New Focus on the Benefits of Plastic Building Materials

Plastic fencing at a horse ranch

Plastic fencing at a horse ranch Credit: Shutterstock

Over the last few years, factors including severe weather, production shutdowns, and even pine-beetle infestation have caused supply-chain problems for lumber building materials. The market volatility has impacted the costs of home construction as well as repair and DIY projects and caused greater appreciation for the affordability and performance benefits of plastic-based lumber products.

Whether made from virgin or recycled materials, plastic-based lumber building materials can be molded and finished to closely resemble traditional, textured wood. They also are typically more durable and require less maintenance than traditional wood products.

Reducing Lumber Requirements with FPIS Continuous Insulation

The volatility in lumber building materials has reportedly forced some builders to postpone or downsize new-home construction. One alternative solution is to reduce the amount of lumber required in wood-framed building walls, made possible by using foam plastic-insulating sheathing (FPIS) continuous insulation. As described in this PDF, wood-fiber usage can be cut by as much as one-third by using 2×4 framing with cavity plus FPIS continuous insulation in place of 2×6 framing and cavity-only insulation. The former system has been shown to generate higher energy savings and better moisture control than the minimum model code requirements. FPIS products can be used in many areas, including foundations, walls, windows, and roof.

Plastic-Lumber Decking

Backyard decks are synonymous with outdoor grilling and family fun. Plastic-lumber has become increasingly attractive for homeowners building or replacing their decks. Plastic-lumber decking is resistant to damage caused by sunlight, rain, snow, and extreme temperatures. This means more time enjoying your deck and lower maintenance or repair bills.

Recycled-plastic lumber replacing weathered wood decking

Recycled-plastic lumber replacing weathered wood decking
Credit: Shutterstock

This wood alternative is available in two varieties: recycled-plastic lumber (RPL) and woodplastic composite (WPC) lumber. Both products are available with a polymer “cap” layer of extra protection to increase their resistance to scratches, stains, and fading. In addition, both are available in a variety of natural-looking wood grains and colors.

Recycled-plastic lumber is usually made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE). These materials are lightweight and extremely durable. This plastic lumber typically requires very little maintenance because of its special resistance to rot, mold, stains, and insects.

Wood-plastic composite lumber is made of wood fibers or sawdust mixed with plastic materials. Like recycled-plastic lumber, WPC decking is appreciated for its long lifespan and low-maintenance, and is easily cleaned with soap and water. As a wood-plastic blend, it resembles real wood. And wood-plastic composite resists stains, fading, and splintering.

Siding Options

Plastic is also well suited for replacing lumber with long-lasting, low-maintenance house-siding products. Plastic siding is resistant to water damage, reducing the need for paint or caulk sealants. Protective layers block UV rays, which prevents color fading for many years. Cleaning is easy — soap and water from a garden hose usually suffices.

New products made of PVC or polypropylene resin emulate wood siding or shingles with a three-dimensional pattern. Color, shape, and texture are formed during the injection-molding process used to make the siding.

Fencing Alternatives

From safety to security, fencing has multiple applications on house, farm, and ranch properties. Vinyl fencing is an increasingly popular choice for fencing applications for its durability in outdoor conditions. Vinyl is resistant to termites and discoloration, does not splinter, and only requires occasional cleaning.

Fencing manufactured from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) provides another alternative to wood fencing, particularly in farm and ranch settings. HDPE fence-post products are built in standard lumber sizes and can easily replace wood-lumber construction. They’re manufactured in many styles and colors to complement both traditional and contemporary designs. HDPE fencing can be hollow to reduce material and weight, but it’s sturdy, difficult to break or shatter, and it performs under cold temperatures. And HDPE fencing retains its color and remains waterproof for many years.

Builder and consumer interest in affordable, high-performance building materials is helping drive the growth of plastic alternatives. Plastic and plastic-wood composites offer strength, light weight, long-term durability, and low maintenance. These trends are helping many designers and consumers make the decision to substitute high-performance, modern plastic building materials for traditional wood lumber.