Dale Crook, 23-year HVAC veteran turned inventor, installs the FlexFlow Elbow®, which creates a rigid 90 degree angle in flexible duct. Using Flex Ties™, Crook also hangs and supports the remaining flexible duct allowing for consistent, increased airflow and decreased blockages.
Working smarter, not harder didn't work for Thomas Edison, but it worked for inventor Dale Crook of Olathe, Kan. Crook has been an HVAC commercial contractor for just over 23 years. Now a real estate investor and developer, he continues to design and create HVAC innovations that not only work smarter for the contractor, but also work harder for the end user.

Crook's first invention, the Flex Flow Elbow®, was inspired by a commercial job he completed in Kansas City some time ago. The mechanical engineer on the job required elbows on all 1,000 diffusers as per specifications. Providing sheet metal adjustable elbows was expensive and labor intensive. Adding to the complications, many of the elbows called for were different sizes. At about $20 each - including labor, sealant, and insulation - the total bill came to approximately $20,000.

The inspired Crook came up with a better way. The Flex Flow Elbow he invented was two years in the making. Crook and Thermaflex, the manufacturer, describe the product as an adjustable band that fits any brand and any size flexible duct from 6 to 16 inches.

According to the company, the one-piece device requires no tools, and installs in less than 30 seconds creating a 90 degree angle out of flexible duct-work. The product is used for commercial and residential applications. "It's a simple idea," said James Lollis, national sales manager for Thermaflex. "We worked hard to keep it simple in design, form, and installation."

The Flex Flow Elbow hit a few speed bumps, however, and the lack of a UL listing seemed determined to back burner the project indefinitely. "UL listing was one of the hardest things," said Crook. "It required bringing plastic products into the sheet metal arena." UL actually created a new category allowing the Flex Flow Elbow to be approved.

Another problem was marketing. Crook met Lollis and the company agreed to display a prototype of his product at an American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) convention in Dallas about five years ago. After Thermaflex picked up the product's licensing, manufacturing, and distribution, Crook began working shows and conventions trying to educate contractors and engineers about the product. "It's not like a loaf of bread," said Lollis. "You have to convince people that they need it."

"I love working the shows," said Crook. "I can educate contractors with confidence, because I was one of them."

The overall response to the product has been good. "We're starting to come around the corner on this," said Lollis. Many contractors have said, "I saw it and didn't know where to get it."

The Flex Flow Elbow paved the way for other Crook inventions. During the Flex Flow Elbow creation process, Crook invented the Flex Tieâ„¢. The Flex Tie allows installers to hang flexible duct faster and more efficiently than conventional means, according to the company. UL approved for use in return air plenum spaces; the Flex Tie is adjustable from 4 to 16 inches in diameter. This product supports flexible duct without compressing the inner core or insulation jacket, improving airflow and saving energy by eliminating sags and kinks, said the company. The Flex Tie also has a releasable clasp, allowing the product to be readjusted and reused.

After the Flex Flow Elbow and Flex Tie, Crook continued to expand his concept and created the FlexaBoot. The FlexaBoot was designed to replace rectangular internally lined sheet metal boots on return air grilles.

Available in two sizes, the sound attenuating 16-inch model fits all 16-inch round neck return grilles. Also available in a 10-inch model, the FlexaBoot contains no fibrous materials in the airstream. According to the company, the product can be rotated 360 degrees to maximize sound attenuation position, and weighs only 9 pounds.

Currently, Crook is working on a universal register boot. His patent pending design reportedly converts from a 90-degree register boot angle to a straight angle in less than 10 seconds. It mounts on joists 16 to 24 inches on center, and according to Crook, it will receive standard aluminum registers, steel registers, and plastic registers, costing less than metal boots. Crook is currently seeking licensing opportunities for this product.

"The key to developing these products and bringing them to market is to partner with an outstanding manufacturer," said Crook.

Publication date: 03/20/2006