"Green" Building Block Maker Sees Big Growth

An Oregon BEST Success Story

The economic downturn served up a challenge for Oregon BEST Company ShelterWorks, Ltd., the manufacturer of insulated building blocks made from pulverized wooden pallets coated with cement that offer advantages over traditional construction materials.

During the recession, the company doubled down on its marketing efforts and innovated an almost-indestructible raised garden bed system, called Durable GreenBed, made from the same cement-coated wood chips.

"Our relentless marketing efforts, the garden beds, and a growing awareness across society about the value of green, nontoxic construction all helped get us through the economic slump," says Thomas Van Denend, one of the founders and CEO of ShelterWorks.

The economy is now in recovery, construction starts are up, and Van Denend's company is seeing 20-percent-plus annual growth rates. ShelterWorks has grown from two founders to almost 10 employees, and if the growth continues, the company will outgrow their current building, which is part of a former wood products manufacturing plant in Philomath, Oregon.

"If we keep growing at this rate, we'll need to expand here, or look elsewhere," says Van Denend. "The economy is the number one driver of our growth, but people are also more and more aware of green construction, and that's helping our business."

The hollow, insulated, interlocking blocks, called Faswall, are stacked, threaded with rebar, and filled with concrete.
Used in both residential and commercial applications, the blocks were recently used to construct a Buddhist monastery in eastern Washington (see video, below), a brewery on the Oregon coast, a school in California, a warehouse near Portland, a church in Santa Fe, and at many other locations across the country.

"We're seeing significant growth in Texas, New Mexico, as well as here in the Northwest," says Van Denend. "We routinely get messages from the customers who are very happy with their buildings and the performance of our product."

The Faswall blocks, a type of ICFs (Insulated Concrete Forms), have a number of advantages over other types of construction:

  • Vapor permeable, they eliminate moisture buildup and mold inside walls.
  • The recycled materials (wooden pallets and recycled steel mill slag, a waste product from steel manufacturing that's incorporated into the cement coating mixture) are nontoxic and benign.
  • Although the interlocking blocks are lightweight and "dry-stacked" without mortar, they offer excellent thermal mass capacity, so buildings made of Faswall retain heat in winter and stay cooler in the summer.
  • The blocks also contain no polystyrene, so there is no out-gassing, VOCs, or formaldehyde—a feature not found in many ICFs, or in many traditional building materials.

With help from Oregon BEST, ShelterWorks worked with the infraStructure Testing and Applied Research (iSTAR) Lab, an Oregon BEST lab located at Portland State University, to test the blocks for seismic integrity.

As the economy continues to rebound, and more people look to green construction materials, ShelterWorks is well positioned for continued growth.