With Solite® in the Mix, the Sky’s the Limit

Northeast Solite Corporation

Northeast Solite’s timeline of success leads the way from gray to green to blue.

What do sustainable clean water filtration systems have in common with rooftop gardens, the United States Capitol, the Freedom Tower and concrete in many other American iconic landmarks? Solite® – an incredible manufactured aggregate that not only makes concrete better and lighter (gray) and helps to build sustainable urban environments by creating rooftop gardens (green), but is also securing the future of accessible clean water (blue).
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Northeast Solite Corporation’s top-quality, affordable aggregate is manufactured from local sedimentary rock at its plant in upstate New York. This privately held corporation specializes in turning Esopus Shale into Solite® in an awe-inspiring process that runs at an intense 2100˚F in large rotary kilns causing the shale to “bloat” and form into a clinker before it is sieved and graded. The resulting ceramic-like material improves concrete’s fire rating. It protects against micro-cracking, making concrete more durable from the inside out by preventing water damage to internal reinforcing steel in structures.

Moreover, this gold standard lightweight aggregate not only helped build most of post-1960s New York City, but it is now making an increasing appearance in sustainable horticultural applications such as sophisticated soil blends and water drainage systems.

“For us, sustainability isn’t simply a new buzzword. We’ve been focused on it since the beginning,” says Dianne Walsh, Senior Marketing & Green Sales Director. Distributing throughout the northeast United States from Washington DC through Virginia and as far afield as Canada, Northeast Solite Corporation is the trusted partner of countless Americans when it comes to choosing a lightweight aggregate to suit specific applications. In addition, its customers are guaranteed impeccable service and technical support. This goes a long way toward explaining the company’s outstanding relationships. Some of its clientele have been partnered with the company for over 50 years – no mean feat in a unique niche industry such as this one.

Amongst its myriad uses, Solite® is also used in soil stabilization, rooftop gardens, water filtration systems and manufactured wetlands. The material offers great drainage for stormwater run-off with the added benefit of reducing pollutants – thereby protecting the quality of clean surface water. The aggregate also contributes to filtering water of harmful bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, grease, and potentially harmful organic compounds.

“Our country’s next crisis will be water. Northeast Solite Corporation is here to help alleviate that problem in a simple and cost effective manner,” says Max Kalafat, Senior Vice President. Of course, since lightweight aggregate is a manufactured product, different brands vary in character – we are discovering that when it comes to water filtration, Solite® shines.

Chemically inert, Solite® doesn’t just aerate soil, it also absorbs as well as desorbs water, which – unlike regular stone – allows it to hold excess water, slowly releasing it into the soil as water evaporates or is used by plants. This makes for much better-regulated water levels in soil and ultimately, happier and healthier plant life. Solite® regulates building temperatures when used in rooftop gardens and in green roofs. It also limits the amount of stormwater that runs into sewers during heavy showers. By layering Solite® in both the structured soil and drainage layer, cities like New York, Philadelphia and numerous others are managing their stormwater more effectively than ever before.

“Green roofs are also proven to extend roof longevity to approximately 100 years, as well as regulate building temperature so successfully that occupants have noted energy savings of up to 50 percent. It can also reduce noise pollution up to 40 percent,” says Dianne. Not only are these green roofs beneficial to the environment in terms of water savings, plant and bird life, but looking down on them from neighboring high-rises has an unexpected soothing effect on surrounding occupants. “It is unbelievable how beautiful these rooftop gardens are when looking down at them from above. They make your neighbors very happy. These gardens add incredible value to buildings and greater business areas,” says Dianne. Of course, these natural spaces also provide a place where communities of co-workers and occupants can gather and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of spending time in nature.

A green roof or a rooftop garden
For those keen to install one of these on their building, a structural engineer is the first port of call. Once the weight-bearing capacity of the building has been determined, modifications are made where and if needed. When a roof’s load-bearing capacity has been determined, one of two types of gardens is installed.

Green roofs
For roofs that can only take lighter loads, an “extensive” garden or green roof offers two to six inches of growing medium on which only drought-resistant plants are used. These roofs are typically sealed off as they cannot support any additional weight brought about by regular pedestrian traffic.

Rooftop gardens
The second type, an “intensive” or rooftop garden, is installed on stronger roofs and consists of more than six inches of layered growing medium. “These gardens can typically accommodate trees and shrubs, seedlings and ground covers and a whole host of recreational spaces like patio cafés, water features, paved walkways, seating and activity areas and much more,” says Dianne. “Solite® plays an integral role in the substrates that make these gardens possible as, without the lightweight aggregate, growing mediums would become water-logged. This would drown plants and the weight would be detrimental to buildings’ structures.”

When it comes to thinking green, Northeast Solite Corporation works hard to keep its customers ahead of the trends. Its latest invention, GREENLITE™, is also a lightweight aggregate and is used in standard building blocks (CMUs). It is manufactured from pre-consumer recycled material and may provide certification points endorsed by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

As versatile and popular as the product is in today’s green market, Solite® started out and is still popular as an addition to concrete products of all types. In fact, Northeast Solite Corporation joined America’s post-WWII construction boom as Southern Lightweight Aggregate Corporation in 1947. Peace had at last returned and Americans were rebuilding their land of promise – and Northeast Solite Corporation was there to help lead the way. The company was formed when it seized upon an expired patent for shale expansion using the rotary kiln method. Tired of the challenges that “cinders” from the locomotive industry presented, block manufacturers of post-war America were ready to embrace this revolutionary new product. The company’s first rail cars of aggregates left for Charleston, SC and Charleston, WV on the same day – only seven months after the company first opened for business.

Today, team Solite® works together to uphold and promote the company’s reputation for excellence. Northeast Solite Corporation has always believed in healthy, ethical competition and is always ready to support its customers in finding new solutions for their emerging challenges and ideas. As such, each customer has access to a dedicated sales person who takes care of all their needs, provides service support and acts as a point of connection for queries and requests.

“We pride ourselves on maintaining the integrity and concern for others that our founders established in the company from the outset,” says Dianne. Its prized relationships have meant great development and expansion opportunities in terms of its capabilities and the services it offers. One such example is of a wonderfully innovative project that was initiated in 1982 when the company was approached by the landscaping team in charge of redoing planters at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC. They needed a lightweight soil with reduced compaction and high water retention, permeability, and aeration. The team set out to solve the challenge with Solite® and came up with a brand new product that was layered over the planter foundations made of Solite® Geofill – an ingenious solution that is still in use today.

And the company’s nature-friendly innovation goes far beyond gardens. Northeast Solite Corporation’s constructed wetlands contribute to sustainable water purification in an effort to diminish the possibility of our oceans and rivers becoming toxic. To achieve this, Solite® is used in a revolutionary filtration process made possible by its irregular surface. Thanks to an advanced micro-nutrient exchange, the aggregate purifies wastewater while maintaining a healthy ecosphere of good bacteria which populates its irregular surfaces. The bacteria digest undesirable waste matter and clean the water in the process.

The company takes its environmental responsibility seriously and adheres closely to the strictest standards set out by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies. A number of emissions-capturing systems mitigate air pollution from the fuel burning in its rotary kilns and all dust from the firing process is captured. “We work according to EPA rules and have evolved along with many changes over the years. Northeast Solite Corporation has invested millions of dollars to maintain and upgrade our facilities according to these regulations,” says Max.

The company’s road ahead is green and blue and paved for success, and there are a number of exciting new initiatives ahead that promise to enhance its product offering even further. While it has enjoyed widespread growth in the booming construction industry over the years, Northeast Solite Corporation is currently focused on expanding its reach in the water filtration, green roof, and rooftop garden markets. As Solite® lightweight aggregate offers numerous unique benefits in these fields, the sky literally is the limit. In traditional construction, its high durability and fire safety, plus the great acoustics it lends to concrete spaces, are leading the way to reshape the construction industry as we know it – not to mention its filtration and garden applications.

After 71 years of loyal service to its community of local regional customers and beyond, its formidable staff is set to take Northeast Solite® Corporation into a sustainable, green and blue future.

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 19, 2019, 8:02 AM EDT