The U.S. has somewhere between 200 million and 300 million wooden utility poles--roughly one for every American. The poles last only 30 to 40 years on average and are difficult to dispose of because they are treated with undesirable substances such as creosote. Plus, replacing them costs several thousand dollars apiece. That's a market opportunity for companies such as Osmose Wood Preserving Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., PoleCare Industries Inc. in Conyers, Ga., and Fox Industries Inc. in Baltimore, which make systems for repairing old poles.
PoleCare makes FiberTect, a glass-fiber bandage that wraps around weakened poles from three feet below the soil line to three feet above. A phenolic resin similar to the resin in plywood is rolled on between the wraps. PoleCare says the bandage makes poles stronger than new and more fire-resistant, extending their life by about 25 years. Fox's system involves a glass-fiber jacket that goes loosely around a pole. The gap between the pole and the jacket is filled with epoxy resin. Both companies' treatments start around $400 per pole. Osmose, the industry leader, also offers a glass-fiber system. But Senior Engineer Nelson G. Bingel says the cheapest solution is a simple steel truss.