DALLAS — Eco-Block LLC of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is expanding in snowbird country.
The molder of expanded polystyrene concrete forms plans to add two manufacturing sites in Canada: one in Vancouver and the other in Toronto.
Eco-Block, which operates plants in Dallas, Baltimore and Miami, expects to have the Canadian sites up and running this spring. The firm also announced plans to add factories in Chicago and Los Angeles.
The new, highly automated facilities could be as small as 10,000 square feet and employ just a few people ``if you do it right,'' Eco-Block President Jim Leatherman said.
``We're looking for new [foam molding] machines, but I can't tell you whose we're going to buy because we don't know yet,'' he said.
An injection molder in Toronto produces the recycled high density polyethylene ties that hold the EPS forms in place, Leatherman said. The ties are molded into place when the EPS panels are made.
It helps to have manufacturing sites close to customers because the light foam blocks are costly to transport, Leatherman said.
``Shipping can be a problem,'' he said. ``It's important to get [manufacturing] as close to the end user as possible to minimize costs.''
Eco-Block was one of about two-dozen firms displaying insulated concrete forms at the International Builders' Show in Dallas Jan. 15-18.
The forms generally are made from expanded or extruded PS foam tied together with plastic or metal connectors. Builders set up the forms at a building site and fill them with concrete. When the concrete dries, the forms are left in place and become the walls' insulation.
The ICF business is growing almost as fast as the number of new players.
``It's an industry that the Portland Cement Association is saying will grow to $2 billion in three to five years,'' Leatherman said. ``It's at about $200 million to $300 million now, but doubles every year.''
Builders like the systems because fewer workers are needed to put up walls that end up being stronger and more energy-efficient than traditional stick-built homes.
``You only need a four-man crew, and only one of them needs to have a brain,'' Leatherman said.