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Eco-block gain attention on green construction.

A NEW BUILDING MATERIAL, insulated concrete forms, is starting to appear on Arkansas construction sites. ICFs represent a green alternative to conventional exterior wall framing for both commercial and residential projects.

Eco-Block, a leading format among ICFs, is touted as providing energy savings of up to 50 percent. The trade-off in long-term heating and cooling savings is an added 3-5 percent in upfront construction costs.

"We're trying to educate and increase the market here," said Patrick Howell, president of Little Rock's Smart Structures Distributing LLC. "We want people to know there's something else available besides traditional stick framing."

The product is a hollow panel composed of expanded polystyrene made for stacking to build a wall. Reinforcing steel is placed in the panels for additional strength, and concrete is poured inside the wall of hollow panels.

The process results in a concrete center sandwiched between layers of foam insulation ready for exterior and interior finish-out. Panels supporting between four and eight inches of concrete are typical.

Besides reducing energy costs, other Eco-Block attributes include an Energy Star Home rating, the use of recycled materials (40 percent by weight), qualification for energy-efficient mortgages, improved indoor air quality and reduction in mold problems. Eco-Block also is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and contributes to its LEED program.

"It's the fastest-growing building material in construction today, in terms of percentage growth," said Matt Bell, co-owner of Little Rock's Bell-Corley Construction. "It's the most bang for your buck of any construction material I've ever seen."

The Arkansas market, where Smart Structures is the exclusive distributor for Eco-Block, is something of a virgin market. A handful of projects are beginning to crop up around the state.

Bell-Corley is working with Smart Structures on several commercial projects using the Eco-Block system. The biggest is the $1.7 million Pine Crest Private School, a 15,000-SF preschool project in Bentonville.

Others are a TaMolly's restaurant in Paragould and a couple of low-profile office projects.

Howell expects Eco-Block to break the $1 million barrier during the next couple of years as it gains more exposure. He took on the Arkansas franchise in August and hopes to develop a small network of builders to spread the product.

"We want to make sure we're the best, and we want to be there to provide service and support," Howell said. "We want to establish a relationship with builders, a combination of concrete guys and framing guys. We want to help them learn how to work with the product."

Eco-Block represents the fifth generation in ICFs, a product that first hit the market in the late 1980s, he said.

Exterior walls for an entire floor can be completed in as little as two days, with little consideration to the temperature and weather. The concrete used in the Eco-Block gains 50 percent in strength.

For instance, concrete rated with a load-bearing capacity of 3,000 pounds per square inch becomes capable of 4,500 psi because of the wet curing process afforded by Eco-Blocks' insulating sandwich.

"These things will withstand 99 percent of all tornado events," Bell said. "It's really more like 100 percent, but for disclaimer purposes, the company puts it at 99 percent."

The ability to withstand unusual stress is borne out by an Eco-Block home in Ocean Springs, Miss. The two-story residence withstood Hurricane Katrina's 30-foot storm surge, allowing owners to repair rather than rebuild.

This type of durability has caught the eye of the federal government, which is looking at the possibilities for more secure buildings overseas.

"Arkansas is an untapped market for this technology," Bell said. "In the next five years, 20 percent of new home construction will be out of ICE Commercially, you'll be seeing it grow rapidly."

Eco-Block Bragging Points

Environmentally friendly: Use of wood products in construction significantly reduced.

Energy-efficient: Provides superior insulation, reducing heating and cooling costs and creating a virtual air and vapor barrier.

Sound-suppressing: The interior rooms are effectively shielded from outside noise.

Quickly constructed: One house per day with a four-member crew.

Extremely strong: Walls are cast-in-place, monolithic, reinforced concrete.

Versatile: Any interior or exterior finish can be applied.

Fire-retardant: Up to a four-hour fire-resistant rating.

Less expensive: Reduced molding and manufacturing costs.

Stronger: Superior strength during the crucial period of the concrete pour.

More versatile: Same side panel for 4-to 10-inch or larger ICF form.

Easier to transport: Components allow assembly on site.

Eco-Block LLC, the manufacturer of Eco-Block, was founded in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1998.

The company introduced and patented its panelized ICF system, which allowed more design flexibility and reduced freight cost. The concept allows wall widths to vary from 4 inches to 24 inches by using different widths of connectors to join the two opposing side panels.

Eco-Block International was formed in 2003. Today, the company is based in Dallas.

By George Waldon

george@abpg.com
COPYRIGHT 2007 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Green Business
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Jan 29, 2007
Words:813
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