Editorial Feature

Vinyl (Poly Vinyl Chloride) in Construction

Vinyl is often referred to as the "infrastructure plastic," and with good reason. More than half of all vinyl produced annually in the United States is used to manufacture construction or furnishing products, and more vinyl is used in construction than any other plastic. Vinyl is used so widely in the construction industry because of its durability, easy installation and cost-effectiveness. What's more, the chlorine content in vinyl makes it inherently flame resistant.


A 1996 study comparing the economics of vinyl building products to "traditional" materials found significant cost savings in using vinyl products. For instance, taking into account installation costs and maintenance for 20 years, the study found that vinyl siding costs are 51% of cedar textured plywood siding, 64% of aluminium siding and 37% of brick. In addition, one 3'x4' wood double-hung window costs about 10% more than its vinyl counterpart, raising the bill for new windows by over $650 for an average home (15 windows).

By choosing vinyl over "traditional" building materials, there are also continued cost savings over the life of the home or building. Vinyl is virtually maintenance-free which means there is no worry about costly repairs, painting, or replacing the product just a few short years after installation.

Figure 1. Typical construction costs for vinyl versus other materials

Energy Efficiency

Vinyl is also highly energy efficient. A 1991 study conducted by Franklin Associates found that the use of vinyl in eight major building applications - including vinyl flooring, pipe and siding - saves an estimated 260 trillion BTUs per year - the equivalent of 44.2 million barrels of oil, or 260 billion cubic feet of natural gas.


That's what makes vinyl a material of choice in the construction industry: versatility and design flexibility. If you're building or designing an office park or educational facility, consider vinyl wall coverings, piping systems or windows. If it's a hospital or sports complex you're working on, try commercial-grade vinyl flooring. If you're remodeling a home or a church, look into vinyl siding and exterior trim. Or if you're a residential architect or builder, investigate vinyl patio doors, decking, fencing and garage doors.

There's a place for vinyl in nearly every project - as long as you require products that are easy-to-maintain, durable and attractive. Inherent in the vinyl manufacturing process is the ability to formulate products in virtually any color and with any number of performance qualities - including UV stabilization, flame retardance, impact resistance and flexibility - and in virtually any size, shape or thickness.


By specifying and installing a durable, low-maintenance vinyl product, getting more than just cost savings. Homeowners can have a white picket fence, siding or garage door without ever having to paint them. Healthcare facilities managers can rest assured that vinyl flooring and wallcoverings in their hospitals will be easy to clean and sterilize, even in trauma areas. And building managers can feel safe knowing that vinyl wire sheathing and conduit will resist damage and won't overheat, preventing a possible fire.

In outdoor applications such as siding, windows and fencing, vinyl has been subjected to demanding testing to make sure that it can endure exposure to hot sun, snow, hail and other weather conditions. Indoors, vinyl flooring and wall coverings are made to withstand regular foot traffic and spills and stains of all sorts. And behind the walls and underground, vinyl electric conduit and pipe resist corrosion and other damage, even in the toughest conditions.

Not only is vinyl durable and easy-to-maintain, but it is also inherently fire resistant. Vinyl typically resists ignition and limits flame spread, which could prevent a fire from starting or contain its scope. Like all carbon-based materials, however, vinyl will burn when exposed to certain conditions and should be installed according to local building codes.

Fig 2. Installation and maintenance comparisons for construction materials

Environmental Performance

If you and your colleagues have a particular interest in choosing "green" building materials, take a look at how vinyl compares environmentally to other products.

Vinyl's environmental performance starts with the raw materials used to make it - mostly common salt, a practically unlimited natural resource. Production of vinyl requires a smaller amount of non-renewable petroleum resources than many alternative materials, while using significantly less energy.

In fact, one study indicates that the use of vinyl in eight major building and construction applications saves an estimated 260 trillion BTU of energy per year - the equivalent of 44.2 million barrels of oil. Vinyl's superior durability also saves resources, since it reduces the need for frequent replacement - and disposal - of worn-out products. And when used in window profiles, vinyl can save additional energy - and money - by efficiently insulating homes and buildings.

When vinyl building products do reach the end of their useful lives - or when vinyl scrap is generated at the construction site - the material can be recycled and reused in other building products, such as drainage pipe, windows, flooring, exterior accessories and fencing, or used in other applications, like traffic cones, parking stops or retaining walls. Programs are currently in operation to recycle vinyl building products.

Construction Applications

In the construction market, vinyl is used for:

  • Siding
  • Water distribution
  • Irrigation and sewer pipe
  • Wire and cable insulation
  • Electrical conduit
  • Floor and wall coverings
  • Window frames
  • Gutters and downspouts
  • Single-ply roofing
  • Landfill liners
  • Piping used in food processing, chemical processing and other manufacturing
  • Fire-sprinkler piping
  • Fencing

Source: The Vinyl Institute

For more information on this source please visit The Vinyl Institute

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