Pace of Innovation

First Polished Precast Concrete Building.
Click here for "Greenwashing does not pay,"

Ten years ago, polished concrete became a practical finish for concrete with the development of chemical densifiers and affordable polishing machines. It is now an is increasingly common for floors.

But what about polished concrete walls?

Five years ago, I predicted the polishing of precast and tilt-up concrete. Yet it has taken until now to see it in practice. A project at Ohio State University, designed by Ross Barney Architects, is being constructed of polished precast panels that reflect light from dichromic glass fins.

New technologies rise and fall on an annual cycle in some industries. But construction product innovations gain market acceptance at a slower pace. Now that one early adopter has taken the step, others will follow; architects watch what their peers do, and are trained to copy (i.e., take inspiration from) the work of others. But will any precasters or manufacturer of concrete densifiers take the lead in promoting the concept?

And for the next five years? Here are some predictions:
  • Polished concrete floors are often stained for color and given ornamental treatment. The Ohio state university columbus ohiosame can be done with polished precast and tilt-up walls.
  • Machinery to polish precast panels in-line during production, rather than as an after process.
  • Precast and tilt-up concrete are polished while panels are horizontal; is it practical to create a polishing machine that creeps up and down the side of cast-in-place walls? (I have a sketch of such a machine if any equipment manufacturer is interested.)
  • There are a few concrete masonry unit manufacturers that already make burnished CMU. I would love to see units with a high polish. They could be set in a wall so that each was at a slightly different angle, creating a wall that would sparkle in sunlight.
For more information about concrete densifiers, see: and

Underestimating our Future

Michael Chusid will be a keynote speaker at the CSI West Region Conference to be held in Spring 2012. His presentation will be during a Vendor Appreciation Luncheon. With both design professionals and sales reps in attendance, any guess who picks up the bar bill?

Here is the write-up on announcing the event:

Underestimating our Future

It's been said, "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten." (Bill Gates) With that in mind, Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, CCS, ACI, CWA, SCIP, EIEIO*, fearlessly prognosticates a decade into the future to help us reimagine the next few years. He interprets auguries about building design and construction, material science and product trends, and whether sales reps and specifiers will, at last, find true love and commitment with each other.

Michael is author or ghost writer of over two hundred published articles about architecture, building products and marketing, and publisher of As president of Chusid Associates (, the leading marketing and technical consultant to the building product industry, he has seen untold numbers of innovations crash and burn, yet is adamant that his predictions will be just as wrong as those of anyone else. 
While the tone is lighthearted, the topic is crucial for construction industry professionals in a changing market.

* For those uninitiated, the author is parodying the CSI practice of making liberal use of professional credentials following names. EIEIO is a group for individuals with more than five sets of initials after their name.

An Earthshaking Opportunity

I felt the earth move last week, even though I was hundreds of miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. It was a reminder of the near certainty that there will be a major, devastating earthquake in the US in the near future.

We all know that individuals, businesses, and institutions must plan for earthquakes and other disasters, building product manufacturers can also plan ahead.
As the map shows, earthquake (and tsunami) opportunities are not just for the West Coast market. Indeed, faults in the Midwest and near large population centers of the East Coast are more vulnerable to loss of property and life.

Advances in building standards usually occur in response to natural disasters. As scientists, underwriters, and policymakers study the lessons learned from quakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, and Japan, more stringent building codes are likely to emerge.

But there is no need for you to wait until then. Now is the time to take a fresh look at your product offering to determine if your products can help create safer buildings. Give me a call if you want to discuss your opportunities; your initial call is always free. I look forward to hearing from you.

Designers Become Competitors

Global architectural design firm HOK has launched a new business: HOK Product Design, LLC. Through this venture, HOK designers from across the firm will design products for use in and around the firm's core business of architecture and interior design. HOK Product Design will license its designs to manufacturers for fabrication and sale.

Many building product innovations have been developed by architectural practitioners, and some architects have even gone on to form successful building product companies. However a large, well organized program of innovation like HOK's changes the game, transforming the design firm into a veritable business incubator.

This may change the traditional relationship between building product manufacturers and designers. In the past, manufacturers with innovative ideas often sought feedback about concepts or prototypes from architects. Now, there will have to be more concern about whether the designer is actually a potential competitor that might use your ideas not for a building but for a product launch.

A press release from the organization states:
"Product design is a new outlet for our unique brand of design thinking that aims at creating value for HOK by creatively responding to the needs of a new range of customers, in addition to those of our current clients," explains Riccardo Mascia, AIA, a member of HOK’s executive committee. "We also want to offer our people new opportunities for creative expression and professional development."

HOK Product Design, LLC, which is structured as a standalone business within HOK, is led by Susan Grossinger, former director of interiors for HOK Los Angeles. The business will support the development of products ranging from architectural and interior design to consumer, health care, and sustainable offerings. "Product design is a natural extension of what we already do in terms of developing innovative solutions to our clients' challenges. Our goal is to start from square one in terms of creating new concepts, as opposed to simply modifying existing products that are already on the market,” says Grossinger. “We also operate as an extension of HOK’s long-term leadership in sustainability, and are committed to having all our products enhance environmental quality.”

The new company already has secured business arrangements with manufacturing partners for 12 products designed by HOK people.
  • Designed by HOK’s planning and architecture designers Matt Snelling and Paul Wilhelms, the FRENO Rain Garden is a kit-of-parts, urban rain garden for stormwater filtration and groundwater recharge. This patent pending modular system saves clients more than 30 percent over traditional construction in both budget and time and is licensed to Midwest Products Group.
  • HOK Chicago interior designers Tom Polucci and Natalie Banaszak designed Mannington's rubber and carpet tile Spectrum Collection.
  • HOK Houston interior designer Paul Smead designed an executive lounge seating group as part of the Cumberland Furniture Designer's Speak program.
  • The Shadowline Wall Coping designed by Los Angeles architect Chris Anderson is licensed to WP Hickman and was simply a response to the lack of commercially available standard options.
  • Other products under development target the health care, lighting, urban planning, furniture, finishes, fire and life safety, and sustainable sectors.
"HOK's global experience in strategic planning, workplace, health care, science and technology, and other specialties gives our designers the creative vision required to identify gaps between what's available in the market and products that can provide value to our clients while improving the experience, health and productivity of end users," says Grossinger. "We want to fill these gaps with our innovative product ideas."

Engineering Design and Its Relationship to Product Liability

Guest post from Mark Pasamaneck, PE 
In this article, I will explore the relationship between the engineeringdesign process and the failure of a plumbing component as it
relates to product liability.
     In the litigious society in which we live, everyone connected to
the life-cycle of a plumbing component should be concerned with
its long-term suitability as it exists in any plumbing system. As an
engineer or designer of a plumbing component, you should have
a desire to go beyond just limiting liability. As described in the
codes and most engineering ethics documents, a designer must be
concerned with protecting the people and property exposed to his
design from seen or unseen damage and hazards.

While the political, social, and legal reasons are beyond the
scope of this article, the decade of the 1970s was largely considered
the decade of safety awareness. While a few federal
acts were aimed at safety in the 1950s, the majority of the
safety acts in use today were developed in the late 1960s and
first published in the 1970s, including the Consumer Product
Safety Act of 1972. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975
gave broad powers to the Federal Trade Commission regarding
product warranties.
     Of particular interest to the plumbing community is that
the majority of the plumbing components in use today were
conceived of and designed well before the 1970s. Many manufacturers
have never evaluated their components or designs in
light of the safety acts and standards implemented in the 1970s
and after. While the building codes commonly grandfather in
outdated technologies, there is no such provision for an old
product design that was produced in the modern era. It is also
obvious that courts have held that the “product” for which a
designer or producer is responsible includes such items as the
warranty, instructions, packaging, labels, and warnings (note:
not an all-inclusive list).

While the topic of engineering design in general would take many
articles, this discussion on product liability requires an overview of
the engineering design process. The design process commonly is
called iterative since it is very rare that an idea can go through the
steps of concept to finished product without changes. The design
process outlined below is considered the standard in all types of
industry. While many more steps may be encountered in a complex
part or system, the following serves to define the general steps
useful in the design iteration. This process also incorporates the
cradle-to-grave responsibility of the designer and manufacturer.

1. Define the function of the product within a system or as a
stand alone.
• If the product is itself a system, define each subsystem and
initiate an independent design iteration until each component
is uniquely defined.
• If the product is within a system, define system parameters
and environments in which the product will operate.
2. Identify prior designs that may assist or preclude (patents)
the design process.
3. Identify all laws, codes, or standards that apply to
the product or system.
4. Brainstorm possible design concepts.
5. Remove concepts that are not viable due to manufacturability,
regulations, cost, hazards, complexity, integration,
functionality, or aesthetics.
6. Choose a design concept.
7. Create the design using accepted design practices applicable
to the field of interest. These will necessarily include
factors of safety, dynamic loads, static loads, wear, compatibility,
environment of use, durability, cost issues, and
materials (suitability, durability, strength, degradation,
fabrication, identification of failure modes, and predictable
failure locations).
8. Evaluate functionality: geometry, motion, size, complexity,
and ergonomics.
9. Evaluate safety: operational, human, environmental, and
failure analysis.
10. Evaluate energy: requirements, created, kinematic, thermodynamic,
and chemical.
11. Evaluate quality: marketability, longevity, aesthetics, and
12. Evaluate manufacturability: available processes and new
13. Evaluate environmental aspects: materials, fluids,
wastes, interactions, phase changes, flammability,
and toxicology.
14. Iterate the design. (Redo steps 7 through 13 based on
the analysis.)
15. Lay out the design.
16. Obtain manufacturing criteria.
17. Create a prototype and test (optional).
18. Create the product.
19. Test the product.
20. Reiterate through the entire design process based on
testing and analysis.
21. Produce the product. Some changes may occur, but they
should not impact the actual design.
22. Perform quality control, which is used to evaluate the
compliance of the produced product with the design.
23. Deliver the product. Packaging, labeling, instructions,
and warnings are included in this step, but they also
must be considered throughout the process.
24. Consumers use the product. The producer must consider
the environment of intended use as well as anticipated or
probable misuse of the product. These must be addressed
appropriately throughout the design process.
25. Dispose of product. The end of use must be considered
by the designers. Fail-safe designs should be incorporated,
and any hazards associated with disposal and/or failure
must be addressed appropriately as well.

Steps 7, 8, 9, and 19 are where a defect or hazard (such as that
shown in Figure 1) should be detected in most cases. When
detected, the question must be answered as to whether the
defect or hazard was foreseeable or unreasonably dangerous.
If it was, the commonly held approach in the engineering community
to solve the problem is known as the safety hierarchy.
This process is based on sound engineering principles coupled
with economic considerations and human factors. The first
reasonable item in the hierarchy must be utilized, and skipping
steps is not appropriate.
The steps are as follows:
1. Design it out.
2. Guard it out.
3. Train it out.
4. Warn it out.
5. Don’t make it.
    The hierarchy is intended to evaluate if the problem can be
corrected by engineering measures. However, those measures
also can be evaluated in and of themselves. For example, were the
warnings understandable, sufficiently broad, or used as a substitute
for design or guarding?
    The design process and the safety hierarchy outlined above
almost always include other sub-processes and evaluation techniques.
Severity indices, fault trees, failure mode and effect analysis
(FMEA), root cause analysis, and design checklists all are tools
that if sufficiently designed and used within the design process
will aid the designer in his goal to make a safer product.

When product liability theories are evaluated, three general areas
are considered.
1. Design defect:
• Was the product designed to do the job based on the reasonable
expectation of a consumer, without undue risk?
• Was it designed for the environment of intended use?
• Was the design properly engineered and tested?
2. Manufacturing defect: Despite a sufficient design, was there a
flaw in the:
• Processing?
• Assembly?
• Raw materials?
3. Warning defect: Did the manufacturer fail to properly advise
• Assembly?
• Use and maintenance?
• Hazards?

Hopefully, if you have made it this far, you now are asking yourself
how you can improve your products to both reduce liability and
improve safety. Much of the general information on design is
contained herein, but a more in-depth understanding obviously
would be beneficial for the designer.
    Let’s look at design defects first. It is important to document
what sources of information were used or considered in the design
process of a component. The specific issues for the plumbing component
designer that account for a large number of design-related
defects are related to stress concentrations and material selection.
ASPE publishes the Plumbing Engineering Design Handbook,
and Volume 4 covers plumbing components and equipment. I
have utilized this reference for years to illustrate what a designer
“should” have included in a design. While a lot of good information
is available online, if you use it in a design, be sure to properly
record and document the source. Materials, machinery, and
design handbooks are prevalent and should be sourced for relevant
design information. One of the various texts on design and
product liability (see Figure 2) also should be included. One of the
best for a general understanding is Managing Engineering Design
by Hales and Gooch.
    Manufacturing defects come in two main areas: assembly
and cast/mold defects. This is an area that the designer typically
cannot control, but can influence. Some issues of quality control
and tolerances have to be determined within the design, and
others will be left to the assembly workers, a quality control (QC)
department, or line design. When it comes to casting and mold
defects, those processes should be considered and properly speci-
fied in the design. Then a QC program to ensure compliance must
be implemented (see Figure 3).
    The third area is related to warnings. Step 3 of the safety hierarchy
would be evaluated in this step as instructions for installation
and maintenance (training). It is the responsibility of the
design engineer and producing company to ensure that a product
brought to market is reasonably safe and suitable for the environment
of its intended use. A product subject to degradation,
corrosion, catastrophic failure, or other risk of damage to people
or property should adequately warn of the risk or danger if there
was no other reasonable way to eliminate the risk or failure mode.
The product instructions might address, but not be limited to,
warnings, providing maintenance instructions, and warning of the
consequences of failing to heed the instructions.
    The design of warnings should follow American National Standards
Institute (ANSI) standards regarding the identification and
warning against potential safety hazards. In 1979, the ANSI Z53
Committee of Safety Colors was combined with the Z35 Committee
on Safety Signs to form the Z535 Committee, which develops
the standards that must be used to design warnings, labels, and
instructions intended to identify and warn against hazards and
prevent accidents. The relevant standards for products are:
• ANSI Z535.4: Product Safety Signs and Labels
• ANSI Z535.6: Product Safety Information in Product Manuals,
Instructions, and Other Collateral Materials

    For a warning to be effective, there must be a reasonable degree
of certainty that the end user will receive and understand the
warning (see Figure 4). The use of warnings also must follow the
safety hierarchy. Since warnings are the fourth step, available
design alternatives must be considered in the design process.
Guarding out of a hazard and subsequent training must be undertaken
before warnings can reasonably be considered or designed.
    Our society, as stated in the various plumbing codes, relies on
the engineer, designer, and manufacturer to produce products that
are safe and durable. Society also recognizes and accepts some
level of risk, provided that they know about it beforehand and that
companies must be economically viable to survive. Don’t shirk your
responsibility to the public, your profession, yourself, or your company
by producing a product based on an insufficient design.

This article was reprinted with permission and all copyright remains with the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.

Suggestion for New Lighting Fixtures

 Architectural Lighting Online asked its readers to suggest "Lighting Product Areas in Need of Further Development". Here are two ideas I suggested:

1. Illuminated signage and exit lights built into the body of doors, entrances, and storefronts. With LED lamps, reduced fixture thickness and lower power requirements should make this feasible. In retail, there are great merchandising opportunities for illuminated signage right at the point of entrance and exiting. Integrated into emergency systems, programmable fixture could offer up to the moment information about the safety, for example, of using a door. I see other opportunities in hotels to illuminate corridors and provide room identification.

2. Automatically tracking spotlights for ballrooms and lecture rooms.  As a frequent presenter at industry conferences, I am frustrated that I can not readily aim fixtures to suit my required room layout. Please give me spots that I can aim without calling on building maintenance. There are already lights that can be refocus this way for use in surgical suites; the surgeon uses an "infrared wand" to aim the light fixtures. This may suggest a way to accomplish this.

Chusid Associates has worked with many lighting fixture manufacturers to develop and launch new products like these. Call me if you would like to discuss these suggestions.

As an aside, this type of question can also be posed by building product manufacturers as a way to engage with customers. It is a great form of social media.

10 Best New Building Products - 2009

Electricity from urine, bridges made of recycled plastic, and salvation for the engagement ring that went down the sink… The building products industry is exploding with ideas.

The “tried and true” is being challenged relentlessly by new products and technologies. Age-old problems are being solved by insightful re-envisioning of familiar materials. New challenges are driving accelerating leaps of imagination. Sustainability has become a source of inspiration rather than an afterthought for marketing.

With so much being invented and re-invented, how does Chusid Associates have the temerity to suggest a list of only 10 new products worthy of attention?

We don’t.

These are the best new things that we’ve heard about, and we want to share them. We encourage you to share your own ten (or four, or one), to spread any good news you know. Cross-fertilization inspires the next round of invention.

We believe these products are each, in their way, game-changers. More important, they bring into focus significant trends and developments in the thinking of the industry.

Not surprisingly, sustainability is a big factor in a lot of the current innovation. It is one of the industry’s biggest challenges, the issue is very high-profile, and solutions have become a lot more saleable. Under such conditions, innovation is incentivized.

One of the most important conceptual re-alignments of the Age of Sustainability has been the realization that the materials once considered “waste” may in fact be raw materials for other products. It is Recycling 2.0, if you will. The entry level of the recycling concept is to make used paper into new paper, or old aluminum cans into new ones. This next level uses the leftovers of one industry to form the raw source for another.

Electricity From Urine: A team at the University of Ohio has found a way of using one of our most abundant waste resources to produce an in-demand commodity. Urea, one of the chief components of urine, contains four hydrogen molecules bonded to two nitrogen molecules. The Ohio team found an efficient way to split off the hydrogen using an electrode made of nickel. (You have to invest some electric current to get the reaction, but only about 3% of the voltage required to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.) The hydrogen can then be used to generate electrical power very cleanly – its only combustion product is water – and the nitrogen is collected for industrial uses.

It’s so cool, it’s hard to resist suggesting an ad slogan for this concept:

“Power Begins With Pee.”

While this isn’t a building product per se, it could have profound implications on sustainable building design. It could create a market for urine, encouraging the inclusion of waste collection systems, instead of disposal systems, in building design. It should encourage design professionals to take a second look at everything being vented or disposed-of from building operations.

CalStar Fly Ash Bricks and Pavers: Another waste product, which poses a more difficult disposal problem than urine, is fly ash, the coal combustion byproduct that gets scrubbed from the chimneys of power-plants. It can be used in a variety of ways, including mixing into concrete, but nonetheless, millions of tons of fly ash still get dumped into retention ponds or landfills every year. Less than 45% of the fly ash created is currently put to beneficial use.

Calstar Products of California’s Silicon Valley has paired that resource with another significant environmental problem, and created an elegant solution. Making bricks from clay requires high-heat firing that consumes huge amounts of energy and releases about 1.5 lbs of CO2 per clay brick. CalStar has begun making them from fly ash, using the cementitious properties of the ash to bind the bricks together, encouraged by a low-heat steam curing process. (CalStar’s American-made product should not be confused with a type of “fly ash brick” made in Asia, which is essentially concrete brick with fly ash as a filler.)

CalStar Fly Ash Brick production uses only 15% of the energy, and is associated with only15% of the CO2 emissions, of clay brick. Building on technology first explored by Dr. Henry Liu, they have developed bricks that meet the commonly accepted performance standards for clay brick and are available in a spectrum of colors. Their first plant just opened in Caledonia, WI, less than 75 miles from Chicago, and more are planned.

Their innovation points at a pattern we believe will crop up in many aspects of construction. Brick is used as a structural material much these days, but it remains an important tradition of our architectural vocabulary. Fly ash brick make it possible to continue to enjoy the beauty of masonry architecture without the threat to the planet, a tradition rescued by a sustainable solution.

Electro-Conductive Concrete: The industries that burn coal for energy – chiefly power plants – actually figured out that “waste might not be waste” about a decade ago. They started to referring the ash and associated leftovers from power plant boilers as Coal Combustion Products (CCP’s) – not byproducts – and sought to turn their liability into a modest revenue stream. That initiative has led to many new uses.

One power plant executive, Bruce Ramme of We Energies in Wisconsin, has made an especially impressive imaginative leap (and patented it). He realized that fly ash and other CCP’s could be mixed with concrete not only for their chemical properties, but also – due to their carbon content – for their electrical properties: Get enough carbon into the concrete and it will conduct electricity.

What good is that? For beginners, a power-plant foundation that is self-grounding. How about a road with traffic sensors poured right into it as part of the slab? Or a road that can charge your car while you drive? Or a building whose concrete foundation, frame, walls and floors all function as computer memory?

This is a concept yet to be made into a product, but it shouldn’t take long. It’s the kind of material that makes designers dream.

Axion Recycled Plastic Structural Members: Before leaving the area of recycling brainstorms, tribute should be paid to Axion International, the company that’s making railroad bridges (among other things) out of recycled plastic. It seems counter-intuitive: the very word “plastic” suggests behaviors that are quite the opposite of what you want from structural, load-bearing materials.

Nonetheless, using technology developed at Rutgers University, Axion makes beams and piles from combinations of different plastics. They are “immiscible polymers” that have different physical properties, and retain their individual strengths even when blended together. This makes it possible to combine their properties synergistically.

Axion is currently supplying engineered solutions, which they can deliver more affordably than wood or steel structures. (Standardized lumber from their process is not yet economically practical, but that could change if the price of wood rises.) Two bridges designed to carry tanks have already been built at Fort Bragg. Two more bridges, rated at 130 tons and designed for railroads, are being constructed at Fort Eustis, Virginia this winter, with almost everything but the rails being supplied by Axion. The company is researching code certifications to bring these materials into building construction as well.

SDI Wireless-Friendly Buildings: Wireless communication continues to mushroom as a way to transmit many different kinds of information: voice, text, computer data, video and audio signals, wireless monitoring including implanted medical devices, and the list is growing. But buildings sometimes impede wireless signals. One solution is to put a large antenna in the building, but this means producing a high concentration of radio-frequency (RF) emissions near the antenna in order to have acceptable signal at the points furthest from it.

SDI-2, Inc. is rolling out a series of products they call the Wireless Farm to make buildings friendly to wireless by using more evenly distributed signals. The first product in the line, Max, is a non-powered wireless signal booster. A box about the size of a deck of playing cards, it can be placed in a variety of locations in the building interior – even concealed locations - to help distribute signal. This makes wireless devices safer to use. Where signal is weak, devices such as cellphones automatically boost their internal power to compensate, putting out a lot of RF right next to your head, your groin, or wherever your cellphone happens to be. Better signal distribution means the devices use less of their own power, not only extending battery life but also minimizing any possible health hazards from radio-frequency concentrations.

Fingersafe Door Hinge Guards: Some problems are so familiar that most people never stop to think of a solution. Consider the hinged edge of a door and the hazard it poses to fingers, especially young fingers. It’s easy to get a finger squeezed – even amputated – by the leveraged force of the door closing. It’s estimated there are 300,000 finger injuries from doors worldwide annually.

Fingersafe USA has solved the problem, raising the standard of care. Their hinge-guard is a folded, flexible strip that attaches to the door and frame. As the door is closed and the gap between door and frame gets smaller, the hinge guard pushes fingers out of the way. It’s easily fitted to wood or metal doors and can be removed for maintenance.

Lythic Colloidal Silica Densifier: Densifiers have been used on concrete slabs for decades to harden the surface and minimize dusting. With the ascendance of exposed concrete (colored, polished, etc.) as floor finish, the brands and flavors of available densifiers have mushroomed. What they all had in common was:

a) silicate-based chemistry that delivered silica into the concrete surface

b) high pH, making them unpleasant to handle and hazardous to dispose of.

The more affordable silicates required a lengthy removal and disposal process to avoid a discoloring residue called whiting.

A concrete polishing professional in the Pacific Northwest, David Loe, found a better densifier that uses nano-technology. His Lythic Densifier is a colloidal silica solution that delivers pure amorphous silica to the concrete, eliminating residue removal and disposal. It’s lower in pH, and costs less (material + application) than the most affordable class of silicates. While the company doesn’t claim that it improves performance, anecdotal evidence from applicators suggests beneficial properties not found in silicates, too. One applicator who polished a hundred-year-old slab using Lythic stated outright that he did not believe any other type of densifier could have delivered the result.

This product represents the application of highly advanced science with very basic materials. The ability to produce a colloid of highly pure, extremely consistently sized silica nano-particles is pretty esoteric. That it can benefit something as old, established and unchanging as portland cement concrete is cause to stop marvel.

Perma-Flow Self-Cleaning Drain Trap: That P-shaped pipe under the sink has caused much hassle and heartache, and it’s been doing it ever since the invention of indoor plumbing. It gets clogged, and it’s difficult and disgusting to clean out. It also has a reputed hunger for diamond engagement rings. Despirte being utterly unlovable, it persists in bedeviling us from one generation to the next.

PF Waterworks is ending the tyranny. The transparent plastic Perma-Flow drain system has a little paddle-wheel in the drain bend, and uses water turbulence to propel debris through and away. It prevents the build-up of yuck (and you can see that it’s working) which minimizes the need for chemical drain cleaners, a definite environmental plus. An external handle allow you to swipe the drain clean if things start to accumulate, but also helps retrieve lost items – like that proverbial engagement ring – that might slip into the pipe.

This idea represents one of the primary sources of innovation throughout human history: the initiative to solve a problem so familiar that most people have ceased to think about it.

Brady Pro-X Pre-Formed Door Header: Since the rise of cold-formed steel stud construction, there has been a standard way to make a door header: framers build it up in the field out of studs and rails. Need we point out how time consuming and therefore expensive that is? It also predictably produces a lot of cutting waste.

The Brady Pro-X Header is a pre-formed unit that attaches to mated hanger clips. The clips get screwed to the studs, and the header snaps into place literally in seconds. There’s also a snap-in insert for applications that need greater strength. The metal-forming design of the interlocking pieces yields a sum of 28 bends in the header-plus-insert, adding considerable strength to the unit. (The traditional built-up header has only eight bends.)

This product points at an important change that’s rippling through the construction industry. The industry is notoriously slow to change, partly because our established business and legal practices make change discouragingly risky. This reluctance promotes a tendency to live with problems instead of solving them. Then along comes an independent thinker who knows the way things are always done but has the courage to say, “Just because we’ve done it this way for 20 years doesn’t make it the best way.” Construction people are looking at their allegiance to the tried-and-true and wondering if convention itself has become a risk, the risk of becoming irrelevant, impractical, and unsustainable.

Lifemaster Painter’s Wash System: At the intersection of the re-thinkers of old problems and the champions of sustainability comes a classic Why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? product. Actually, I and many others did think of it, but we didn’t follow through and develop it. Back in the bad old days when solvent-based paints dominated the scene, I had a coffee-can of paint thinner that I used for cleaning brushes. I kept the can covered after I’d finished washing, and let the solids settle to the bottom for a few days. Then I poured off the almost-clear paint thinner into a sealed container for re-use, and threw away the solid yuck at the bottom of the can.

The Lifemaster Wash System by Azko Nobel Paints is a special washtub for cleaning water-based paint off brushes and tools. The paint-laden water is collected, and additives are introduced to separate water from solids. The water can safely go down the drain, and the non-toxic solids can be easily and safely disposed of. It’s clean, green, and very smart in a simple way.