New Masonry Block Systems


May 2009


Same classic look in less time offers opportunities for masonry contractors

Using new masonry products and techniques can make mason contractors understandably apprehensive, especially with their reputations on the line. But new block systems can help contractors gain new business, increase profits and reduce labor costs.

John Kemp, senior VP of marketing for Atlanta-based Oldcastle Architectural Inc., says his company’s new Suretouch “has every benefit going for it.” The system starts with foam insulating panels that are screwed to the building structure with stainless steel screws and anchors. Bricks or blocks then are set into the pre-formed panels and held in place by the anchors. Once the masonry is set in place, the mason contractor fills in the mortar and finishes the joints. Kemp says installation is simple.

“People who see it are amazed,” he says. “I had a mason come up to me and say, ‘You’re going to put me out of business because anybody can do this.’ I said to him, ‘No, I’m going to increase your business. I’m going to get you into markets you couldn’t get into.’”

Kemp says the price of masonry turns away some potential clients, who end up using a less expensive material. Systems like Suretouch have a lower price point than traditional bricks and blocks, opening the door to new business.

Quick installation block
Companies that offer block systems say they can save mason contractors time and money by making installation fast and easy. Kemp says the Suretouch system, currently available in Canada and scheduled for release in the United States this summer, can be installed twice as fast as other masonry walls.

“It has the traditional look of hand-crafted masonry, like real stone, in roughly half the time it would take to put up a stone wall,” he says.

Azar Mortarless Block Inc., in Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada, has a dry-stack block system that interlocks horizontally and vertically. Once mason contractors set the first course, the rest of the block simply stack and lock together.

“The key to success is significant savings in time and labor,” says Glen Ross, director of marketing and sales for Azar. “You can save money with construction. You only need one or two masons and the rest can be unskilled labor. The walls go up quickly, with less skilled labor.”

The system consists of three blocks: a stretcher, a full corner, and a half corner. Once the wall is constructed, the block cores are filled.

“It’s time for masons, especially with a downturn in the economy, to embrace mortarless and save time and money,” he says.

Lindsay Barto, district sales manager for Angelus Block Co. Inc. in Fontana, Calif., says his company offers a freestanding masonry wall and retaining wall system, called Proto II Wall System, which uses post tension construction. The wall and footing are compressed together, so they act as a single unit, Barto says.

“The cost savings depend on the wind load of the wall, but there are substantial savings with this system,” he says.

High-strength tension rods are embedded directly into the footing. A plate is put over the top of the vertical rods, and the top course of the wall has a bond beam to keep the cap tight, Barto says.
“You pour a concrete foundation, then install the wall over the foundation,” Barto says. “It’s very fast and very clean to put up. You don’t have to deal with grouting the wall. It’s 25 percent to 30 percent faster to install than a conventional wall.”

Reusing materials for “green” block
Block companies are working to increase the amount of recycled materials used in their products. The impetus for producing “green” block is twofold: companies are committed to producing environmentally friendly block, and their customers want products that qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits.

“We’re going more ‘green’ by using more recycled product in our manufacturing process,” Barto says. “We’re utilizing a lot more recycled products. It’s something we’re experimenting with now.”
Barto says his company is testing various recycled products for use in its concrete paver and block product lines.

“Green is the wave right now. It opens up a lot of doors for us. Customers want to meet the LEED requirements and need a percentage of recycled materials. This is where the industry is going,” he explains. “We’re striving for a higher percentage of recycled material in our products.”

Angelus Block currently offers concrete masonry unit block with post-industrial recycled content, such as using crushed paver products to replace aggregates.

Verastone block from Trenwyth Industries in Emigsville, Pa., also uses post-industrial recycled content, including slag, a steel-making byproduct. Verastone can be used in finished load-bearing or non-bearing walls.

“We incorporate 38 percent recycled material [in Verastone],” says John Cicciarelli, national sales manager for Oldcastle who works with the Trenwyth brand. “Offering sustainable building products is something we’ve been doing for years.”

The insulating panels in Oldcastle’s Suretouch system contain recycled foam and have an R-13 insulation value, Kemp says. “That helps lower your heating and cooling costs.”

Money-saving block for any application
New block systems are available for any application. Azar’s Ross says his company’s block can be used anywhere traditional block is used, including a firewall.

“A firewall is an excellent way to use the block. You can put it up quickly and core fill it. In four hours, you have a rated fire wall,” Ross says. “Because of the way the blocks interlock both horizontally and vertically, they can hold each other together so you don’t have to worry about [the wall] falling.”

While the block is designed to be water repellent, mason contractors need to treat the wall the same way they would treat a traditional block wall to make it water proof, Ross says. The blocks are available in a range of colors and faces, including split-face.

Trenwth’s Verastone concrete blocks are colored, pre-finished and have a factory-applied clear satin gloss acrylic to accentuate the aggregate colors and resist moisture. The blocks are attractive, durable and provide a cost savings by requiring little maintenance, Cicciarelli says.

“You don’t need to repaint or reseal it. It comes to the jobsite ready to go. It’s a savings in maintenance,” he says. “The building manager doesn’t have to repaint every three or four years.”
Kemp says that architectural block, which looks nice and doesn’t require regular upkeep, makes sense for some building applications.

“If people are designing with masonry, this definitely is attractive,” he says. “It’s better than going with grey block and painting it.”

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