This article appeared in Western Roofing magazine January/February 2005.

Clay Tile in the West
New Methods of Design & Production are Making Clay Tile Available & Affordable
by Rikie Biane, MCA

Some of the oldest roofing known to man was made of clay. From the beautiful temples of China, to the glorious villas of Italy, to the more modern day early missions of California, clay roof tile has been the chosen roofing material for prominent architecture around the world.

In North America, tiles were used by the earliest European settlers and were common in Spanish and French communities. A prominent feature of clay tiles that appealed to both the East and West was that they were fireproof, a quality that made them very attractive in tightly packed cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Boston. Other features of clay tile that the West particularly favored were its durability, ease of maintenance, and energy efficiency. They kept the building’s interior cool, a much-desired element when living under the blistering desert sun of the West.

The growing concern for the environment and the return to favor of traditional building materials has raised clay tile’s profile. Today, one of the leading manufacturers of quality roofing tile is MCA, headquartered in Corona, California. It leads the industry in the production of energy-efficient tiles and has developed a new line of custom colors designed to blend with the environment. “It’s a way for the architect and designer to make a signature project and come up with a “Wow!” presentation,” says Frank Hughes of Letner Roofing, Orange, Calif. “MCA has developed many custom colors and is regarded as a color expert in the industry.”

An excellent example of this is a custom home, featured on the cover, in Palm Desert, Calif., built by Andrew Pierce Corporation. Pierce chose MCA’s two-piece Corona Tapered Mission tile. MCA then cre­ated a custom color blend that uniquely matched the varying shades of smoky brown hues found in the surrounding rocky desert formations. The custom home received the Gold Nugget Award, a competition spon­sored by PCBC and Builder magazine. Entries come from all 14 western states and countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. The roofing contractor on the project was A.C. Miller and Sons, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and the architect was MVE Architects, Orange County, Calif. The custom blend consisted of one-third rustic red pebbled, one-third Old Santa Bar­bara medium pebbled, and one-third Old Santa Barbara dark pebbled. The pans are Santa Barbara light.

Some other well-known projects that feature MCA custom blends and colors include the Bellagio, Venetian and Mandalay Bay hotels in Las Vegas, the Hyatt Regency in Hawaii, and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, just to name a few. Walt Disney Co. also used an MCA custom blend for one of its projects and has granted MCA the rare privilege of being allowed to publicly list it as a client.

MCA has also carved a niche for itself in the turret section of the roofing industry. Turrets and their eye­catching cone-shaped roofs, while being a beautiful age-old architectural design, are also notorious for being labor-intensive as well as complex in design and installation. As a result it has remained an area where few roofing manufacturers or roofing contrac­tors like to tread.

Using its experience and drawing on today’s computer technology, MCA developed a unique turret-tile® design system forever changing the face of turret-tile application and installation. The turret tiles, en­hanced by computer design, are precisely calculated and can be cut to fit a turret of any size, regardless of pitch.

“They eliminated the guesswork,” says Mike Creeden, owner of Marco Roofing, Fremont, Calif., a roofing contractor with over 30 years experience, who specializes in turret installations. “There is no cutting the tiles by hand. No trial and error. Working with MCA is great. We fax them a copy of the dimensions for the turret and they figure it all out. It doesn’t get any easier than that.”

The Club House at Lake Las Vegas, in Las Vegas, Nevada, illustrates a good example of MCA’s turret-tile system. The turret tile is custom-made in varying sizes to match the roof dimensions and pitch. The Energy Star®-rated tile works well in these high desert temperatures. The turret tile and Corona Mission tile were an Old Mission blend. The roofing contractor for the project was The Roofing Company, Las Vegas, Nevada.

The market for clay tile in the West has seen enormous growth over the last 20 years. Yoshihiro Suzuki, back in 1983 began a feasibility study of the clay roofing tile market. Based on Suzuki’s study, the corporate otticc decided to go ahead and build a factory in Corona, California. Unlike most manufacturers, MCA did not purchase or take over an existing plant. It started completely from scratch and built from the ground up:

MCA takes great pride in the quality and wide selection of tiles and colors it offers as well as the energy efficiency of its plant. The company recycles the waste heat from its kilns while also recycling all raw materials used to make the clay tile. Instead of just throwing unusable product away, the material is recycled for use on baseball fields, clay tennis courts and landscape ground cover. When the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Program (LEED) was established, MCA easily quali­fied to help architects and builders achieve LEED points in the materials and resources areas.

MCA recently completed the installation of new automated equipment in its factory. It improved the kiln combustion system by increasing its production capability while at the same time reducing the gas combustion. The result is a system that is more environmentally friendly and at the same time pro­vides a higher production yield.

In its continued effort to reduce production costs and make clay roof tile more affordable, MCA also devel­oped a unique automated system that allows for the simultaneous production of two different clay tile profiles with up to five color combinations. The new system requires only one labor shift versus the previous two. “I was very impressed with MCA’s computerized manufacturing sys­tem,” said Craig Bergman, a sales representative for Glesby Wholesale, a distributor in Oakland, California, after a recent visit to the MCA plant. “What’s truly amazing is the level of cleanliness at the plant. It really stands out and is one of the first things you notice. The next thing to grab your attention is how few factory workers are needed to run the plant.”

MCA passes the savings on to its customers and keeps their prices as low as possible. Bergman finished by saying, “When a manufacturer can produce a high amount of product with little labor, the savings are felt by everyone.”

Looking back on the last 20 years and the way the clay roof industry has grown, MCA’s feasibility study turned out to be pretty accurate. “Clay roofing tile has come of age. We look to the future and are pleased to provide not only a high-quality product, but a product that works with nature and the environment, not against it,” Suzuki concluded. •••