Growing Hardwood Flooring into Solar Energy: One Chelsea Man’s Mission for Energy Independence
If recent power outages have you thinking about power independent of the grid, keep reading.
You wouldn’t normally think that hardwood flooring manufacturing could lead to efficient, economical, and independent solar energy. But keep reading. You may appreciate this.
“It's a big stretch,” agrees David Frame, owner of Chelsea Plank and Flooring. “Over the past 25 years, I’ve spent a lot of time in industrial control to get all the machinery working right. We’ve built, rebuilt, and modified much of our machinery. Because of that, I started building industrial controls. It just kept advancing our level of ability.”
Chelsea Plank and Flooring is a 92,000-square-foot facility in Chelsea’s industrial park, producing up to 22,000 board feet of premium hardwood flooring daily. Founders David and Lisa Frame could never have imagined what began as a little side gig in their barn would grow into the business it is today, much less take them into the bright world of solar energy. It’s a story of how seizing an opportunity creates the next opportunity. One thing always leads to another, as things always do.
It began in 1989 when David and a friend started a logging business. David had graduated a few years earlier from Ferris State with a degree in applied mathematics and was working as a computer programmer. This small venture was money on the side. Soon, David began milling the lumber in his barn.
“Our first mill was in the barn next to my house,” he says. “I ran custom milling and moldings, anything people wanted. It was a custom mill workshop.”
The business quickly grew. By 1994, David and Lisa bought out their partner. David quit his day job.
“Over time, it increased where I couldn't run anymore,” he explains. “I couldn't keep running in the barn because I was running at night, and the neighbors started complaining.”
They rented a 15,000-square-foot building in an industrial park on Jackson Road. A year later, David recognized the need for high-quality plank flooring and established Chelsea Plank Flooring, moving his business to a new 21,000-square-foot facility in Chelsea.
At this point, he’s still almost 30 years away from solar energy. But looking carefully, you can see how it all progressed for Frame. He has a penchant and talent for identifying the next thing needing to be done and then figuring it out. Over the years, David has expanded his manufacturing capacity and improved his machinery by designing, building, and patenting machinery for distressing plank flooring and engineering and building computer-assisted machinery for automated material handling. He has always been heavily involved in machinery maintenance and improvements. It reflects his style of fixing a problem yourself.
As the business continued growing, David’s and Lisa’s children, Megan and Max, also worked in the company. Both children share their dad’s talent in mathematics. Max works as a mechanical engineer elsewhere but has helped with several upgrade designs. Megan worked part-time in the office while teaching mathematics at two local colleges. Since 2014, she has been working full-time at Frame Hardwoods and is now managing the business as David and Lisa begin their “semi-retired” life.
The same canny intellect that David used to engineer such things as a set of computer-assisted machinery to do the automated material handling for his flooring operation was used to educate himself on solar power. He needed to solve a power problem presented to him at a property in rural Northern Michigan. He needed electrical power for property designated for people to build storage units for their tight lakefront properties.
“The power company gave me a quote so high that they knew I would never accept it,” he explains. “They just didn’t want to run a line out there.”
The power company may well come to regret that slight. After researching solar, the guy who applied his mathematics for decades in designing his factory machinery engineered, fabricated, and installed independent solar-powered battery bank systems for over a dozen buildings. That was the beginning.
“That's kind of how I started into the solar power business,” David explains. “It was a need as to how to power up these storage buildings without paying the power company a huge amount for hookup. It kind of led from there. I researched more and installed a whole house system for my home in Chelsea.”
Frame continued testing and developing more advanced designs.
“As the technology developed, I thought I could take this idea that I used in the pole barns and shrink it down and make what I call a power cell,” he explains. “I could put the components on one backplate, which can be installed very efficiently and quickly, making it much easier for the electrician.”
His research led to his “Beyond The Wire Power Cell.” He expanded on the design to improve his home's backup power, which inspired his “FlexSource Power Cell.”
After installing many of these systems in homes and barns, David and Megan realized the need for pre-engineered and pre-wired third-generation power systems. They changed the name of their existing company to Frame Industries in 2022 and established Great Lakes Applied Power as a new division of their family-run business. Chelsea Plank Flooring is now another division.
He designed his systems with a battery bank to store power with an inverter/charger to maintain the battery bank. Electrical power will automatically switch to battery power in 10 milliseconds when the grid power fails.
“When the grid power goes off, it instantly switches the battery bank,” explains David. “You don't even lose power at all. Your digital clocks don’t go out. Your computer doesn’t shut off. Other than maybe a light flicker, you wouldn’t even know you lost power.”
If the grid power is out for an extended time, say more than 12 hours, the battery bank needs to be recharged. It will automatically turn on a gas generator to recharge the battery bank and then shut off the generator, using only the amount required to keep it charged. It will automatically switch the load back to grid power when it returns with minimal power disruption.
With David’s system, he estimates a 90% reduction in fossil fuel usage during a power outage. The generator only runs enough to charge the batteries. To expand on this considerable increase in fuel efficiency, hybrid power systems can also incorporate solar power to decrease fossil-fuel usage further and increase the customer's energy independence.
Great Lakes Applied Power pre-engineers these systems for easy installation in a home, cabin, barn, or trailer, as an emergency or permanent power source independent of the electrical grid. Something to keep in mind when thinking about future storm preparedness.
David still claims he is semi-retired. “I don’t even have office space here anymore,” he laughs. “We ran out of space, so I gave my office to somebody else.”
With Megan at the helm as General Manager, Frame doesn’t need to be on site. He has an office at home where you can be sure he is figuring the next thing out.
For more information on Great Lakes Applied Power, visit https://www.greatlakesappliedpower.com/
For more information on Chelsea Plank Flooring, visit https://www.chelseaplank.com/
Photos by Doug Marrin