24” and beyond. Making this tile perfect for unique back splashes, fireplace surrounds, wall and floor designs. Our "Infinity Piece" allows you to take the pattern and continue it literally as high or as long as you can imagine!
Cuerda Seca Murals
We have some stunning murals handpainted and available for order, as well. Murals are based on either a Peacock or Floral setting, and colorways can be customized or based on some existing sets which we have.
Irani Flower Mural
How we make our handmade Cuerda Seca decorative tiles
We make each and every individual handpainted Cuerda Seca tile in our Aromas, CA factory. Our highly trained and experienced painters make each unique tile using either our Debris or Vitrail Series clay bodies as the base, and then apply the appropriate glazes.
As an order comes to our factory, bisqued tile (i.e. pieces of clay that have been fired once to create a hard, durable body) is screen-pressed with the chosen Cuerda Seca patterns. If the patterns are existing Fireclay Tile cuerda seca patterns we have screens ready to go, and if a custom design is chosen a new screen template is made.
After screen pressing the pattern to the clay body, the appropriate glaze colors are selected and then applied to the clay body. We use the exact same in-house Fieclay designed glaze colors on our Cuerda Seca tiles, ensuring we stay true to our commitment to using all natural, lead free glazes. This also ensures that our Cuerda Seca tiles will perfectly match any accompanying field tile you might order.
Upon completing painting, the tiles are kiln fired overnight. They are then packed, and ready for shipment.
Applications for Cuerda Seca decorative tiles
Photo: EcoHaus - Seattle Showroom
Photo: Lisa Moore Home
Photo: Focal Point Designs
We look forward to working with you to help transform your project into something unique and stunning using Fireclay handmade Cuerda Seca designs. If you want samples or a quote, please let us by emailing us!
By Guest Blogger and Fireclay Tile customer Tricia Creason-Valencia
We are proud first-time homeowners of a charming 100-year old house. When we bought the property, it was an abandoned foreclosure that simply needed a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint on the inside. The exterior, on the other hand, needed a major makeover. We spent days clearing out debris and overgrowth in the yard, rebuilt the back fence, and began filling a three-ring binder with ideas for “Do-It-Yourself” home improvement projects and a detailed plan for our dream California native garden.
As a visual artist, the project that most excited me was tiling the front steps. I’d heard about the Fireclay Tile “Boneyard” sale since I moved to San Jose five years ago, but this year my heart leaped when I saw the article in the San Jose Mercury News. I tapped the page excitedly and declared “We have to go to this tile sale, TODAY!” Luckily for me, my mother, a DIY home improvement expert, was visiting us and eager to come along as my consultant. The long Labor Day weekend stretched out ahead of us during which we could execute our plan. The goal was steps with beautiful Cuerda Seca tiles.
BEFORE: Guest Bloggers Existing Stairway and Entrance to Home
We took some quick measurements (not surprisingly, 100-year old steps are not uniform in shape or size) and headed out to the Boneyard sale equipped with our scribbled notes. Once we arrived at the sale, we called my husband, Hugh, to verify our measurements; the artistic endeavor of tiling involves a lot of math!
The sheer quantity of tiles in the Boneyard was both overwhelming and thrilling—the hunt was on! Over the next 4 hours, my mom and I laid out various patterns, taking care to balance my desire for beauty and my need for low-cost options. We worked and reworked our design ideas and came up with a pattern made from 60% recycled material tiles that was elegant, unique and economical. I figure I saved about 75% by buying the tiles at the Boneyard Sale.
Our installation process was a family affair. My mom and stepdad served as our mentors. Although they had lots of experience tiling tables, they warned us that they had not done vertical tiling before.
My six-year old daughter helped with the touch up painting of the stoop and sealed the grout as we finished.
The combination of my parents’ coaching, my interest in learning the relatively simple but painstaking tiling process and the entire family’s commitment to doing-it-ourselves resulted in a super snazzy “curb appeal” upgrade to our home.
Link to my filmmaking website: www.flacafilms.com.
Every so often things just work out. For us at Fireclay Tile who deal with locally sourced recycled materials, that is not always the case. For years we would trudge from place to place, asking for scrap materials that we thought might be useful for our tile, generally getting dismissed for being small and artistic. Many years later, though, our Debris Series Recycled Tile is the most sustainable ceramic tile in the world, and features more recycled material than anything else out there.
Today we announce a new initiative whereby we will start to incorporate recycled waste porcelain into our Debris Series tile. Our Recycled Tile will now feature over 70% recycled materials with the addition of landfill-bound recycled porcelain, including over 50% post-consumer recycled materials. This is tremendous when thinking about LEED Credits for interior surfaces. Working closely with the San Francisco and San Jose city recyclers, we will be initially offsetting the landfill of over 150 tons of porcelain waste. As many of you already know, Fireclay Tile has been incorporating similar local Bay Area recycled materials into its custom handmade ceramic tile for the past 15 years including recycled waste glass, recycled waste granite dust, and spent abrasive materials.
Let's take a quick trip to study how this is going to work!
Second: Porcelain is seperated and collected for recycling. This includes bathtubs, vanities, and toilets.
Third: Recycled porcelain is collected for shipment to Fireclay Tile
Fourth: Recycled porcelain is delivered to Fireclay (VIDEO!)
Fifth: Recycled Porcelain is crushed and then mixed with our other recycled materials
Raw Recycled Waste Porcelain
Porcelain loaded into our Crusher and Pulvarized!
When we compare our original 60% Recycled Debris Series with our new over 70% recycled materials containing the porcelain, there is little to no difference. We've worked hard to achieve this consistency, and can't wait to roll this out in 100% of our Debris Series tile. Wondering which of these contains the recycled porcelain? We'll keep it a secret...
Working closely with managers from both San Francisco and San Jose recyclers for the past twelve months, Fireclay Tile and the two organizations have been successful at identifying porcelain-based products for this endeavor, setting those aside and storing them, and setting up a transportation and grinding operation to successfully deliver to Fireclay’s Northern California factory usable material ready to immediately be incorporated into Fireclay’s ceramic tile. Ken Stewart, the operations manager for Recology in San Francisco, has helped reclaim more than 30 tons, and Michael Gross from Zanker Road Resource Management LTD in San Jose has helped reclaim over 120 tons of recycled porcelain materials. In just twelve months well over 150 tons have been set aside, and the organizations intend to continue this effort indefinitely. Fireclay Tile also hopes to partner with other municipal waste providers for a similar effort, as 100 tons will only last the company roughly eight months.
Zanker Road Resource Management
“I’m a scavenger by nature. I guess it’s just part of my DNA. Ever since I was young I loved taking things, mixing them together, and seeing what I could create,” said Paul Burns, Fireclay’s Founder and Chief Ceramicist. “For the past fifteen years my mission at Fireclay has been to maintain the beauty and high quality of our ceramic tile while offsetting local Bay Area waste materials. When I first started approaching people to see if I could purchase their waste materials they thought I was crazy. Now that we have demonstrated success, those conversations have become easier.”
Manufactured in Northern California, Fireclay Tile’s recycled tile products, including the Debris Series and Express Series, will now feature over 70% locally sourced recycled materials. These materials include recycled waste glass made up of bag-house dust collected from Strategic Materials in San Leandro, recycled granite dust from Granite Rock, recycled spent abrasives leftover from cleaning the Hetch Hetchy water pipes that transport water to the City of San Francisco from Yosemite Valley, and now recycled porcelain from San Francisco and San Jose. All products are handmade within Fireclay's day-lit, open air factory where the company reuses everything including clays, glazes and waste water. The result is a beautiful, unique ceramic clay body containing more post-consumer and pre-consumer waste than any other tile on the market.
Paul Burns, the president of San Jose's Fireclay Tile, describes himself as more of a scavenger than a die-hard environmentalist.
He values thrift and resourcefulness, and his company has been making recycled tiles for kitchens, baths and other uses for 10 years. Now, he is taking recycled tile to the next level, and the proof is in the porcelain.
On Oct. 15, trucks from San Jose's Zanker Road landfill will deliver 150 tons of porcelain to Fireclay's factory in Aromas, outside of Watsonville. The porcelain, which came in the form of sinks, toilets and bathtubs, will be crushed to dust and transformed into tiles.
It took 12 months to collect the 15 debris containers of porcelain, and it comes on the heels of a similar shipment from a San Francisco transfer station near Candlestick Point.
The porcelain will be mixed with other materials and scorched in an 1,800-degree kiln to create the company's Debris Series Tile. The new tile will have 70 percent recycled materials and probably be the only tile in the industry made from post-consumer waste.
Burns is pleased, but it's been a lot of work.
"I've been recycling for over 10 years, and [the landfill operators] would basically hang up on me," Burns said recently. "Which I understand, because they're moving things around on big trucks and have things to do. You're basically a pest, a gnat."
Burns sat on the shaded tilepatio of his shop at 495 W. Julian St., where the company's showroom and offices have been since 1986.
The building behind HP Pavilion looks modest from the street, but inside is a burst of colors and tile styles. In the back is the original factory.
Many of its tiles use recycled materials and are known for their quality. Word of mouth testimonials mean its clients now range from Whole Foods Markets to ordinary San Jose homeowners to restoration architects. The company has also been in contact with the architects of the World Trade Center memorial in New York, who asked for round, glass tile samples.
"It's always been a mystery how people find us, but now with the Internet it's become easier," Burns said.
Since its start in the '80s, the business has grown to include 30 employees.
Burns grew up in Saratoga and Los Gatos, and his uncle introduced him to tile=making at age 10.
Burns would spend Saturdays making ceramics and tile in a kiln. The original appeal, he said, was that he could watch a raw material become a finished product.
Burns later worked at Stonelight Tile on Pomona Avenue near the Alma neighborhood of San Jose. In 1986, Burns and three partners started Fireclay, and they chose the location on Julian Street because it was an industrial area that was also close to customers.
They bought a large kiln from another ceramics operation that failed, and set up the tile making shop in the a large warehouse-like space in the rear of the building.
They eventually outgrew that operation and set up their current factory in Aromas, but a new electric kiln will return tile-making to the Julian shop in the coming months. The Aromas factory will continue as well.
All the tiles are made to order from more than 100 standard colors and several hundred designs. Every client's order is handmade, and they don't stock tiles. They simply take orders and make batches.
Having spent his life in tiles, Burns has seen the fashions come and go.
Brown is back. Peach and teal combinations had their day. The pink-and-black 1940s look shows up now and then. And how could he forget the '70s avocado green and harvest gold combinations. White is still the most popular color by far.
Besides the dozens of tile samples, the shop on Julian Street also includes an outdoor "boneyard," where hundreds of boxes of extra tile are sold in individual pieces.
Because most of the tiles in the boneyard were made from recycled materials and left over from projects, Burns said buying there is kind of like recycling twice.
Some of Fireclay's adventures in recycling have come from coincidence and luck.
The Aromas tile factory is next door to a granite rock business.
Around 1998, the managers of the granite company approached Fireclay about the possibility of selling its waste dust from crushing granite. Tile could be made from the waste dust, it turned out, and the companies agreed to ship the dust--next door.
That deal, Burns said, solidified Fireclay's commitment to using reclaimed materials.
"That gave us a real mission," Burns said. "Then we realized we could make a product with recycled glass. We started using the spent abrasives from sandblasting. Now we're going to be recycling porcelain."
Porcelain is a high-quality ceramic, and Burns came up with the idea of using porcelain sinks, bathtubs and toilets dropped off at landfills. The crushed porcelain will be sterilized when it enters the kiln, so Burns indicated that the "yuck factor" should disappear for customers.
Michael Gross, the Zanker Road landfill's marketing manager, said he like the idea of reclaiming the porcelain after talking to Burns.
"I thought it was a great idea, because I'm always looking for niche markets of recycling materials," Gross said.
Burns said the first porcelain shipment should last about eight months of production--and he's clearly content to see his idea come to life.
"I've always been kind of a scavenger," Burns said. "It wasn't really about recycling; it was about using what's around."