Insulated sidewalk = less shoveling? 2010.11.24

Written by David Green.

sidewalk.1.jpgBy DAVID GREEN

Let it snow.

You might get Bronson and Nichole DiCenso to say that this winter, because they hope to be doing a lot less of something that the rest of us will face.

With their new sidewalk on East Street North, they expect much less snow shoveling  this winter.

The new walk comes courtesy of Vance Jacobs of Jacobs Plastics and Frontier Insulation. Jacobs has overseen the installation of insulated driveways since the mid-1990s, but he’s never tried an insulated sidewalk before.

Most insulated driveways include piping for warm water to flow through, Jacobs said, but the sidewalk has nothing but a layer of three-eighths inch insulation below the concrete. Sunshine will warm the concrete and hasten melting.

Jacobs said he arranged for the free installation so the walk can serve as a display for his product—providing it works as he expects.

The DiCenso property is just half a block from Frontier Insulation (the former Roth Fabricating site) and Jacobs expects to be glancing down East Street this winter to see how the insulated walk fares.

The insulating material is similar to the Styrofoam used for drinking cups, Jacobs said. When he began manufacturing the insulation panels, he used new foam. His operation now could be seen as a recycling process that converts scrap material into a new product.

A semi-truck load a day arrives at Jacobs Plastics in Adrian, loaded with scrap foam from other manufacturing processes in the Grand Rapids area.

Jacobs feeds the scrap into a unit that  fuses it into long sheets measuring four-foot wide in three thicknesses—three-eighths inch, three-fourths inch and inch and a half.

The thinnest insulation is adequate for sidewalks; thicker strips are generally used in applications such as floors that use radiant heat.

The foam is wrapped in a thin film and that’s all it takes to strengthen the insulation enough for workers to walk on it before concrete is poured.

With the foam underneath, the concrete must dry upward through the top, but this process creates concrete that’s found to be about 30 percent stronger.

The insulation also retards the break-up of concrete by preventing the moist soil underneath from expanding through freezing, Jacobs said.

Jacobs has 40 years of experience working with plastics. He says he retired once, but couldn’t stand not working so he’s happy to be busy again.

And busy he is. His brother runs the Adrian plant while Vance is in charge in Morenci. There’s also a facility in Indiana, and there are a couple of other projects that he’s investigating.

The Roth building was just what he was looking for two years ago when he wanted a place to produce laminated Styrofoam SIP panels—structural insulated panels.

They’re generally used in new house construction for insulating walls. Most of his product ends up in Colorado.

The foam arrives in Morenci in large blocks where it’s cut by hot wire into the needed sizes.

Frontier Insulating also produces a foam sheet that’s laminated on only one side for use in cathedral ceilings where there’s no attic space.

The board is covered with OSB (oriented strand board) on one side and the other side goes up against the shingles. Jacobs has received reports of excellent energy savings from the insulation.

Forty years working with plastics makes Jacobs a sought-after person when special requests come up.

“Architects know if they want to do something special, they call me,” he said.

He hopes to receive a call from the DiCenso family this winter telling him their snow shovel isn’t getting much use.

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