Way, way out of the box

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2005

Up Against the Wall

Never-ending clean-up and insurance nightmares still haunt property owners after last year's four hurricanes left behind tarp-covered roofs and extensive water intrusion damage. Efficient Wall Systems of Florida, based in south Manatee County since August 2004, boasts its Exterior Wall System will protect homes with greater wind resistance, moisture and mold prevention, and energy efficiency. While most Florida homes constructed with traditional concrete block resist winds up to 150 mph, Efficient's system offers wind resistance up to 250 mph. Efficient also claims the system's increased energy efficiency, reflected in a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in a customer's monthly energy bill, pays for the additional cost of building your home with its system in place.

"We have some homes in North Port and Port Charlotte, and they did extremely well during last year's hurricanes," says general manager Herman Guevara. "We were glad to provide those people with a safe home." US Home recently ordered Efficient's wall systems for 83 North Port duplexes scheduled for completion this fall.

Armor All

For an increasingly security-obsessed world, Palmetto's Automotive Armor Manufacturing produces the in-demand, lightweight armor installed on military and government vehicles, airplane cockpit doors, and judges' homes and benches.

When AAM started, auto armoring accounted for 90 percent of sales, says Stephen Rodhouse, vice president of marketing and one of its founders. Now automobiles account for 50 percent, while military uses garner 30 percent and airplanes 5 percent. "We make the panels, sell them in sheet form, and people are telling me the end uses," Rodhouse says. "Fifteen percent of our business is for things you wouldn't even think of." After determining a customer's threat level (read: what bullet or bomb he's hoping to dodge), AAM uses water-jet cutter technology to cut armor panels to 0.003 of an inch, produces it in two- or three-square-meter sheet rolls and ships them to distributors or end users.

Latin America's kidnapping-for-ransom epidemic makes that region one of AAM's hottest markets as VIPs scramble to armor vehicles that might be ambushed by enterprising criminals. AAM, which moved to Palmetto from Massachusetts in 2002 and has 14 employees, generated $6 million in gross sales last year, anticipates a 20 percent increase for 2005 and foresees a facility expansion in 2006 or shortly thereafter.

Remote Control

We've all heard of the recent "smart home" advances for the luxury and security market, but the latest technology also has wide-ranging uses for the disabled. Rick Marks, president of Sarasota-based HomeSmart Central, recently completed a project for a St. Petersburg woman who suffered a spinal cord injury and must use a wheelchair. "I retrofitted her new place with automation features," says Marks. When someone presses the doorbell, her cordless phone rings, allowing her to talk to the visitor.

There's also a "door cam" connected to both the television and computer. "With the press of a button, she can see on her TV who's outside," says Marks. The same remote controls regular TV functions and even has presets for the stereo system and DVD viewing. "The buttons literally say Watch TV, Watch DVD, Listen to Music," says Marks. "One of our clients calls it the Magic Remote."

For those with limited mobility, controls like the OmniTouch console or Internet-powered Harmony remotes can literally open doors (on swing-clear extra-wide hinges), control lighting at preset levels with variable fade times, or play different music in different rooms. Even the thermostat can be remote controlled, allowing variable temperatures in different parts of the house. Systems can cost anywhere from $2,000 for the simpler wiring jobs, to $11,000 for automated lighting and doors, up to $50,000 with the full entertainment packages. No word yet on options for swanky caddies to hold all the remotes. -David Higgins

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