Company looking to build storm-proof homes

Published 5:23 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

An Alabaster-based company is looking to use European engineering principles to help Alabama rebuild from the recent tornado outbreak while making the state’s houses more resistant to natural disasters of all kinds.

German native Stephan Schurmann recently opened PowerConcrete Building Technologies’ first U.S. factory off Galloway Circle in Alabaster, and said he is looking to bring a new construction method to Alabama.

“One of our main goals is to educate people and let them know there are other construction methods out there,” Schurmann said. “As long as developers don’t change their methods, the consumer won’t know there are other building methods out there.”

Schurmann said he is looking to replace traditional wood and sheetrock construction with his company’s PowerConcrete and PowerBoard systems.

Using the system, builders construct walls by placing two panels of PowerBoard dry wall upright with a hollow space in between them. The builders then fill the hollow space with concrete, creating walls able to withstand many extreme situations, Schurmann said.

Schurmann said the concrete-filled walls are bulletproof, waterproof, are able to bear loads of up to 6,000 pounds per square inch and are able to withstand winds of up to 250 miles per hour.

The PowerBoard containing the concrete filling is fire-resistant and does not produce toxic smoke, which Schurmann said helps give the walls an up-to-eight-hour fire rating.

Schurmann held a piece of PowerBoard in his bare hand and held a 1,200-degree torch flame to one side of the board. The board did not catch fire, and did not react violently when thrown in a pitcher of water immediately afterward.

He has presented the product to Gov. Robert Bentley, several builders’ groups and to a group of fire marshals at the Cahaba Valley Fire District.

Because the building system is modular, Schurmann said the materials can also be used to construct everything from office furniture to stairwells.

Mickey Tumlin, a vice president with the company, said he is hoping to see more homes constructed with the PowerConcrete system in the wake of the devastating April 27 tornado outbreak.

“When you are displaced from your home by a natural disaster, you are really displaced from your life,” Tumlin said. “We know we are going to make money by doing this, but it’s not just about making money. It’s about helping people feel safe again.”

Schurmann said the concrete-based construction system is something he modeled after building practices in Europe.

“In Germany, we build concrete homes that we are able to pass on for generations. Many homes there have been standing for 400 or 500 years,” Schurmann said. “If your house is a traditional stick-built house, it is not strong enough to withstand being hit by a tornado.

“When you build them out of concrete, you need a bulldozer to knock them down,” Schurmann added.