PEARL — Wood is not an efficient building material — there had to be something better. That basic thought is what drove homebuilder Mike Rodgers to start research on an alternative building material to wood. Now eight years later, Rodgers is realizing his ultimate dream — his product, SecureCrete, is being used to build a house.
“Wood is simply not a very effective building material. And it’s too pretty to hide inside walls,” Rodgers said. “Relatively speaking, wood is not that strong. It’s susceptible to termites, black mold, fire. What I felt was needed was a masonry product that would be stronger and more durable than wood, but that would also take a nail.”
Then living in Texas (he moved to Mississippi last fall), Rodgers started working in his backyard using a small mixer, trying to come up with a solution. After much trial and error, he found his secret ingredient — pelletized Styrofoam.
SecureCrete contains sand, water and Portland cement just as conventional concrete does. But Rodgers’ SecureCrete replaces aggregate with pelletized Styrofoam, which leaves much of the tensile strength of the concrete-like product but allows for nailing.
Styrofoam also offered another advantage — price. “It’s a waste product,” Rodgers said. “I make my pelletized Styrofoam from discarded packaging material, plates and cups, etc. So, I’m recycling.” With a smile he added, “I’ve got a whole truck load of Styrofoam right now. You know how much I paid for it? Not a penny.”
But Styrofoam was also hard to work with. The main problem? Its buoyancy. Rodgers worked long hours trying to get the pelletized Styrofoam to mix evenly in the product. Too much water, and the pellets floated. Too much sand and cement, and the pellets sank.
“I had a lot of folks tell me that, after seeing my product, they went home and tried to do it themselves,” Rodgers said with a grin. “They admitted that they finally gave up.”
Rodgers didn’t give up, and by 1996 he was ready to have SecureCrete’s strength tested. The Civil Engineering Testing Laboratory at Texas Tech University first put SecureCrete through the hurricane test — a nine-pound missile hurled at 36.6 miles per hour. It passed. The next test, for tornado resistance, was much more strenuous. A 14.7-pound missile was shot out of a cannon at 124.1 miles per hour, 40% greater than the maximum specified criteria. According to Texas Tech, the missile shattered on impact. But the SecureCrete panel didn’t even crack. Rodgers now had a building material that was lab-certified to withstand winds in excess of 200 miles per hour, which meant it could withstand up to an F-3 tornado.
SecureCrete would eventually pass both ballistics and blast tests at Texas Tech, and Rodgers earned a patent for SecureCrete in early 1998. Rodgers would go on to use SecureCrete in a number of projects in Texas, mainly security walls and fences and storage facilities. And he built a mobile home out of SecureCrete. But his ultimate goal was to build a house with it.
That goal is currently being realized on Cherry Bark Drive in the Ross Barnett Reservoir area of Rankin County. There, Rodgers and two partners — Boo Baker and Tom Larkins — are building a 1,700-square-foot, tornado-resistant house completely out of SecureCrete. Rodgers ventured that the house, which was started in February and should be completed this September, is the first house in Mississippi, maybe the nation, to contain no wood or wood product and no nails in the frame.
Rodgers’ building process calls for steel studs instead of wood. Since SecureCrete readily takes a nail, sheet rock can be hung without searching for studs. And the steel studs are filled with SecureCrete before the product is poured in, thus giving the construction added strength. (The house also includes a tornado safe room.) No romex is used — all wiring is run through conduit just as in commercial construction. Since the ductwork is encased in SecureCrete, Rodgers said the future homeowners should see a savings on their energy bill of 50%, perhaps as much as 66%, over owners of conventionally-built houses.
And the home will be sold. The asking price is $155,966, making it comparable to a wood-built home in the reservoir area. Rodgers pointed to his recycled Styrofoam for SecureCrete’s affordability.
After approximately eight years of research — and sometimes frustration — Rodgers is understandably pleased to see SecureCrete finally used in home construction. But there is one final hurdle. Rodgers is currently mixing SecureCrete at the Cherry Bark Drive site by hand in the same small mixer he used to develop the product in Texas. The problem once again is the Styrofoam. Because it is so light, Styrofoam cannot be effectively measured by weight as can be done with water, sand, Portland cement and aggregate. Thus, Rodgers cannot produce SecureCrete in volume and have it delivered by truck. The Rankin County home will require approximately 27 yards of SecureCrete for its roof alone. Obviously for SecureCrete to have viable application, a solution has to be found.
That solution is in the works. Rodgers said a machine to properly measure the ingredients and produce SecureCrete in volume is on the drawing board. He couldn’t give a time frame, but he’s hoping to have it soon so he can start on his next dream house, this one on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In the meantime, Rodgers continues to work on the Cherry Bark Drive project and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.
“I believe that this is the closest a male can come to giving birth,” he quipped. “It becomes a part of you, that’s for sure.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.