Printer Friendly

Plastics in construction.

Over the years, plastics have notably penetrated the construction market in specific application areas. However, in spite of the tremendous potential for growth, the materials are a long way from having found a home in the building industry. Residential and commercial construction is the largest materials market, but it has the lowest plastics penetration. In 1990, out of a total consumption of 550 billion lbs of construction materials, 12 billion lbs, or only 2%, were plastics. In contrast, packaging consumed a total of 140 billion lbs of materials, of which 14.7 billion lbs, or 10.5%, were plastics; and transportation used a total of 33 billion lbs, including 2.5 billion lbs, or 7%, for plastics.

Many now believe it is time to develop greater synergism with the entrenched traditional materials, and for plastics to take their place in a more eclectic application of housing materials that better utilizes modern technology and design ingenuity.

Notwithstanding the already substantial uses of plastics in areas such as siding, windows, and insulation, polymer technology is still waiting to be more fully understood, appreciated, and implemented by the housing industry. There are many in the plastics industry, however, who are working to turn the tremendous potential into greater reality.


In 1988, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, launched a consortium and research effort to promote plastics innovation in housing. Directed by John S. Crowley, research associate, the program is sponsored by a group of building materials companies and major materials suppliers to develop and make available, within two to five years, innovative, value-added materials, components, and systems for residential construction. The intended outcome of the program is to find practical solutions with direct value to the housing industry and the consumer.

Since its inception, the consortium has included multiyear sponsorship by Alcan International, CertainTeed, Dow Chemical, GAF, General Electric, Hoechst Celanese, Illinois Tool Works, MacMillan Bloedel (a Canadian forest product company), Miles Inc., USG Corp. (a diversified building interiors company), and Weyerhaeuser Co. Assistance also has been provided by an advisory board of leading home-builders and component producers.

The consortium's accomplishments include:

* Development and testing concepts of Development and testing concepts of composite foam/fiber and foam/sphere matrices that are applicable to a range of foam products, such as laminated structural panels, for improving shear properties and core stiffness.

* Development of variable-density foam cement with polymer microsphere reinforcement, such as expanded polystyrene beads, for laminated and nonlaminated panel cores, for use in building applications such as foundations, doors, walls, and countertops.

* Analyses of housing shell components (roofs, walls, floors) to assist in identifying cost and value factors for new construction product development.

* Development of a CAD/CAM manufacturing concept for net-shape parts for a new roof system that uses structural adhesives, composite wood fiber, and weatherable polymer membranes. The system offers lower installed cost and higher perceived value than conventional rafter and truss technology.

* Analysis with builders and code officials of the degree of market resistance and acceptance of new value-added construction products for the residential sector.


Better coordination among the diverse elements of the building industry is considered essential for plastics acceptance and growth. The ABACoS (Advanced Building and Construction Systems) program, directed by Michael Dickens, GE Plastics, is in part an extension of the company's original effort with its in-house Living Environments program in Pittsfield, Mass. Spearheaded by GE Plastics, a working alliance created in February 1991 involves seven leading companies, representing the wood, gypsum, industrialized housing, energy, kitchen and bathroom, electrical and electronic, and architectural system sectors. While still in early stages, a plan is being formulated to establish a more formal consortium this year. Industry, government, and academia are to collaborate to overcome barriers to increased application of plastics in housing. "It will not happen overnight," Dickens comments. An these factors create opportunities for plastics. The rest is up to us."

Dickens sees three main drivers for plastics growth in the housing industry in the 1990s: lifestyles, industry competitiveness, and the environment.

Just as with cars, he predicts, the housing industry will increasingly emphasize niche markets, largely based on changing demographics. A major reason that the low-priced, panelized, modular home concept has not grown as expected, Dickens suggests, may be the absence of an in-depth mass market, rather than the more selectively oriented niche markets that emphasize system flexibility and higher quality.

The Sun Belt, as one major niche, could account for about 40% of the 1.2 million homes expected to be built annually, compared with the 2 million homes per year built in the '70s and '80s. The perception is that a more sophisticated public will demand quality, individuality, value, and utility, with inherent adaptability for both initial design and retrofitting. As traditional craftsmen become scarcer, and more expensive, the ability to combine components and systems in creative plastic designs is expected to stimulate growth. Because of the need for increased productivity, quality, and cost efficiency, the prediction is that the consumer will more readily accept plastics technology as the relatively unsophisticated building industry comes of age. The incorporation of the computer in the design process, for example, will facilitate better coordination of the functions of builder, architect/designer, and supplier.

Dickens says that new residential housing represents a normal annual market, for all materials, of about 110 billion lbs. The estimated 110 billion lb normal annual market for retrofit materials is expected to grow to about 220 billion by the year 2000.

Opportunities for growth of high density, multifamily, and single-family attached housing, as is foreseen in the Sun Belt, are tied to quick assembly, installation, and low maintenance. It is anticipated that there will be increased awareness of the potential of homes as cost-effective, environmentally positive energy systems, with more efficient wall, window, and roof designs; recirculating water systems in hot regions; more concentration on waste management; and generally a higher level of design and control of the internal environment, including air quality. Plastics will find its opportunities in the inevitable challenges to create better products that people can afford.


The thrust to tap more deeply the potential of the housing market, by capitalizing on a combination of the plastic industry's modern technology and opportunities for creativity, is typified by GE Plastics' integrated roofing system. Normally, says William Hunt, marketing manager, Building and Construction, Roofing Systems, asphalt shingles are used in about 75% of the sloped roofs in the U.S. The remainder use tile products, slates, wood shakes and shingles, aluminum, and steel.

GE's injection molded roof design looks like wood and consolidates thirteen Noryl polyphenylene oxide shakes (or shingles), with an acrylic-enamel coating, on a single 4 by 2 ft, 4-lb panel. In a series of pass/fail tests based on UL standard 790, a burning log placed on the molding must consume itself without penetrating through the shake. Additionally, in a spread-of-flame test, lighted propane, blown through a pipe with holes, must not cause fire spread of more than 6 ft. In a "flying brand" test, also under UL standard 790, a flame is intermittently blown onto the roofing to determine if sections release and spread to other houses. The plastic roofing charred, but there was no burnthrough.

Under development at GE is an integrated roofing system that incorporates the roof decking, insulation, waterproofing, and an aesthetic covering, or shingle. The parts consolidation contributes to increased functionality, and decreased cost, with reduction in contractors from three to one.


Since their inception some 80 years ago, the model building codes have been dedicated to the development of better building construction and greater safety to the public by uniformity in building laws. The three major building codes in the U.S. are the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), with jurisdiction west of the Mississippi River; Building Officials and Code Administrators International Inc. (BOCA), with jurisdiction east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line; and the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI), with jurisdiction east of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon line. There is no uniform national building code; each of these regional codes, historically written around the traditional materials, is periodically updated. Functioning as law, codes dictate material requirements, and if a specific material is not covered, it is excluded from legal use. The fife safety codes established by the National Fire Protection Association, in contrast, are national in jurisdiction, and while not specifying materials, set minimum requirements that intend to provide a reasonable degree of safety in building fires.

Rick Marek, agency specialist, Building and Construction, GE Plastics, says that the residential codes tend to be more lenient than the commercial or industrial codes. Regarding plastics, they have typically been based on the earlier polymers, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, acrylic, and polyvinyl chloride. "After long, hard work," Marek says, "many of the more common plastics applications were accepted and written into the model codes. Some of the more familiar examples include foam insulation, exterior wall panels, siding, light diffusers, interior finish and trim, glazing, and skylights."

Nevertheless, what really gets to the heart of the matter, Marek continues, is that "the vast majority of the building and construction community, which includes building officials and fire authorities, still has a mindset that revolves around some of the early plastics. Since those days, a number of high performance polymers have been developed that perform as well as or better than the traditional materials. There is a strong need for high performance polymer manufacturers and the building and construction community to work hand in hand to understand this technology and for the codes to accept the new materials on their own merits. We need to communicate and educate."


Eric Balinski, market development manager, Dow Plastics Building and Construction Group, emphasizes that expanded growth of plastics in construction will depend on increased cooperative efforts to assist manufacturers in learning how to innovate with plastics and to shorten the time span of new product development to two to three years. A basic goal is product differentiation, or creating products that have functional, cost, and aesthetic advantages over traditional competitive products. "Simply providing new products will not be enough," Balinski says. "Building product manufacturers are looking to materials suppliers to provide innovation. Opportunities exist, sparked by demographic shifts, affordability concerns, and rising labor costs, for new materials with improved fire performance, dimensional stability, high heat distortion temperatures, and designs that combine traditional materials such as wood, cellulose, and glass with polymers to reduce coefficients of expansion and provide moisture stability.

"Our cooperative effort aims at developing a special product identity for our customer, in terms of its uniqueness and advantages to the consumer." Balinski adds that instead of also trying to expand the materials development to the customer's competitors, as is often typical, the intent is to focus on the marketing strategy of the specific customer and to personalize the efforts. "Conceptually, in turn, if a competitor wants to work with Dow, then Dow would again strive to personalize the approach to the new customer's needs."

It is not unusual for the development, commercialization, and adoption of new building products to take fifteen years or more. Dow Plastics' aim is to help accelerate this process by sharing development resources through strategic alliances with manufacturers.

Shorter product development lead times, Balinski asserts, can have a more dramatic impact on a product's lifetime earnings than production or R&D cost overruns. According to the Arthur D. Little management consulting firm, a delay of only six months in product introduction time could reduce a product's lifetime profitability by as much as 25% to 40%. In comparison, a 10% overrun in production costs could decrease profitability by 15% to 20%, and as much as a 50% overrun in R&D costs might lower profitability by only 5% to 10%. Dow emphasizes that strategic alliances, such as its recently announced cooperative relationship with Masco Corp., the largest and most diversified U.S. manufacturer of building products and home furnishings, will speed more profitable innovation to the building and construction industry. In addition to development programs in several application areas, Dow is contributing to the construction of Masco demonstration homes for the 1992-1994 conventions of the National Association of Home Builders in Las Vegas. With their objective of accelerating the entrance of new products, it is anticipated that these conventions will demonstrate increasing use of plastics.

Traditional materials and manufacturing methods, Balinski comments, have limited ability to address product deficiencies and to create differentiation of the products, such as siding, windows, roofing, and doors. Manufacturers are interested in using polymers to improve energy performance; provide molded-in functionality, colors, and textures; reduce weight; improve durability; and cut installation/labor costs. The shortage and cost of prime wood resources have increased interest in plastics for applications such as furniture and kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Also, applications of plastics in construction are expected to grow as progressive European design trends, which are more flexibly applying a full range of materials, are adopted in the U.S.


Du Pont's sales of materials in the construction industry of more than $1.5 billion/yr have been achieved until now through the efforts of some forty independently operating businesses. Ross Armbrecht, technology programs manager of a newly formed construction industry team, says some recent developments are the result of cross-fertilization of ideas among existing business units and that "such system integrations emphasize the power of focusing on development activities that might otherwise fall through the cracks between traditionally separate business groups." Recent results of the approach, to minimize energy costs, are two new wall insulation systems to be introduced in the first quarter. One will be composed of significant quantities of recycled materials. Because of the team structure, the customer now has a single access point to the company's wide variety of products and services.

Last month, Du Pont opened Signature Place in Chester, N.J., a joint effort with Deck House, of Acton, Mass. The project reflects the company's effort to showcase its broad capability in the construction and home furnishings market through an integrated approach. The display of new polymeric materials and new uses for traditional materials express the company's increasing role in meeting residential construction needs.

A few of Du Pont's recent offerings to the construction market are additions to the Corian filled-acrylic solid-surface line for countertops and tabletops, trim, and integral vanity and sink combinations; easily maintained Lucite XL ceramic-appearing cast acrylic for jetted bathtubs and integral shower/tub units; and new certified WeatherFront architectural exterior cladding, a vinyl material fortified with the company's acrylic heat stabilizer, and laminated to Tedlar polyvinyl fluoride film containing a heat-reducing reflective pigment. The company has also introduced Spallshield, a combination of tough, polyester film and Butacite polyvinyl butyral, which can be permanently laminated to glass to achieve equivalent penetration resistance with reduced thickness.


In 1952, the development of high impact rigid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) gave birth to the vinyl pipe market and opened the door for what is now the largest volume plastic in the construction industry. The early '60s brought new weathering technology to PVC, resulting in the first vinyl siding installations, and later, solid vinyl window applications. Four decades after PVC's appearance in the pipe market, the construction industry continues to find new applications for this versatile material. Thanks to product enhancements and advanced technology, today's PVC competes with metal and other thermoplastics for the construction market's engineering applications.

One of the newest engineered vinyls for the construction market is BFGoodrich's Advex 91025, introduced in December 1990 in response to the need of window manufacturers for a cost-competitive thermoplastic for interiors where coefficient of expansion and stiffness are critical. Robert Sowka, marketing manager, Construction, BFGoodrich Geon Vinyl Division, says the material is expected to be used for interior window lineals, especially in darker colors. The vinyl compound has a low coefficient of expansion of 2.5 x 10[.sup.-5] in/in/[Degrees] F, about 33% lower than that of standard vinyl extrusion compounds. Its modulus is about 75% higher than that of standard vinyl.

Also new for the window market are Geon HTX extrusion compounds. Interior Geon HTX grades offer heat distortion temperatures up to 202 [Degrees] F A weatherable exterior grade provides a heat distortion temperature of 185 [Degrees] F. Other new compounds can be used in exterior applications with a weatherable capstock.

What's next for vinyl? "The general trend towards composites for engineering uses is beginning to have an impact on the construction market," says Charles J. Carman, director of marketing projects at the Geon Vinyl Division. "There is increased interest in the Fiberloc vinyl composites because of their low coefficient of expansion, creep resistance, stiffness, and thermal properties. In the next few years we expect to see the materials used for extruded lineals, such as window components, soffits, framing, and curtainwalls."

Another expected new area for vinyl in residential construction is in applications for rigid and flexible sheet and capstock compounds. "Dow's announcement to discontinue their Rovel product line provides new opportunities for our DuraCap vinyl capstock compounds," says Sowka. DuraCap's most recent entry into the construction market was in commercial curtainwall systems. In the near future, he expects to see thermoformed rigid vinyl sheet in some traditional wood applications, such as front doors and cladding.


Vinyl siding has become the leading material for the residential remodeling market; a major reason is its low maintenance and dent resistance vs. aluminum. In new construction, vinyl siding has also grown dramatically over the last five years and continues to gain market share vs. wood products, which require painting. Currently, vinyl's market share is more than 35% of residential siding materials. As lumber is forecast to shrink in availability and to experience price increases because of pressures for forest preservation, the future of vinyl siding (also factoring in its recyclability) looks bright.

Double-digit growth (more than 10%/yr) has been the norm for vinyl windows as they have become a major force in remodeling and replacement (more than 32%). Vinyl windows have also grown dramatically in new construction, from only 3% in 1988 to close to 10% today.

Some states, such as California, Washington, and Oregon, will soon mandate that an windows meet certain energy efficiency standards, depending on the climate of the particular area. Since vinyl's energy ratings are good compared with those of aluminum, and other states may adopt similar guidelines, the future also appears positive for vinyl windows.

Rohm and Haas has recently developed an additive that improves the heat resistance of vinyl, opening new markets in warmer climates. Paraloid HT-510 is the latest product in the Paraloid line of additives for vinyl, which include KM-334 impact modifier and K-120ND processing aid. The company also supplies Solacryl PG, a fully formulated all-acrylic resin, as a cap layer for dark vinyl windows to improve fade resistance.


Polyurethane and polyisocyanurate foam insulation can provide the highest R values, the measure of insulation efficiency, for any given thickness among commercially available building insulators, according to the Polyurethane Division of The Society of the Plastics Industry. In residential construction, as laminated boardstock or spray-applied, the products are used primarily as sheathing board and as perimeter wall and roofing insulation. The products now account for 25% of the overall sheathing board market. As sheathing, boardstock can provide maximum insulation in confined areas, such as window sills and doorways, or fill cavities or bays between studs. Fabricated at the construction site, spray polyurethane foam insulation, in addition to filling cavities between studs, is also used as perimeter wall insulation.

Varied federal, local, and industry programs aim at more energy-efficient building envelopes. Also, in response to the worldwide phaseout of fully halogenated chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the industry is evaluating the thermal performance of polyurethane and polyisocyanurate insulation produced with HCFC-123, HCFC-141b, and blends of the two alternative blowing agents. An industry-government research project, conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee, indicates that rigid foam insulation made with HCFCs maintains thermal performance similar to that of products containing CFC-11. Assuming that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that these two. alternative blowing agents are safe, according to the Clean Air Act of 1990, the industry is committed to phasing CFCs out of product formulations by December 1993.


BASF Plastic Materials sees considerable potential for injection molded, heat resistant thermoplastics as replacements for brass components in potable-water systems. The company says the lead content in brass, in conjunction with the new EPA potable water lead content legislation, is stimulating a lot of redesign. To facilitate the changeover from brass, BASF is currently evaluating the performance of numerous thermoplastics, including its Ultrason S polysulfones and Ultrason E polyethersulfone resins, in potable water and chemicals commonly found in potable water.

BASF also says there is growing interest in its Luran S acrylonitrile/styrene/acrylate (ASA) resins for making bath and Jacuzzi tubs and hardware. ASA injection moldings and thermoformed sheet have high gloss, and they resist water, soap, and sunlight. Some manufacturers of glass fiber reinforced polyester tubs are looking at thermoformed ASA sheet in order to reduce manufacturing costs.


A lot of progress is being made in the wings--from the standpoints of developing technology and application of imagination--to foster the growth of plastics in the very large residential construction market. Many homes will be built, and high performance polymer materials deserve, and will surely earn, a much larger part of the overall construction materials mix. Tradition is fine, but progress is even better, and manufacturers, builders, and consumers are, with proper communication and interaction, bound to progressively realize the benefits more and more.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Society of Plastics Engineers, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Wigotsky, Victor
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Recycled plastics: supply-side highs - demand-side lows.
Next Article:Extrusion-compression of commingled resin blends.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters