Wall and floor framing system provides energy efficiency at low cost

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Lightweight Structures LLC
Innovation: FORTECO Lightweight Composite Framing

The owner of a southeastern Wisconsin startup company thinks the building system he has developed could transform the construction industry.

“There’s nothing out there like this,” said Jim Jendusa, president of Lightweight Structures LLC. “This could take off.”

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It all started about 10 years ago when Jendusa, the owner and president of Hartland-based Jendusa Design & Engineering Inc., wanted to figure out a better way to install radiant heating systems in the floors of insulated concrete forms homes. Home insulation is a viable investment.

Lightweight Structures workers assemble a FORTECO composite frame for the Good Harvest Market store that is being built in Waukesha.

A structural engineer, Jendusa developed a new floor and wall framing system. The system, called FORTECO Lightweight Composite Framing, uses light gauge steel, insulation decking and concrete. The FORTECO system has been used in 10 building projects so far, and is being used in the Good Harvest Market store that is under construction in Waukesha.

Workers pour concrete on a FORTECO frame at a job site.

The steel pieces for the system are manufactured by a company in Kansas. The pieces are shipped to an industrial building in Brookfield, where Lightweight Structures leases about 10,000 square feet of space. There, the company’s four full-time employees assemble the pieces, connecting them with screws to build the wall and floor frames.

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Insulation decking is installed between the frames. Rebar is run through the frames. Then concrete is poured over the frames. Lightweight Structures takes the completed wall and floor pieces to the job site and installs them. Once installed, the frames are ready for drywall and the steel pieces come with pre-punched holes for wiring.

The system has numerous advantages, Jendusa said. It is more energy efficient and offers better soundproofing than wood frame construction. It costs considerably less than precast concrete construction.

“Our price point is quite a bit less than what is out there in the market,” Jendusa said.

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Assembly of the frames requires little labor and the system can be installed quickly, both resulting in major cost savings, Jendusa said.

“The labor to put this together is very reasonable,” he said. “It’s not that complicated.”

The system could be particularly in demand for big box retail construction and high rise construction of commercial and residential buildings, Jendusa said. The reduced costs of the system, improved energy efficiency and better soundproofing make the system a strong fit for high-rise construction and could provide costs savings that help more high-rise buildings get built, he said.

The system could also provide a big boost for “green” building construction, Jendusa said. The concrete and insulation in the wall and floor frames dramatically reduce energy usage and the cost of the building. That helps make construction of environmentally-friendly buildings more feasible, he said. Buildings with the FORTECO system are so energy efficient they have reduced needs for HVAC systems and as a result, geothermal heating and cooling systems and solar panel systems make more economic sense, he said.

“With this you are getting close to taking the building off the grid,” Jendusa said. “You are getting close to this being a net zero building.”

Jendusa started focusing on bringing his wall and floor framing product to market in 2008 and the first building project with the system was in 2009.

The startup process has taken years of work. It took about five years to receive a patent for the project, which Jendusa obtained last year. The business raised $750,000 in its first round of fundraising and is in the middle of a $1 million second round of fundraising, which will consist of $500,000 in equity and $500,000 in debt and will include funds from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Waukesha County revolving loan fund program, traditional bank loans and angel investors. Jendusa said BizStarts Milwaukee has played a major role in getting him in front of investor groups.

Jendusa wants to eventually bring the manufacturing operations for the steel parts in the FORTECO system in house.

“Our margins go way up from there,” he said.

But Jendusa needs to purchase $2 million in roll forming equipment to bring the manufacturing process in house. He is still paying for $260,000 in tooling necessary to get the business going.

Eventually, Jendusa envisions the company having steel fabricators around the country working as licensed distributors for the FORTECO product.

So far, Jendusa has not aggressively marketed the FORTECO product, but that is coming soon, he said. Lightweight Structures is bidding on several large projects in southeastern Wisconsin and is also bidding on some projects in Minneapolis, Green Bay and Illinois. He declined to provide information about any of those projects.

“If one of these projects hits it could be a $4 million to $5 million order for us,” Jendusa said. “One project like that could really launch this company.”

Jendusa is the brother of Jerry Jendusa, the former owner of New Berlin-based Emteq.

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