Looking at Expanding Your Options? Look at Fiberglass

October 31st, 2008 by Editor

Over the past several years, many changes in building design and construction have been driven by the desire for low-maintenance, long-life materials and products. Also, there has been consistent pressure on builders to produce higher-quality homes in less time and at a lower overall price. This trend has accelerated the development of new framing systems, pre-cast foundations, structural insulated panels (SIP) and the use of new materials throughout the building process. Finally, the “green” or environmental movement, once thought to be limited to market fringes, has now become mainstream. At the consumer level there is a large and growing market for environmentally responsible, sustainable products in all segments of the construction industry.One building material that has grown in use significantly over the past several years is fiberglass. It may be a material your company either manufactures now or has considered adding to your product line. If that is the case, you’ll want to read on to learn more about this emerging material.

Material Attributes
By definition, fiberglass is simply a composite structural material consisting of fiber reinforcements (typically glass) bound together in a resin matrix. Fiberglass has a high strength-to- weight ratio, resists warping and is resistant to corrosion from chemicals or salt air. It insulates against heat, cold and electricity, handles temperatures of from -40 degrees Fahrenheit to +350 degrees Fahrenheit and can be manufactured into complex shapes cost-efficiently.

Many products benefit from the properties of fiberglass. Products like boats, the Corvette, wind turbines and high-performance aircraft take advantage of the light weight and high strength of fiberglass. It is also used in harsh environments and very demanding applications such as bridge supports, corrosion-resistant reinforcement rods and in cooling towers and waste water treatment facilities.

Perhaps the fastest growth market for fiberglass over the past ten years has been in residential and light commercial construction. Fiberglass has quickly become a preferred material for window frames and door panels. In fact, according to Ducker Worldwide, fiberglass framed windows have been the fastest growing segment of the residential window industry for the past several years. Fiberglass entry door panels are also gaining market share, in part because they have captured the look of wood successfully through use of a low-maintenance material.

Fiberglass has earned a reputation as a smart choice for green building and is finding its way into an increasing number of building products. This is significant because buildings consume 30 percent of all of our nation’s energy and 50 percent of all electrical energy1. Fiberglass building products are one way to help reduce this energy consumption. These products include window frames, door frames, door panels, siding, trim and cornice systems, gutters, fencing, decking, railings and, of course, insulation systems.

The structural properties of fiberglass make it a smart choice for building, but its thermal properties mean that it can be a “green” choice as well as it insulates extremely well. Fiberglass framed doors and windows contribute to high R-values and low U-factors saving energy for decades. Fiberglass has high condensation resistance, which helps keep humidity within a proper range and limits the growth of molds and mildew. It also has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion and contraction (CTE). In fact, because fiberglass is mostly glass, it expands and contracts at about the same rate as plate glass. Aluminum moves three times as much as fiberglass and vinyl moves eight times as much. In fiberglass windows, stresses on seals, caulks and joints are minimized contributing to highly efficient products. Seal failure can cause air and water leaks lowering efficiency, increasing the risk of water damage or mold and shortening the life of the product.

Increased energy efficiency is important, but to be truly “green” a material must be sustainable as well. The embodied energy in fiberglass is less than other common building materials such as PVC (vinyl) and aluminum.

Fiberglass is made of abundant natural resources available almost everywhere. Fiberglass contributes to long product life and low life cycle costs. And, if disposal of a fiberglass product ever becomes necessary, the material can be re-processed for other uses or disposed of safely because it is completely inert. These attributes are critical in sustainable products. In fact, the use of fiberglass windows, doors, door frames and other products can contribute to National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credit programs. These programs assess building projects based on overall environmental impact. Points or credits are awarded for following green building practices.

Growing at a Fast Pace
Fiberglass framed windows are available from several companies and have grown in market share faster than any other fenestration material over the past several years.

Our company manufactures fiberglass with a process called pultrusion. With pultrusion, glass reinforcements are pulled through a resin bath, into a heated die resulting in a cured profile. Pultrusion allows manufacturers to produce complex fiberglass shapes in the high-volume necessary to support the building and construction industry. Utilizing this process, we manufacture several products in addition to door and window frames for Marvin Windows and Doors. Builders and homeowners can now use this family of fiberglass building products to finish and protect nearly the entire exterior of their homes.

Fiberglass products for building and construction are not some sort dream for the future of building and construction. They are available today from many companies. These products look great, offer long life, require little maintenance and make a limited impact on our environment. They are a cost effective, high-value option to more traditional building materials such as wood, vinyl and aluminum.

Steve Syrdal is sales manager for Tecton Products based in Fargo, N.D. You may e-mail him at ssyrdal@tectonproducts.com.
1 U.S. Department of Energy

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