When visitors roam the halls of Summa Health’s seven-story tower next month, they might want to tap the walls of the nearest room and listen closely.

Inside, muffling the sound of the rap-rap-rap, could be a piece of their discarded clothing.

While traditional materials — concrete, glass, terra-cotta brick, metal, vinyl — comprise the tower and line its halls and floors, inside the walls of the 343,500-square-foot structure are old, faded blue jeans.

About 5,000 pairs — or 62,670 square feet — of them, estimates Gary Thomas, local representative for DIRTT Environmental Solutions Ltd.

His company shreds the unwanted jeans, treats them with a fire retardant and creates an insulation that lines the walls of buildings operated by the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Mercy Health Partners, among others.

Thomas said the final product from DIRTT is “about 80 percent blue jeans, but it’s all cotton.”

There's no waste allowed with the product, he said.

"The offcuts go back to our vendor," he said. They're then used to make more product.

And the blue jeans are more than a gimmick for companies seeking a green reputation. The shredded product isn’t treated with formaldehyde, which is often used in traditional insulation. It has better soundproofing qualities. And it requires less space than the insulation your grandfather used to use.

Those qualities sold Ed Friedl, vice president of construction and property management for Summa Health.

Friedl said Tuesday that he traveled to Canada to get a firsthand look at the insulation before signing on the dotted line. What he found he liked enough to put recycled blue jeans in the walls of Summa’s $220 million tower.

But what most impressed him is the space-saving quality of the denim option. It enabled Summa to nudge up the girth of its rooms.

“We’re putting the square footage in the room, instead of in the wall,” Friedl said.

Although DIRTT’s product costs a bit more than traditional insulation, it takes less time to install, paring back labor costs, Friedl said during a tour of the structure.

“This wall took two days,” he said. “Traditionally, it would take two weeks.”

It's safe, too, Friedl said. That's even more important because two floors of the new tower will be dedicated to labor, delivery and postpartum needs. That part of Summa's business has been increasing for years.

"The labor and delivery business has been booming for Summa Health," Friedl said.

The medical system has a penchant for recycling, Friedl said, with excess wire, copper and steel all headed for a new use and a new home.

“It’s a lot of stuff not going to landfills,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 reason [we do it].”

The medical system is also serious enough about the issue to have staff that concentrate only on recycling.

"We have four guys, who, that's all they do is recycle," Friedl said.

On May 19, Summa is planning a public grand opening for the tower. Soon after, it will be ready for new patients.

Visitors will see the glass and concrete and brick that form its exterior and the vinyl that lines the floors.

What they won’t see is the old Levis and Wranglers hemming the backside of the walls, lined forever in blue jeans.

 

Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or aashworth@thebeaconjournal.com.