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August 2007
The APEX Big Block.

Recycled polystyrene construction sees growing popularity

In 2003, APEX Construction Systems, Inc. began to produce and market a special construction material called the APEX BLOCK in the United States. Now, the growing market for this innovative material has justified the opening of a second facility in Phoenix, Arizona.

The APEX BLOCK is a green building material, utilizing up to 89% recycled polystyrene, along with cement and a proprietary mix, that is cheap, easy to install and good for the environment. These Lego-like blocks speed construction up to 20% faster by taking advantage of a tongue-and-groove assembly method that does not require time consuming seam gluing. Instead, the blocks are joined with rebar and concrete which gives the resulting structure strength and stability; enough of both, in fact, that it is certified for multi-family use in all four seismic zones.

The material has been used in Europe for years due to its high energy efficiency. The APEX BLOCK has an R-value of 52, which is much higher than that of the typical home wall. Two by six walls with insulation usually achieve an R-value rating between 19 and 23, making APEX more than twice as energy-efficient as the average construction material. APEX claims that this can mean a 60-70% reduction in heating and cooling costs in the average home, depending on the rest of the structure.

There are numerous other benefits to homes or commercial buildings that are made with APEX. Energy savings aside, the company claims that APEX BLOCK is a more breathable material, resulting in better air circulation and a healthier environment. Also, the material does not burn, produces no smoke, and will not bend or melt like steel. Insects, rodents, mold and mildew cannot live in APEX BLOCK, so structures are free of pests. In addition the material is quiet; the company claims that it is up to 65% quieter than traditionally insulated wood or steel walls.

The APEX BLOCK weighs only 51 pounds. According to Robert Budihas, executive vice president of Corporate Development, this is because of large amounts of time and money spent on maximizing the percentage of polystyrene used in the manufacturing process. He claims that other similar-sized polystyrene and cement blocks can weigh up to 80 pounds since they use more cement, as opposed to Styrofoam. This attention to polystyrene content adds up to a major environmental benefit.

In their Oregon facility, the APEX manufacturing process consumes about two million pounds of polystyrene per year. Once the Phoenix facility begins manufacturing at full capacity, hopefully by the middle of this October, that number will double to nearly four million pounds. And Budihas revealed that APEX’s business plan calls for seven to nine new factories to be built in the next several years. If APEX’s goals are realized, producing these blocks could prevent 18 million pounds of Styrofoam from entering landfills every year.

In addition to reducing the amount of environmentally ­damaging polystyrene out of landfills, APEX BLOCK reduces the number of trees consumed in home construction. Construction with APEX can reduce a project’s lumber needs by up to 65%. With the average lumber built home consuming approximately 16,000 board feet of lumber, a reduction of that magnitude saves a significant number of trees and reduces the environmental impact of an APEX house.

Budihas believes that growing interest in the United States Green Building Council’s LEED certification has been a significant factor in APEX’s rising popularity. Contractors who use APEX in their projects will gain LEED credit for the material’s recycled content, energy efficiency, and sound damping qualities. In addition, APEX BLOCK is competitively priced, meaning that energy savings are not necessarily accompanied by a higher initial investment in the building. Cost-wise, APEX is almost the same price as CMU construction, and is usually cheaper than poured concrete. It is more expensive than typical 2x6 residential wall construction, but to match APEX’s efficiency, it would have to be a double wall, increasing the cost to build.

Today, Budihas sees an almost 50/50 split in the green building materials market. About half of all applications are residential, while the remaining half is commercial or government projects. APEX BLOCK is typically used in buildings with up to six stories, so don’t expect to see Styrofoam skyscrapers anytime soon. Local governments, however, are beginning to see just how useful green materials like APEX BLOCK are for their smaller buildings. In Phoenix, for example, all new fire stations are being built with recycled polystyrene-cement blocks. The energy savings alone frees up large amounts of taxpayer dollars for use in other projects.

Products such as the APEX BLOCK are potential solutions to the dilemma of supplying energy to a growing population. Budihas believes that the APEX BLOCK is today’s practical answer to reducing energy consumption in the United States. He says, “We aren’t going to solve today’s energy problems with wind or solar power…we first need to reduce the energy consumed in the home.” And growing companies like APEX stand poised to do just that by helping the “green” market expand and become the gold standard for home and commercial construction.