Plastic Building Materials: A Real Solution For Today’s Building Market

A Real Solution For Today’s Building Market

According to architects, building owners, specifiers, and others involved with selecting construction products, plastic building materials are recognized in a variety of important beneficial applications.

A recent Web and mail survey of Modern Materials readers, conducted by Accountability Information Management (AIM) on behalf of the Plastics Division of American Chemistry Council (ACC), indicates plastic building materials are becoming a major component in the built environment. Above all attributes rated, professionals find plastic building materials easy to maintain. More and more designers and owners prefer plastic building materials because they require little or no maintenance, and can withstand conditions of abuse or heavy use.

Additionally, building professionals find plastic building products affordable, durable, and safe, as illustrated by Figure 1. As better quality plastic building products with more design appeal have become available, plastic building materials are offering an array of building solutions. In fact, the majority (between 52 and 91 percent of the respondents, depending on the specific material) of the “designer” and “owner” market understands several different types of building products are made from plastic materials, from trim molding to roofing applications (Figure 2). However, the same research also indicates building professionals need more specific information on what building materials contain plastic products. For example, while just over 50 percent of the respondents indicated they were aware insulation could be made from plastic materials, more than four times the respondents rated plastic foam insulation more energy-efficient than “plastics” in general. This data seems to indicate many are simply not aware foam insulation is actually made from plastics.

The research indicates the industry wants more information on how plastic building products relate to the environment. Interestingly, when asked in their own words to define the terms “safe” and “environmentally friendly,” the survey participants’ definitions most often included the word “not.” Defining the term “safe,” 57 percent of the respondents said it meant “not harmful” or “not hazardous.” For the term “environmentally friendly,” 45 percent used definitions that included phrases like “not harmful” and “not toxic.” Respondents seldom used words like “green,” “natural,” or other positive terms—this signals a ‘First Do No Harm’ mindset among the industry, above all else. As more product-specific information on plastic building materials becomes available, the industry can be able to make more knowledgeable positive choices.

Research indicates more professionals are selecting plastic building materials on the building site than in 2003, and those surveyed indicate this trend will continue over the next years (Figure 3). As awareness and experience with various plastic building materials in the market increases, so will the use. Plastic building materials seem to offer built environment professionals alternatives and unique building solutions over traditional materials.

About the Author

Patty Fleider was directly involved in the research discussed in this article. The survey was conducted in September 2005 by Accountability Information Management (AIM), a national business- to-business research company using mail and Web surveys for an overall response rate of 16 percent (or 626 completed surveys).