Innovative Ideas in Insulation

Amvic Building System

As heating fuel and electricity costs increase and the weather grows ever more extreme, the construction industry must provide more and better ways for consumers to save on heating and cooling costs…

In Toronto, Amvic Building System is creating innovative technologies for homebuilding and building renovation. While celebrating twenty years of progress and steady growth, the company is ready to continue its mission to help its customers lower their energy costs and save the environment.

Amvic Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Victor Amend, possesses not only strong business acumen but a Ph.D. in building science, making him able to perform the majority of the company’s research in-house. Its wide variety of products and strong customer focus are setting benchmarks in building efficiently and environmentally responsibly. He estimates homeowners can save up to fifty percent of their home heating bills by switching to this technology, saving money and lowering heating energy use during winter months.

Like many engineers, Amend sees himself as a problem solver. When he was looking to move to the Toronto area, he asked a real estate agent to find him a house with well-insulated concrete. On being told no such house existed, he realized the depth of this market gap and decided to fill it himself.

“I thought maybe it was a good opportunity to develop insulated concrete forms and start making them,” he recalls. His determination deepened when he spoke with local contractors, learning that many were frustrated over the fragility of existing ICFs and how many would break during installation. “I saw some opportunities to improve products which existed on the market, so I designed our first generation of ICF [insulated concrete form] blocks.”

From this start, Amvic has experienced rapid growth in the home insulation market. In 1999, two years after its incorporation, the fledgling company built its first manufacturing plant in Toronto, expanding to a larger facility in 2004. The next year, it branched out to begin working with stucco manufacturers. “In a short time, we basically had seventy percent of Ontario EFIS marketplace because of the quality of our product and our level of service,” Amend says.

The company’s growth more recently led to a new 110,000-square-foot facility in Calgary in 2013, and construction began on a second Toronto area manufacturing plant last year.

Today, Amvic is producing its third generation of ICFs for the construction and renovation market. The company works with two licensed manufacturing plants in Missouri and Utah, to serve American markets. In 2017, it acquired Midland, Ontario-based Forte EPS Solutions.

Amend believes the company’s innovation is its greatest strength. “Amvic is a very innovative company, and we produce products which are better quality.”

The company has a simple philosophy. “Every time we design a new product, we think about the end-user, and we think how we can save time and labour and money for the builder or contractor.” As an example, the company leadership noticed how client contractors were using its SilveRBoard panels for radiant floor heating and attaching the pipes to the boards with staples or tying them to rebar, which was very time consuming. Amvic designed its Ampex insulation panels in response, providing a custom solution to this problem.

With this client-focused business model, the company designs and manufactures quality products which can be installed by professional contractors or homeowners doing their own renovation.

Amvic supplies its building panels nationwide in both Canada and the United States, through national chains such as McMunn Yates, Federated COOP, Kent, Home Hardware, Lowe’s, Home Depot, 84 Lumber, Do it Best, and Builders First. “We supply both the residential market and the commercial market,” Amend confirms.

Its flagship insulated concrete forms use an innovative five-in-one concrete forming system, providing insulation, structure, an air/vapour barrier, and a finish attachment. The environmentally friendly, highly durable, and cost-effective panels are a step forward in green construction. Recycled polypropylene webs provide attachment for drywall or siding, rebar holders eliminate tying, and unique interlock helps rapid and easy installation. Available in flat or corner blocks of varying thickness, ICF gives contractors and homeowners a new product for home construction.

The technology behind the EPS panels is hardly new, dating back to the 1950s when it was first installed on the roof of the German factory where it was created. The factory’s engineers test the panels’ durability and efficacy every year. “So now, every year, they go, and they open this roof, and they test the product, and they haven’t changed it so far.” The panels’ lifespan is still not effectively calculated over seventy years, so the potential for this technology cannot be overstated.

In addition to insulation, Amvic makes its patented Ampex floor heating panels, using tightly melded high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) film as both a vapour barrier and structural enhancer. The panels employ a unique ‘mushroom’ design to hold PEX tubing in place. Unlike other heating panels, highly versatile Ampex ensures tubing is held tightly in place and has concrete supports for a wider contact area and reduced heating time. Panels can be installed in homes as well as warehouses and distribution centres, automobile establishments such as dealerships and car washes, and even snow and ice melt applications for patios, driveways, and walkways.

Another of the company’s innovative products is SilveRBoard graphite rigid foam insulation. These panels, first produced in 2007, combine a foam EPS core with graphite particles to improve thermal performance compared to other wall panels. The panels are also laminated on both sides with a reflective film, increasing both board strength and flexibility, and micro-perforations in the surface allow for high water vapour permeation, decreasing the possibility of trapped moisture. SilveRBoard panels have Amvic’s trademark durability and cost-effectiveness, meaning that contractors and homeowners alike can renovate according to updated building codes with a long-lasting, highly-efficient product.

New building codes have driven the company to develop basement insulation, though he cautions that the product is not yet available for purchase. “Building codes have changed and now require much more insulation for basement walls, which is challenging for some builders,” he explains. “We are trying to work with them and develop something attractive which could save labour, time, and costs for the builder.” Additionally, it is now developing insulation panels for wall siding.

Amend, an immigrant himself, notes that other immigrants make up a large part of Amvic’s production labour force. He remarks that many of these immigrants have worked here for the majority of the company’s history, enjoying career opportunities for newcomers to Canada. “They also see innovation, which we have, and that probably brings excitement to them.”

While it may provide job opportunities, the growing company still faces challenges. Rising production and shipping costs are cutting into revenue. To compensate, the company is embracing automation in its fabrication process. “We are trying to be more efficient and use less energy and fewer people to make our product.” He stresses that automation is merely increasing Amvic’s efficiency and not changing the company’s business model, but it remains to be seen how automation will change the business landscape as technology advances.

As Amvic looks to the future, it foresees growth in new markets. Agricultural companies are now installing the company’s products, particularly its Ampex radiant floor heating panels, in buildings such as chicken barns. Amend says this development, while a surprise, generates new opportunities. “It is exciting for us to open new markets and see how much energy we can save for farmers.”

He is also excited by the installation of Amvic’s products in new housing developments, both in Canada and the United States. “It’s very nice to drive through the city and see our product used on subdivisions as insulation board to help homeowners save money,” Amend describes of Toronto.

Still, he and Amvic remain focused on the mission to develop insulation products that save its customers’ money. As the company embarks on its next twenty years, he understands that it takes a village to build a business: “We are very thankful to our customers and employees, who allow us to build and grow our company.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 17, 2019, 12:11 AM EST