The Midwest: A heartland with a heart for sustainability
Bob Fincher spent a week with a camper, a GPS and a lot of caffeine to visit some of the leading companies in sustainability.
By Bob Fincher, founder and chairman
Bob Fincher, our founder and chairman, recently took to the road in search of companies in the Midwest that are helping the rest of the nation understand the importance of sustainability and the technologies and tactics that can help create homes and buildings that are friendlier to the earth and to their inhabitants. Many companies were evaluated. What follow are his observations of the best of the best. --Editor
Location: Lenexa, KS
Specialty: BioMicrobics, with their subsidiary brands, manufactures advanced, decentralized water-treatment systems. Their products are used in residential, commercial, small community and marine contexts to safely and effectively treat wastewater, water, greywater and storm water.
Few environmental concerns are more paramount than how we process water that has been exposed to contaminants after it has fallen in the form of precipitation or been used in the service of manufacturing, farming, commercial or residential aims.
While such water is commonly funneled to and treated in centralized facilities, BioMicrobics has specialized in developing myriad tools to help lessen or eliminate the load put on those overworked centers, enabling wastewater to be treated immediately and affordably. In addition, the on-premises approach eliminates the many opportunities for leakage along a journey that otherwise may include many miles of pipes, some of which in our aging infrastructure may have cracks or meaningful breaks.
In addition to their innovative approach to treating water, I was impressed by the commitment to quality and overall excellence, embodied in the leadership of Bob Rebori and many others in the company’s management team.
Location: Greenville, Illinois
Specialty: Geothermal systems
This company is one of the largest manufacturers of thermal equipment built and sold in North America. As there is more and more interest in higher performance homes and buildings, and interest among community developers in branding their communities as high performance, it is geothermal that often connects with the most credibility with the decision makers. Examples include Whisper Valley in Texas and Norton Commons in Kentucky.
The benefits of geothermal systems are many. As the company describes it:
Geothermal heating and cooling is all about harnessing the power of the earth and utilizing it to transfer heat. Much like a refrigerator, a geothermal system has the ability to move heat from one location to another. With the earth absorbing 48 percent of the sun’s solar energy, the result is a fairly constant underground temperature of 45 degrees in northern climates to 70 degrees in southern climates.
Through pipes buried in the ground, geothermal transfers heat from the earth to a home in the winter, then reverses the process by pulling heat from the home in the summer and releasing it into the cooler ground during the summer months. The result is the most comfortable living environment imaginable that is both eco-friendly and provides substantial cost savings on utility bills. It’s an all-around win for every homeowner.
I believe there are several fine manufacturers of geothermal equipment, but the primary market advantages with Enertech include a deep culture of integrity, commitment to HVAC contractors and consumers, and a unique heritage of being a geothermal distributor before they were a manufacturer, which has given them many great insights into to the marketing and business power of building high quality, very dependable equipment. They know it from the ground up, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Now that tax credits have been reestablished for geothermal equipment, coupled with greater interest in higher efficiency HVAC equipment, they are a company that warrants a deep investigation by anyone looking to design, build or buy a high-performance home.
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
Specialty: The latest in Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) technology and ICF design, targeted to provide incredibly efficient and quiet buildings that cost less money and take less time to build.
Even before various sustainability-related dynamics come into play, I believe that almost any home or building should be considered to be built with ICF construction. Among its many advantages, ICF is stronger, more energy-efficient, more solid and more resilient to storms, and it results in a far quieter building than any other form of conventional construction.
ICF has always been a very cost-effective mode of construction; today, where the prices of wood and steel are increasing significantly, the consideration of it becomes a no-brainer.
There surely are several good ICF manufacturers, but none with more experience and none with the quality and integrity of this management team. The leadership in the ICF division of Airlite Plastics Company—one of the leading manufacturers of foam products—is among the most credible and sharpest I’ve ever talked to. Evidencing their commitment to quality, they manufacture their own molds. Thousands of them. And each is designed to be as good for the five-millionth use as it is for the first. Furthermore, they are deeply immersed in the builder marketplace, understanding intimately builder science and the need for quality.
The marketing power should be attractive to builders because of ICF’s net-zero attributes and strength and quality. Any builder that deeply studies and considers ICF through the design phase and through cost-offsets and features would make ICF the material of choice, even before factoring in the increased costs of steel and wood.
The Fox Blocks goal is to help construct a building envelope that gives superior results when compared to conventional building methods, with an envelope that resists harmful mold, dust and allergens, along with powerful wind, storm and fire protection. Fox Blocks delivers that and more.
Specialty: Irrigation and infrastructure equipment and technology
This pioneering company was a last-minute addition to my itinerary. While not on my radar originally owing to its falling outside of our primary beat—making homes and buildings more sustainable—I was convinced to visit the Omaha company by one of our editors, who was impressed with their approach to an aspect of water-savings that touches all of us, even if we don’t directly foot the bill: water use in the development of our food supply. Specifically, Lindsay Corp products dramatically reduce the amount of water needed to grow crops.
By making the process of water-delivery to harvest agricultural plants more efficient, they can help prevent the unnecessary application of formidable amounts of expensively treated and then reclaimed water. For example, on one recent project where they were involved, Lindsay Corp enabled a farm to realize the following:
- Save 1,000 acre feet, or 325 million gallons, of water per year
- In the process, reduce labor by 13,000 man-hours per year
- Cut total energy-related expenditures by 25 percent
- Earn significant energy rebates local utility providers
In additional, company officials say that Lindsay has created sustainable practices to reduce the quantity of emissions and also create opportunities for recycling while using our natural resources more efficiently.
Based on my visit, I say with confidence there could not be a higher quality product, people and research in this domain.
Location: Lawrence, Kansas
Specialty: Masonry cleaners and protective treatments, air and water barriers, and concrete flooring products
The team at Prosoco impressed me immensely. Over my years in manufacturing and the home-construction industry before I moved into media, I learned to identify teams that talk a good game from those who give everything they have to doing the job right. Every person I met at Prosoco was not only committed to the company, but passionate about its mission. This is a company that deeply understands how to maintain homes and buildings with high quality products that are specifically formulated to work very effectively and with any type of maintenance issue on any type of surface on a home or building.
In addition to the passion of the people, the most impressive thing I witnessed was the investment this company makes in research and testing. Scientists in lab coats populate the facility, conducting enumerable kinds tests and evaluations. They seem to ask themselves at every turn, “How do we build a better product for these specific applications?” In other words, there is no push to find standard solutions from the shelf; the team evaluates every job based on its unique needs and then develops a bespoke approach.
Location: Maryland Heights, Missouri
Specialty: Radiant heating solutions for floors and walls
Commitment to quality and sustainability of products was the birthright of the founders of this company. The husband-and-wife team came to the U.S. in 1994 from Europe (Norway and Switzerland), steeped in the continent’s advanced sensitivity to sustainability, technology and principles. As a result, they are able, with great efficiency and scientific sophistication, to heat any space by way of floors and walls, resulting in extraordinary comfort and fewer airborne particles (thus creating a more healthful environment), all while costing less to operate. As compared to typical electrical heating cables or water tubing systems, the Step Warmfloor system uses a unique self-regulating, low-voltage, AC or DC, heating technology based on Nano Polycarbon. The Nanomaterial modifies its behavior of conduction when electrically charged supplying more wattage when cold and less wattage as they warm up, thereby using much less energy.
What’s more, if a home has solar power, the DC power produced can directly feed into the Step Warmfloor system and offer heating at virtually no additional cost. They are certified to the latest, most exacting ISO standards, produced in an immaculately clean factory and environmentally friendly workplace. The machines are designed by the founder himself and used in a culture that epitomizes a commitment to doing the right things in the right way.
Perfect for RVs and marine applications, in-shower benches and walls, as well as for in-home use, including snowmelt and deicing. It’s the radiant heating system that should be deeply considered.
Fantech, a Systemair Company
Location: Lenexa, KS
Specialty: Fresh Air Appliances (Energy-recover technology)
At Fantech, I participated in one of the most impressive meetings of my career. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the company or its products going in, but my visit left me with these vivid recollections:
- The breadth of air-movement products is enormous
- The commitment to the combination of quality and value is unsurpassed
- The size of this company is far larger than I previously imagined
- The integrity is absolute, but the quality of executive management team is world-class, rivaling any that could be found in Silicon Valley at the head of some of the world’s best brands
- In particular, one of its key executives is the finest salesperson I ever met, and the general manager is insuperably authentic, humble, smart and motivated
Fantech’s Fresh Air Appliances (energy recovery) products are designed and built with a team of engineers and other professionals with great expertise in a way that allows the technology to be deployed in a home very cost-effectively.
There are other fine manufacturers, but I’m not aware of one with this combination of quality, scale, value, breadth of product and sincere and knowledgeable executives. If anyone is considering the purchase of ventilation products, he or she should be certain to include a deep conversation with Fantech of part of his or her due diligence.
Location: Arnold, Missouri
Specialty: HVAC technology
I was first introduced to Unico a couple of years ago at a tradeshow. Since they had fallen off my radar since then, I decided to add them to my tour and get to know the upper management team. What I learned, filtered through my understanding of high-performance homes and buildings, causes me to say with confidence that few such structures should be built unless there is a conversation somewhere along the way with Unico.
The patriarchs of this company learned HVAC by working with standard systems for the first part of their history. Finally, after years of becoming increasingly disappointed with the quality and efficiency of existing products, they took a from-the-ground-up approach to design one of the most unique, quiet, efficient and effective approaches I’ve ever seen when it comes to the delivery of conditioned air.
Done with less duct work and outputting air at higher velocities within the existing envelope, the Unico product allows for much more evenly and effectively distributed air through a room than do systems with large ducts. As a benefit, the system doesn’t require the larger blowers associated with traditional HVAC products. It is a superior way to cool and move air.
Abundantly evident during my visit was a deep commitment to processes and quality that will always create better results. It would be impossible given the heritage of the Unico family for the result to be anything but. Any builder who wants to enjoy a tremendous marketing advantage over its competitors should consider offering the Unico system and then telling the world that they do. It’s that good.
Topics: Building Green, Energy Recovery & Heat Recovery, Exteriors, Flooring, Geothermal Heating & Cooling, Going Green, Heating & Cooling, Indoor Air Quality, Insulated Concrete Forms - ICF, Product Reviews, Radiant Heat, Remodeling, Sustainable Products, Thermal Envelope, Ventilation, Wastewater Treatment, Water Filtration & Water Quality