A Rathdrum startup company called FastBacker Inc. has invented two construction products that are intended to enable builders to hang drywall more quickly in corners, on ceilings, and in other problem spots, while eliminating the need to use extra lumber only for wallboard backing.
Made from recycled material used for vinyl window frames, one of the FastBacker products snaps onto standard 2 inch-by-4 inch studs, leaving a strip of vinyl to run along the length of the structural framing to which drywall can be attached. A second version of the FastBacker, in a thinner offset T-shape, attaches with a staple gun or drywall screws horizontally so that ceiling gypsum board can be attached.
Co-inventor Tim Wirth, who also is a homebuilder, says using the products saves time and money because the pieces eliminate the need to nail up nonstructural lumber that's placed only as a backing onto which to screw in gypsum wallboard.
Wirth says use of the FastBacker pieces also opens up more spaces for insulation and means less heat loss without the additional lumber between the exterior and interior walls.
"Wood draws heat," Wirth says, adding that for interior construction, extra nonstructural wood studs usually go in corners touching the exterior wall for drywall application. If the FastBacker is applied instead, it creates more buffer space between exterior and interior walls, and builders have extra room for adding insulation, he says.
"We'd seen the tremendous waste of wood," Wirth adds, referring to his work as a homebuilder. "This is so simple, and it eliminates cold corners."
The company sells its FastBacker products mainly through its website, but it also sells the products to customers by appointment from its office in Rathdrum, at 8052 W. Main.
The one that snaps onto 2-inch-by-4 inch studs for interior wall and corner applications is 27 inches in length. The other offset T-shape product is 48 inches long, for use along ceiling top plates and in shorter lengths for patch work. The products cost between $2 and $3 per piece.
Both products can be cut to desired lengths, which is attractive for tight spaces, Wirth adds.
Michael Clarke, a carpenter helping build a house for Wirth in the Boekel Ranch subdivision in Rathdrum, adds that the FastBacker product goes up quickly and is less time consuming than placing nonstructural wood for backing.
"Something that would take me an hour to do I can do in 30 seconds," Clarke says.
As another example of savings, Wirth estimates that use of the FastBacker eliminated the need to use 22 nonstructural studs for that same 1,600-square-foot Boekel Ranch home. Wirth adds, "It saves on labor and lumber costs."
Wirth got the idea in the 1990s after losing his job of 29 years at a sawmill. When that sawmill closed, Wirth decided to build a home for himself but didn't like the idea of using so much lumber. He and his brother, Jack Wirth, decided then to invent a backer made from a sturdy material other than wood for drywall installation.
"I'd been in construction all my life off and on," Tim Wirth says. "I wondered, why can't we build an affordable home, and have more insulation in our home? I want to know my cost and the wood that's going in."
After some time developing product samples, the Wirths secured a patent in 2000 for the offset T-shape vinyl product. The patent for the second line is pending. Family members incorporated the company in 2009. The owners in the family business include three brothers, Tim Wirth, Jack Wirth, and Jim Wirth, as well as sister Rebecca Burnham and brother-in-law Carl Burnham.
Tim Wirth, who has used the product himself in about eight to 10 homes that he's built, says the FastBacker seems most attractive so far to customers who are remodeling their homes and want to keep costs down, although he adds that the products also work well for new construction.
"It's popular for remodeling because of the ability to put backing in where there are so many places you can't put wood in, because you have something in the way," he says. "You can cut them any length you need. It's great for tight spaces."
The company is working this fall to increase its product marketing, with a goal to get the FastBacker products into smaller home improvement retail stores by next year.
For manufacturing its products, FastBacker uses two companies, Wirth says. They are Extrusion Technology Group Inc. in Lakewood, Wash., and Liberty Tool & MFG. Inc., in Coeur d'Alene.
"They regrind it and recycle the material," Wirth says. "It's post-industrial waste."
A test performed at Washington State University through its International Code Council - Accreditation Service testing laboratory showed that the FastBacker product can hold a weight up to 275 pounds, while the heaviest drywall board is around 100 pounds, Wirth says.
"That's one of the questions I hear," Wirth adds, referring to how strong the product is. "I tell them, trust me, it holds a screw. We're always in contact with (home) inspectors, and they say, 'That's cool.'"
Although the company has only one part-time employee, administrator Kim Tessier, the owners also are working with a marketing consultant to gain greater exposure in the Northwest and as far away as North Dakota, which has a high demand for housing because of extra oil drilling activity there.
Tessier says the company's product sales have been slow this year, but she expects that will change once the product gets into retail distribution through stores.
"When people see it, they love it," Tessier adds. "It's just a matter of exposure. A lot of our customers are people remodeling their own homes."
Wirth also has shown the products at several home improvement shows in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.
"The reception I get is always great," he adds.
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