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3rd Win for Balmer Brothers — CFA Basement of the Year

#1 Winner Jerry Balmer, Balmer Brothers Concrete Works, Inc.

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Balmer Brothers
Akron, PA
Contact: Jerry Balmer
http://www.balmerbros.com
 
What started as two brothers pouring sidewalks and curbs in the summer months in 1973 has become a successful company that has found a niche in upscale, large, unique and complex foundations in the Philadelphia area.
 
Today they have 4 working owners, Jerry Balmer, Gary Balmer, Dennis Balmer and Jay Balmer, along with 28 employees including 2 office personnel and 1 mechanic. During the busy seasons, they hire an additional ten to fifteen workers. Crews vary in size from five to seven daily.
 
Balmer Brothers has been a member of the CFA since 1978, and Jerry Balmer was on the Board of Directors in the 1980’s.
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The recipient of the CFA Basement of the Year competition is selected by a peer vote during the Annual World of Concrete. The Basement of the Year is sometimes large, often complex, and always unforgettable. This project by Balmer Brothers was chosen from a record 10 projects that met the criteria for judging. Contractors from across the country cast their votes in the CFA booth at World of Concrete. A formal award presentation will be made at the Awards Banquet Luncheon during CFA’s Annual Summer Meeting in the Wisconsin Dells.
 
See ‘Basement of the Year 2nd and 3rd Place Wins’ for information about the 2nd and 3rd place winning projects.

The winner of this year’s CFA Basement of the Year is not only garnering the top spot, but making CFA history as a 3rd time recipient. Jerry Balmer, President of Balmer Brothers Concrete Works, Inc. in Akron, Pennsylvania, knows what it’s like to build a basement from hell – and he just keeps on doing it. Balmer Brothers can now boast three wins, with two wins in consecutive years. In 2000, Balmer Brothers received the Basement of the Year for a 29,000 square foot basement, which was complex as well as mammoth. In 2005 they won again for their construction of a 34,000 square foot basement in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. At the time of voting, this project did not even include the nine-stall car garage.

Having worked on projects over 10,000 square feet numerous times before, Balmer Brothers is not a rookie at tackling complex foundations. Their regional reputation and experience is earning them these projects.

Contractors from across the country at the 2006 World of Concrete voted Balmer Brothers’ entry, ‘The Hattersley Residence’, first place. The project was submitted jointly by Randy Groome, Dennis Balmer, Jerry Balmer, Gary Balmer and Jay Balmer. Jerry Balmer and his crew have nicknamed this project ‘The Dragon House’ and ‘Spaceship’ because of its complexity. Jerry Balmer says ‘This is definitely not the largest foundation we did this year, but it is by far the craziest, most complex foundation that we have perhaps ever done.”

With very few right angled corners, the project kept Balmer Brothers crews on their toes. Many corners went from straight to curved walls with a multitude of corners, T’s and Y sections coming in at various angles. One of the jumps, from 9 foot to a 3 foot wall, occurred in the middle of a curved wall. Balmer says, “It seemed like every corner we came to brought on a new challenge, especially the Y areas, where we used various sized ties as the two walls turned into one.” Most of the time crews were transitioning curved into straight walls and sometimes curved to curved.

Adding to the complexity were stone ledges surrounding the house which ranged from 1 foot to 3 foot deep x 6 inches wide. Much of the ledge was on curved walls requiring a multiple piece ledge to allow flexibility.

Balmer credits the success of this project to his experienced crew on the job. He reflected that “they all know how important a quality wall is to us and it was evident that it was important to them.”

The Hattersley Residence had 995 total linear feet of wall, wall heights ranging from 3 to 9 feet and wall thicknesses of both 12 and 16 inch. Radius measurements ranged from 4’2″ to 91’8 1/2” with many different sizes in between. The project totaled 345 yards of concrete in the walls and 27,680 linear feet of #4 matt steel at 2’ o.c. Footers were 12″ and 24″ wide with 3 – #4 continuous bars with cross bars at 2’ o.c.

The builder, Jim Norcini, had worked with Balmer Brothers before. When this project came up, he knew Balmer Brothers had both the knowledge and equipment for the job.

Among the many challenges of a project like this is bidding the time and materials that will be needed. Balmer says the only way to estimate a foundation with this difficulty is to be able to take information from job records of previous foundations they had completed. Radius walls with ledges are labor intensive and use extra wall ties. Hundreds of vice grips were needed to hold in ledges, spreaders and props. Hinged corners were used to create correct corners and shapes. Hundreds of fillers were used to create smooth, curved angles and offsets, and forms were double stacked for height. A roller bender was used to bend rebar to match the radius of the curved walls. Seventeen different walls were curved and pulled from 7 different radius points at various levels.

Technically, Balmer’s crews ‘took each area one step at a time’, taking care to think out what would hold walls in place, where walls would try to push and spread and how they could keep those areas from moving. Most of the time they laid forms out as they went, sometimes changing their plan to keep curves smooth.

Congratulations to Jerry and Balmer Brothers for their win.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We were able to get the foreman of this project, Randy Groome, off the job site long enough to answer a few questions for us. We hope you enjoy his personal insight about this project and his work.

INTERVIEW WITH FOREMAN RANDY GROOM

You credited the success of this project to your experienced crew on the job. What training do you provide for your crews and how often?

RANDY: The entire job crew was instrumental in producing this fantastic wall. I can’t say enough about how lucky we are at Balmer Bros. with the quality of people that we have working with us. In fact, any of our crews could have won this award. Our crew just got the luck of the draw this time. Brian Fry, right hand man, has been with us over 25 years. We happened to be next in line when this job came up. Another one of our crews led by Jim Cline won our company’s 2 previous awards.

Most of the training we provide is on the job, but we do also send people to various seminars at conferences such as Admixtures, World of Concrete, CFA meetings, and others. The pump operators attended Schwing School and were certified there. Some have attended OSHA seminars. All of our employees are trained in CPR and AED annually. We also have first aid, fork lift training, and weekly safety meetings.

Do you have some thoughts about the future of this industry…what can you see 10 years from now?

RANDY: I’ve been working with the Balmer Bros. since the early 1980s and over the years the houses and plans we deal with have increasingly become more detailed and more difficult. I only see it getting tougher in the coming years. More things are being done with concrete. Things should keep getting interesting.

Technology changes you expect to see?

RANDY: Technology continues to make our jobs easier. Years ago we used transits, concrete buckets, extra chutes and manpower. Now we use lasers, concrete pumps and cranes. Construction calculators, computers and cell phones have also put information at our finger tips. I expect we will see many more changes in the future.

Do you have any projects going that may be entries for next year?

RANDY: We have a lot of projects going on all year, many of which could be entered in next year’s competition. Every job as you know has some kind of twist or turn that makes it unique. We just try to pick the one with the most twists to send in to the contest.

How have these projects changed the way you do business?

RANDY: Over the years we have built a pretty good reputation for doing projects that are fairly large and somewhat complicated. Each time we are successful in making the builders, homeowners and inspectors happy, word seems to spread and more new customers call. At Balmer Bros. it has always been about doing the job right, and that makes every else’s jobs easier. As for changing the way we do business, I think doing these projects has made us pay even more attention to things like a clean worksite, having the proper equipment, and looking and acting like a professional on and off the job site. People appreciate and trust you much more if you show up in a clean truck rather than some old jalopy.

Do you take advantage of CFA educational opportunities?

RANDY: Absolutely. Each year we send guys to the summer meetings and/or the World of Concrete. The seminars can also be very informative. We also use the publications such as ‘Cold Weather Concrete’ ‘CFA Standards’, and ‘Concrete Facts’.

Has your CFA membership benefited you and how?

RANDY: The CFA membership has benefited us in various ways. Listening to the knowledgeable speakers like Brent Anderson in the seminars, and just talking to other guys at the meetings that may have come up with another way to do something. Again, the publications have come in handy more than once in helping to educate homeowners, builders, and inspectors.

Any other advice you’d like to give?

RANDY: My only advice would be to take your time and make sure everything will stay in place before you pour. Take each problem area one step at a time. Also, let the crew know how much you appreciate them. You certainly can’t do the jobs by yourself.

Randy, would you give some perspective on this project (or projects with this degree of difficulty) from your point of view as a foreman?

RANDY: Preparation is key. Knowing the details and what must happen next is important. Having good equipment is a huge bonus. It just makes everything easier. We are lucky to have bosses who understand this and keep us to date as much as possible. It’s also great to have their trust in knowing we will do the best job in a timely manner; without being rushed through or pushed to cut corners. They have always stressed safety and to do the job neat and correct the first time. I enjoyed working on this project. It was a challenge to say the least. I also enjoyed working for the builder Jim Norcini who appreciated the job we did.

Thank you, Randy, for taking time to share your thoughts. It’s pretty obvious Balmer Brothers has come a long way since its inception, and that your company has a great deal of vision overall. Congratulations to you all again on a great win!

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