Quietly turning out thousands of beautiful and intricate tiles in an inconspicuous industrial building in Montrose, Delta Brick & Climate is an amazing example of what could perhaps be called regenerative industry: a problem material is repurposed into something that is not only useful but is particularly desirable
The name of the company is a slight misnomer given that Delta Brick and Climate is in Montrose not Delta and while they occasionally make bricks, business these days is largely centered on the beautiful and ornate tiles that the company is quickly becoming known for. The name is actually an homage to Delta Brick & Tile Company which operated in Delta County from 1905 to 1958 and produced many of the bricks that are seen in the region’s buildings today.
Sixty or so miles from Montrose in the North Fork Valley is Paonia Reservoir and Dam, constructed over 60 years ago to provide water for homes and farms in the Valley. Several years ago, irrigation capacity dropped to the point that the reservoir was drained to figure out why. It turned out that sediment had built up to such a degree it had reached the reservoir’s outlet - which was about 60 or so feet above the bottom. With so many people relying on the reservoir, a solution was needed and an eclectic group of stakeholders came together to figure it out. The result, eventually, was Delta Brick & Climate, thanks to the sediment having one special property: it is actually a high-quality clay.
Enter scientist and entrepreneur Christopher Caskey, the founder and owner of DB&C.
DB&C in Montrose is actually a pilot facility, with plans for a full-scale factory located on an abandoned coal mine site in the North Fork Valley. The plan is for that facility to use the methane-soaked coal (which like the clay is a concern and a wasted resource) of the now closed mines as a fuel to fire ceramic products the company is already known for, just on a larger scale. The methane is thus converted into carbon dioxide and water. Carbon Dioxide is non-toxic and 84 times less impactful on the climate compared to vented methane.
The project is also an opportunity to form bonds in the community, especially between climate scientists, coal miners, farmers, conservationists, and builders.
Rank and Tile
As for how the process works, it is pretty straightforward. Gone are the days of digging clay by hand and literally filling buckets, instead front end loaders and skid steers are used, which is still a pretty labor intensive process.
When the clay makes it to Montrose it is put through a pug mill and extruded into a ribbon or a column. Sliced into lengths, the clay takes a week to go from wet to dry clay, then it is shaped and then fired twice over two days. The first firing turns the clay to bisque, a process that removes all the water from the clay and leaves it the familiar orange/red terracotta color, then it is glazed and fired again.
Down to a Fine Artisan
Unlike big companies that mass produce tiles using much bigger equipment and through an entirely different process (using pressure instead of heat), tiles from DB&C will have a built in level of variation due to their handmade nature and the source of the clay, but it is that variation that is so appealing.
DB&C doesn't envision itself as ever being a competitor to bigger manufacturers. They produce handmade, local, and sustainable products so the price point is a little higher. That means they appeal to higher end consumers, hotels and the like, or those that are more concerned with sustainability, but a backsplash or a shower is certainly within reach for most people.
Even though the business is still in its infancy, sales have been good, with interest coming from all over the county. While most sales have been in state, DB&C tiles have made their way across the country and are currently gracing properties in glamorous locales like the Napa Valley, and have made it as far as Rochester, NY. With so much raw material available and such a good product, the future is very bright for DB&C.