State Automatic Heating & Cooling of Batavia, Ill., installed fabric duct from DuctSox in its sheet metal shop.

Officials with State Automatic Heating & Cooling say they can fabricate anything in their Batavia, Ill., sheet metal shop. But when it came time for heating the shop to improve employees’ comfort and productivity, the owners chose fabric air distribution over a metal duct system.

“It’s fabric over metal - literally, because the fabric duct hangs above the sheet metal production area,” said Jim Gates, president of the 82-year-old family-run business. “We didn’t have the time and didn’t want the expense of running metal duct, so when we heard about SimpleSox fabric duct, we jumped at the opportunity to finally heat the sheet metal area properly.”

Previously, the area was heated from an un-ducted, 92 percent efficient, 2,000 cubic feet per minute WeatherMaker furnace made by Syracuse, N.Y.-based Carrier Corp. It had replaced a space unit heater in a 20-foot-high balcony space. Airflow was drafty, uneven and didn’t adequately reach all portions of the 4,000-square-foot fabrication area, which is part of the company’s 11,000 square feet of fabrication, warehouse and office facilities.

The finished SimpleSox fabric duct hangs in the sheet metal facility. Prior to its installation, shop space was often uncomfortable, officials say.

Unfinished work

The upgrade project remained unfinished for three years because they didn’t want the expense and disruption of pulling a journeyman union sheet metal worker and assistant off of other jobs in progress. The time constraint grew even worse amidst a perpetual backlog of business in the third and fourth quarters of 2010 from customers hustling to get their $1,500 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act tax credits before the year-end deadline.

Gates estimated running 54 feet of spiral metal duct would have required eight hours of labor for two men plus the costs of transporting the company’s 25-foot, hand-cranked Genie lift from where it was already in use. Chicago-area labor rates for two union workers average approximately $200 per billable hour and would cost approximately $1,600.

Installing a 54-foot-run of SimpleSox however, took only one assistant three hours at a cost of $300. The one worker used only a ladder to install the cable suspension system and then string the SimpleSox from the furnace. The suspension system consisting of cable, eye-hooks and beam clamp hangers required one hour to install. Opening the boxes, laying out the system, positioning the components and zippering them together took a little over an hour. The actual act of installing the fabric duct required 45 minutes to string it along the cable line and hook it to the furnace plenum. Gates estimated the installation savings at more than $1,300.

Installation was quick enough that the worker was sent back to another project for the majority of the day.

An unidentified State Automatic Heating & Cooling worker installs the SimpleSox fabric ductwork in the company’s facility.

Less expensive

The fabric duct was also less expensive in material costs than metal. The cost for 10 5-foot-long lengths of spiral duct, five couplings, eight registers, eight boots, one adaptor, one end cap and hanging materials was approximately $200 more than the cost of SimpleSox.

The SimpleSox arrived in boxes that cost $8 to ship from Air Products Equipment in nearby Elk Grove Village, Ill. - the first SimpleSox stocking distributor for northeastern Illinois. It consisted of three 15-foot and one 1.5-foot lengths; four Adjustable Air Outlets, which is SimpleSox’s patented and field-adjustable air registers; and one inlet collar and end cap.

Since the four outlets distribute air from both sides, a lot of time was saved versus installing eight registers that only distribute from one side of a metal system. The outlets are factory-set with medium airflow, but are also adjustable by twisting the opposing outlet layers to regulate the orifices.

SimpleSox is a new product from DuctSox, a 25-year-old Peosta, Iowa, manufacturer of fabric duct and diffuser systems that until now were custom-made and specified by mechanical engineers for only large plan-and-spec projects with open architectural ceilings.

Although it also has elbow components, SimpleSox is designed mainly for smaller projects under $3,000 that have straight runs or just a few 90-degree turns.

“We could have used this concept last summer for a yoga shop in a retail strip center build-out,” Gates said. “We won the $7,500 contract against other bidders, but we could have used SimpleSox to increase our profit margin, save the customer money and completely blow away the competition, which all specified metal duct system like we did. The client was in a hurry too, so we could have installed the air-distribution system in one day versus the three days required for metal and accessories.”

State Automatic’s business consists mainly of newly built luxury homes with multiple HVAC systems. It operates six service trucks in Chicago’s western suburbs. The company also occasionally bids a handful of light-commercial projects where SimpleSox will give them a competitive edge, Gates added. They have already used their own system as a demo for several prospective clients.

The company is not abandoning traditional ductwork, however. Its sheet metal shop still has more than $25,000 worth of equipment, including a 10-foot by 4-foot layout table by Engel Industries with power notching and shearing capabilities, and an 8-foot snap-lock machine from Lockformer. The shop also has a variety of brakes and other metalworking equipment.

“Fabric will never completely replace metal duct on all types of projects,” Gates said. “But for the right application, we now see SimpleSox as a hedge to increase profit margins and help win bids.”

This article and related images were supplied by DuctSox.