Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thermo-Con Cellular Concrete

In the 1950s, the New Orleans-based Higgins Incorporated advertised its patented Thermo-Con Cellular Concrete System. Higgins touted its concrete as an admixture of Portland Cement, water, and "three chemicals" (actually aluminum flake, caustic soda, and bituminous emulsion). The company's advertising department took pains to communicate the product's heat-shielding properties (demonstrated by image above) and to distinguish its approach from any correlation to prefabrication:

The Thermo-Con cellular concrete system is in no way a pre-fabricated construction method. The forms are designed on a one-foot modular principle and can be arranged to fit any desired plan for a home or commercial building. Any architectural style may be chosen and interior space arranged to suit individual needs.

In 1949, New Orleans architects Sporl and Maxwell (Edward Sporl and Murvan "Scotty" Maxwell) designed a luxury Thermo-Con house (images above) for company founder Andrew Higgins (1886-1952). The Southeastern Architectural Archive retains construction drawings for the Higgins House in its Maxwell and LeBreton Office Records Collection. See photographic images on Regional Modernism's flickr set here. See and read about another Thermo-Con house here. The Thermo-Con Lakemoore Apartment Complex (1950), built in suburban Atlanta by businessman Wiley Lemuel Moore , was ultimately converted to a condo colony, the earliest condominium conversion in the city (1969). The buildings are still standing with some minor alterations to the exteriors.

After World War II, Andrew Higgins had originally hoped to develop "Thermo-Namel" homes, prefabricated structures made of enamel-coated steel. A national steel shortage forced the entrepreneur to postpone Thermo-Namel and develop Thermo-Con instead. He claimed that his new concrete foaming agent could expand a Portland cement and water mixture by 40%, and would result in a lightweight cellular concrete " 'of great insulation value and high tensile strength.'"(1)

Documents related to Higgins Industries and Higgins Resources reside in the Vertical Files of Tulane University's Louisiana Research Collection (LaRC) and in the University of New Orleans' Earl K. Long Library.

(1)"No Steel, Higgins Halts on Housing."
The Times-Picayune 5 August 1947: p. 1 as it appears in the database America's Historical Newspapers.

Images above from Higgins Inc. Booklet No. 72, SEAA Trade Catalogs Collection.


Anonymous said...

What affects does a thermo cellular concrete do for the home and is it safe? After reading the article it's something that has my attention. Mainly because of the home that I'm wanting to build and would like to use a different form of concrete.

Keli Rylance said...

You might want to contact someone living in one. There are a number of the residences in New Orleans, an apartment complex in Atlanta.

There are many other types of cellular concrete out there these days.. you might also want to take a look at AAC---Autoclaved Aerated Concrete.


William M. Faulkner said...

My Fathers construction company in Houston specialized in Thermo-Con and built several homes and commercial buildings from smaller 2 and 3 bedroom single story to a very large luxury home called the "Houston bomb proof house" These were all solid structures that featured an almost perfect insulative quality. Thermo-Con when used with other effective insulative components provided unheard of energy efficiency. I was a teenager them but during the summer worked for my Dad on these construction projects.

Keli Rylance said...

What was the name of the company? Do you know if any are still standing? The house that Higgins built for himself is still standing, and at the luxury scale. Thank you very much for sending the info!

Anonymous said...

What happened to this product? Why didn’t it become a building standard? Why is there so little information about it?

Anonymous said...

I own and live in the Higgins house on tern st in New Orleans. Higgins built the house in 1950. I’m installing new windows in the house starting today. The thermo con we’re exposing looks like it did when built 72 years ago. House is still in very good shape. No cracks in the entire two story house fyi

Keli Rylance said...

Thank you for the information! Would you be willing to share photos? I would post them on this site.