Builders reward innovative techniques

Framing method wins prize for creating curved walls


Talk about a no-brainer.

You want to build a house with a curved wall. The traditional way involves cutting wood into little pieces, forming the pieces into a curve, and then bending a sheet of drywall around them.

Complicated, eh? Structurally sound? Not really.

What about taking U-shaped pieces of sheet metal to make the curve - one at the top, another at the bottom, and then fitting wood or metal studs into the channels?

That's what Flex-C Trac framing is all about. The product, invented by Frank Wheeler of Flex-Ability Concepts in Edmond, Okla., is one of four products receiving "Innovative Housing Technology Awards" from the National Association of Home Builders' Research Center and Popular Science magazine.

The obvious assets of Flex-C led the judges to remark "Like, duh," according to Popular Science.

Wheeler says one of his customers claims that the framing method saved him 80 percent on his labor costs.

Flex-C is sold in 10-foot lengths. It is made of galvanized steel and consists of self-tapping screws, pivotal sections and sliding straps.

According to Wheeler, Flex-C is bent to the desired curves - usually, you will want to follow a line you've drawn on the ground. The self-tapping screws are inserted in each hole on both sides of the metal channels.

The track is then fastened to the ceiling or floor. If a curved ceiling is being built, the track is fastened to each end wall.

After the curve is formed, a piece of masking tape is run along one outside edge to help hold the shape of the curve while the screws are inserted and then fastened in the usual way.

Wheeler said Flex-C could be used to make barrel ceilings, columns, curved walls and variable-radius curves.

The judges' "Second Chances" award went to the Anchorpanel foundation system, manufactured by Fast Track Foundation Systems in Fort Bragg, Calif.

The system consists of dozens of 3-foot-wide steel panels that attach around the perimeter of a house. The panels are cast into place, creating a foundation wall. The panel-bottom edges are cast into a concrete footing.

At installation, the panels are easily "wrapped" around corners, making any footprint easy to follow, according to company President Michael Butler.

Why "second chances"? Because the panels can be retrofitted on existing houses to protect from floods and earthquakes.

These innovations, while impressive to the industry, might not capture the public imagination. But how about Steven Winter Associates' experiments into fiber-optic technology designed to deliver sunlight to a dark, windowless room?

Several firms are experimenting with what is known as passive fiber-optic daylighting, but these efforts have resulted in projects that, while workable, are incredibly expensive.

The Japanese-made Himawari uses a computer-controlled sun-tracking array of Fresnel lenses (the lenses used in lighthouses) concentrating light onto the ends of thin glass fibers.

The smallest costs about $3,000, and provides the same amount of light as a 75-watt incandescent light bulb. Another model twice as powerful costs about $18,000.

Winter's SunWire project is designed to reduce the cost of this technology. The Norwalk, Conn., research-and-development firm's product uses four high-powered Fresnel lenses to direct sunlight onto a secondary lens called a beam former.

The lens concentrates the light, then sends it through half-inch fiber-optic cables to a standard light fixture.

The SunWire approach "involves using much lower concentration to allow ... less-expensive plastic fibers to be substituted for glass fibers," Winter spokesman Ravi Gorthala said.

The company has been field-testing a prototype since March of last year, and it expects to produce the technology next year, at $400 per fixture, according to Popular Science.

Winter, whose product was considered one of the 100 best ideas of 1998 by Popular Science, received the judges' "Defying the Laws of Physics" award.

Then there is GuardianPlus by Broan-Nutone, winner of the "Peace of Mind" award.

Tom Griffin, president of Griffin Environmental Systems Inc. in Atlanta, says the GuardianPlus uses a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter that captures 99.97 percent of all particles, even those as small as 0.3 microns.

A human hair is 150 microns.

He said the filters help reduce allergy symptoms, asthma, and recurring colds and coughs by removing dust mites, mold spores and smoke, as well as volatile organic compounds - gases from carpets, paint and furniture.

Simply cleaning the air is not enough. Proper ventilation is vital for healthy indoor air, Griffin said.

The GuardianPlus ventilation system provides a constant source of fresh, filtered air. The ventilation system exhausts harmful pollutants that are not eliminated by filtration, such as carbon monoxide and radon gases, to the outside.

Proper ventilation controls excess humidity, which is especially important during cold seasons, Griffin said.

Broan-Nutone spokeswoman Karen D. Collins said the GuardianPlus costs between $600 and $1,400, depending on the configuration, and it can be retrofitted to an existing HVAC system.

This is the second year for the innovation awards, which were presented at the International Builders Show in Atlanta in February.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.