Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm
About one year ago, a group of friends who were drinking wine while gathered around a campfire came up with an idea for a new construction company, which would use techniques no other builder in Milwaukee was using.
Soon, that idea will become their full-time job at Pragmatic Construction LLC.
Pragmatic Construction builds and designs new residential and commercial buildings in the Milwaukee area using green technology. The company also specializes in remodeling existing structures using green principles.
"We came together last year at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair," said Juli Kaufmann, one of the company’s founding principals. "We were interested in those kinds of things, and the ideas that were being presented there. We were asking why this stuff has to be so on the fringe when it makes sense. We founded (Pragmatic) on the mission to make this green stuff mainstream."
The company was recently named as winner of the first Launch Angel Competition, a business plan contest (see accompanying story).
In the next two weeks, Kaufmann, Steve Servais and Nikolai Usack, the company’s founders and principals, will start working full time at Pragmatic.
The company recently purchased a residential lot with an existing garage on it at 2530 N. Bremen St. in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, where they’re planning to build their new offices. The new building will be constructed with the company’s green techniques. It will also serve as a demonstration area for those techniques.
Pragmatic specializes in using green technologies that conserve energy, reduce stormwater runoff and use materials that are more durable than traditional building materials.
"If you only do a geo-thermal heating system or take a piecemeal approach, it can end up costing a lot of money," Kaufmann said.
Pragmatic has completed two projects so far, creating new homes for Servais and his wife in Riverwest and for Kaufmann and her husband in Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward.
"We integrated as many green systems into them as we could to get a feel for them, to see if our ideas were right," Servais said.
Servais and Usack have experience installing stainless steel roofs. Although the roofs have some higher material costs than traditional asphalt shingle roofs, installation is faster, and the stainless steel materials last at least four times longer than asphalt shingles. The company also has experience with green roofs, which include a layer of dirt or other material on top of a rooftop, where plants and grasses grow.
Both homes were built with bricks made of autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC). AAC bricks have a much higher insulating quality than other building materials, and are made from a mixture of concrete, fly ash (a byproduct of coal power plants) and sand.
"AAC is both an insulator and construction material," Servais said. "It’s cheaper (than wood), very sturdy and there’s no possibility of mold."
Because of AAC’s insulating properties, a layer of stucco can be directly placed atop it. Further insulation can be gained by placing a layer of Tyvek insulation over it. Traditional siding can then go over the Tyvek.
Pragmatic has also built geothermal heating and cooling systems into both Servais’ and Kaufmann’s homes. The systems pump water through a series of pipes placed at least five to six feet below the ground, where temperatures stay 55 degrees year-round. In the winter, heating costs are saved because water is always 55 degrees, and in the summer, the cool water can be used to lower a home’s temperature.
For the time being, Servais, Kaufmann and Usack will be the company’s only employees. In the next three years, they hope to hire between five and 12 employees, Servais said. The number of employees depends how well the Milwaukee market embraces the company’s building techniques.
The company already has a few projects in the works, both residential and commercial.
One of those projects is to redevelop and expand the Racine Dominican Eco-Justice Center, operated by the Racine Dominican Nuns. The center is currently based in a 2,000-square-foot farmhouse, where the sisters raise alpacas, chickens and other animals.
Pragmatic Construction plans to expand and renovate the structure, making it entirely self-sustaining from an energy standpoint, through the use of geo-thermal heating and cooling and solar panels.
"The project meshes perfectly with our philosophy of green construction, remodeling and consulting – all three of our strong points," Sevais said.
In the next five years, Pragmatic is hoping to build its own facility to manufacture the AAC bricks, if there is market demand for them.
"I hope that if we can get the market to accept this, it would make sense to manufacture them here," Servais said.
Currently, the closest manufacturer of the bricks is in Georgia, and it costs about $1,700 to transport one truckload of bricks to the Milwaukee area.
Pragmatic will need about 20,000 square feet of space to make the bricks. The company would like to build its facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, Servais said, because of its close proximity to road, rail and water transportation. The location would also be relatively close to We Energies’ Oak Creek power plant, a source for the fly ash needed to make the brick.
"We view commerce and the private sector as a way to make a difference in our world," Kaufmann said. "Part of the green sourcing of our material is getting it closer to where we are. It’s also part of our commitment to our community, the investment in manufacturing. We’re hopeful about it because it ties back to the bigger picture of what we want to accomplish. We hope ultimately to revolutionize the way people think about how they live and their communities."