From the construction of new homes to the retrofit and renovation of commercial buildings, and from hospitals to schools, architects and designers rely on plastics to help maximize energy efficiency, durability and performance. In addition to potentially lightening a structure’s environmental footprint, properly installed plastic building products can help reduce energy and maintenance costs, improve aesthetics and safety over many years.
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Sustainable or “green building” design and construction is the opportunity to use our resources more efficiently while creating healthier and more energy-efficient homes. Although there is no magic formula, success comes in the form a leaving a lighter footprint on the environment through conservation of resources, while at the same time balancing energy-efficient, cost-effective, low-maintenance products for our construction needs. In other words, green design involves finding the delicate balance between homebuilding and the sustainable environment.
Energy Savings: Adding It All Up
A one-year study1 found that the use of plastic building and construction materials saved 467.2 trillion Btu of energy over alternative construction materials. That’s enough energy saved over the course of a year to meet the average annual energy needs of 4.6 million U.S. households. Savings vary by material and products. (Source: Franklin Associates, Ltd., U.S. DOE and U.S. Census Bureau).
Below are some examples of plastic building products that promote the efficient use of energy and other resources:
- Reflective light colored roofing membranes made of vinyl or thermoplastic olefin (TPO) blends are key energy saving applications especially for commercial buildings in southern climes. Studies have shown that the surface temperature of a light covered roof compared to a darker one could be as much as much lower. » learn more
Whether it is spray polyurethane foam (SPF) in the attic or rigid foam polyiso board on the roof, polyurethane based systems offer durability, energy savings and moisture control. When used for retrofit situations, they also help reduce the amount of building waste sent to landfills. » learn more
In walls, behind walls and under floors, the use of polystyrene foams can provide significant energy efficiency. For example, rigid extruded polystyrene (XPS) is a builder favorite because it can be installed easily and effectively. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) made with expanded polystyrene (EPS) can help homeowners save hundreds of dollars annually on heating and cooling bills. Savings vary by material and products. » learn more
- Vinyl based wall coverings are commonly used for durable, easy-to-clean hospitality and health care facilities. Vinyl requires only half as much energy to manufacture as the same amount of paper wall coverings. » learn more
Plastics rival traditional materials for window glazing. For example, polycarbonate—a material also used in eyeglasses—is used as panes. These clear, lightweight, shatter-resistant plastic products have low thermal conductivity, which can help to reduce heating and cooling costs. » learn more
Vinyl window frames are inherently energy efficient and save the U.S. nearly 2 trillion thermal units of energy per year, helping reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy generation—all the while cutting maintenance time, materials and costs.
Plastic pipe and fittings are easy to install, durable and will not rust or corrode over time. Several types of plastics are used for piping depending on the properties and performance required. Whether they are polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) they each offer excellent fusion integrity when joined properly helping to eliminate potential leak points where water could be wasted. » learn more
In home building, flexible blue and red cross-linked polyethylene piping (PEX) is becoming builders’ favorite for hot and cold water delivery all managed and hooked into a central and effective manifold system. This is due to its flexibility, lightness, and ease of installation—allowing multiple feed lines throughout a house, which allows hot water to arrive more quickly to a sink or shower. This can significantly save water. » learn more
Decks, Fences and Railings
- “Lumber” planks and rails made from recycled plastics or plastic-wood composites are carefully engineered to same dimensions so warpage and knots are virtually eliminated. They can outlast traditional materials, often require less maintenance, and are resistant to peeling, cracking, splintering or fading. » learn more
Plastic House Wrap
- The advent of plastic house wrap technology has reduced the infiltration of outside air into the average home by 10-50%, helping to drastically reduce the energy required to heat or cool the home. These plastic films have helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by as much as 120 to 600 million tons of CO2 since 1980 (assuming that all homes built since 1980 have some form of plastic barrier). » learn more
1 Plastics Energy and Greenhouse Gas Savings Using Rigid Foam Sheathing Applied to Exterior Walls of Single Family Residential Housing in the U.S. and Canada—A Case Study. Franklin Associates, Prairie Village, KS, 2000. » learn more