- May 18, 2016
- Posted by: Stephenson Windows
- Category: Doors, Windows
It is time to dispel the myths around vinyl.
Vinyl is composed of ingredients from nature: chlorine, based on common salt, and ethylene from natural gas. By employing further chemistry, vinyl can be made flexible, rigid, or semi-rigid; clear or colorful; thick or thin.
Part of the beauty of affordable, energy-efficient, versatile vinyl is that it can literally last a lifetime. With long life cycles and natural fire resistance, it is a highly sustainable building material. No wonder vinyl is a major component of products used for residential and commercial construction, wire and cable, consumer items and healthcare.
When it comes to water, the choice is clear. Thanks to vinyl, tough, durable pipes provide safe and reliable water supplies. Vinyl pipes used for infrastructure have been in use for over 30 years and how no signs of degradation. Building products like siding, moulding, decking, windows, doors and skylights use vinyl for its toughness, superior weathering properties and flame resistance. The National Association of Home Builders has cited “life-time” as the expected life expectancy of vinyl siding on a home. Some windows and siding have been in use for more than 40 years.
The auto industry uses vinyl for instrument panels and door panel coverings.
Other contributions include shatter-resistant clear containers, collection of blood in vinyl blood bags and safe food packaging and storage. During World War II, vinyl came to the rescue with flame-resistant vinyl wire insulation that helped to solve the issue of uncontrolled flame spreading on ships.
Today, vinyl continues to save lives with its natural flame resistance, making it a mainstay in many potentially dangerous applications. Office buildings have stringent requirements for materials housed in the plenum space. Vinyl materials can be formulated to pass rigorous smoke and flame tests per the National Fire Protection Agency Standard 90A.
A Vital Part of our World
One of the most versatile polymers today, vinyl or PVC (polyvinyl chloride), is the third largest plastic consumed globally. Manufacturers consumed 77 billion pounds in 207 and project an annualized growth rate of 5 per cent per year. The U.S. and Canada consume about 19 per cent of the total global demand (about 14.3 billion pounds in 2007). According to the American Plastics Council, over 70 percent of vinyl is used in building and construction.
Vinyl windows and doors have enjoyed growing popularity as well. Since the first vinyl windows were introduced to North America in the early 1950s, vinyl has continued to gain market share due to its desirable physical properties and design versatility. Vinyl windows offer a unique blend of energy efficiency, ease of maintenance and low cost. In 2011, vinyl windows accounted for 68 percent of residential window shipments in the U.S., totaling 25.7 million windows.
The health and environmental aspects of vinyl have been more closely examined than those of any other plastic or polymer. Several industries and organizations have commissioned a range of life cycle assessments based on various applications. The consensus is that vinyl performs consistently with respect to environmental and sustainable criteria.
A U.S. Green Building Council PVC Task Group, in February 2007, stated, “No single material shows up as the best across all human and environmental impact categories, nor as the worst.” Also, a 2001 Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs study in the UK, and a 2004 European Commission study demonstrated that PVC was no more environmentally unacceptable than the alternatives. Vinyl windows, doors and skylights provide years of performance, scoring favorably in life cycle assessments.
PVC is formed through industrial processes. At the end of its service life, the material is available for reuse, recycling or disposal. As with any product, there are four conditions for sustainability: carbon neutrality, carbon content, carbon resulting from embodied energy, a controlled waste management system, zero emissions and zero accumulation of toxic materials in nature.
Carbon neutrality is the consideration of the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of the manufacture and use of the product in its intended application. While carbon neutrality is the ideal goal, the practical consideration is to use the lowest carbon generating material available.
By its very nature vinyl contains less carbon that most alternatives since it is roughly half chlorine and half carbon. The carbon comes from ethylene, which today is derived from either crude oil or natural gas. Ethylene can also be made commercially by the dehydration of ethanol made from renewable resources.
It is not practiced commercially today because this route is more expensive than ethylene derived from crude oil or natural gas. PVC, made from ethanol and salt, would be derived completely from renewable resources – a 100 percent bio-based product.
The energy used to manufacture vinyl, process it into an application (like a vinyl window), ship it for installation and then maintain the product over its useful life can also require carbon in the form of energy or other products required for maintenance. When compared to alternative plastics, vinyl consumes 20 percent less energy versus other plastics during manufacturing. The properties of vinyl make it easy to process, and its outstanding energy efficiency, durability and low maintenance characteristics contribute to very low carbon requirements over its life cycle.
In a controlled waste management system, the amount of material going into the waste stream is minimized and a concentration of material not naturally occurring is avoided. Most of the U.S. and Canadian installed base of vinyl windows and patio doors are still in productive use in millions of homes and will be for many years to come. To enhance future sustainability opportunities, AAMA’s Vinyl Material Council sponsored a vinyl window recycling case study in 2008 to evaluate possible strategies for making post-consumer recycling viable on a broad scale. The results of this study are summarized in a white paper entitled, “Avoiding the Landfill: The Recycling of Vinyl Windows and Doors.”
The zero-emissions condition is designed to ensure that persistent organic compounds from the whole life cycle do not result in systematic increases in concentration in nature. Once again, PVC’s outstanding durability and recyclability help ensure persistent organic compounds are not released during the life cycle of this product. In addition, the low maintenance feature reduces the potential release of materials coming from cleaning agents and emissions from coatings.
Vinyl meets the “zero accumulation of toxic materials in nature” condition easily. Vinyl, as evidenced by its use in blood bags, is not a toxic material. The vinyl compound does not contain any heavy metals or phthalates, which have been noted as concerns for some applications. Also, the stabilizer used in the vinyl compound is tin, a common material used in food cans. Therefore, vinyl windows do not pose a threat regarding a potential accumulation of toxic materials in nature.
Vinyl has excellent energy efficiency, can last for over 50 years and has very low maintenance requirements making it a perfect choice for building and construction applications.
Vinyl is a derivative of salt and hydrocarbons, either from natural gas or crude oil. Naturally occurring salt is the source of chlorine. Hydrocarbons are the source of ethylene. Together, chlorine and ethylene make up the building blocks for PVC, which is unique because a significant part (57 percent) of this polymer is made up of chlorine. Other polymers, like polyethylene and polypropylene, are derived almost entirely from natural gas or crude oil.
Chlorine is found everywhere and is an essential component of the human body. It was first described as chlorine in 1774. Sir Humphry Davy identified it as an element in 1810. In 1872, vinyl was first produced by a German chemist, Eugen Baumann. In 1913, Friedrich Heinrich August Klatte developed a commercial route to vinyl chloride, but the material was limited by its extreme rigidity. In 1926, Dr. Waldo Lonsbury Semon, a researcher for B.F. Goodrich, discovered plasticized PVC, which made it flexible. He received several patents, and the product was used for golf balls, shoe heels, rain suits and shower curtains.
Vinyl is an extremely versatile polymer that is being used today in everything from building and construction including pipes, siding and windows, to healthcare, such as blood bags and catheter components.
Closing The Loop
Because scrap vinyl used in the manufacture of window and door profiles can be melted and reformed repeatedly, it has long been the industry’s practice to recover production trimmings and scrap and return them to their vinyl extrusion supplier or local recycler for reprocessing into the same or other products. When the vinyl trimmings and scrap are returned to the original vinyl extrusion supplier, this is called closed-loop recycling.
Post-industrial recycling includes the recycling of converted vinyl material from industrial end users into the same or difference end-use applications. This is also widely practiced within the vinyl industries. According to a 1999 Principia Partners study, 80 percent of the rigid post-industrial vinyl available to be reclaimed is recycled.
Types of post-industrial end-use applications include, but are not limited to:
• Non-pressure pipe
• Fencing and decking substrate
• Artificial Christmas trees
• Cooling tower baffles/trays
As the use of post-consumer recycled content becomes an increasing requirement in end-use products due to state and local regulations or voluntary programs like LEED, the ability to recycle windows may become a natural extension of this trend. As demonstrated commercially in Europe, and as part of the VMC’s U.S. case study, vinyl windows are recyclable. Currently, post-consumer window and door recycling may become a natural part of this evolution. As such, the VMC remains committed to finding ways to help support and increase the recycling of post-consumer vinyl windows, doors and skylights.
Another key benefit of vinyl window systems is the ability to resist condensation that can lead to mold and mildew.
Condensation tends to appear when moisture in the air settles on cold surfaces like glass. Since vinyl has low conductivity, the interior surface of vinyl windows remains relatively close to the room temperature and therefore less susceptible to condensation. In extreme cases, where non-vinyl window framing material has high conductivity, condensation can turn to frost or ice on the interior of a window. The ability to resist condensation is called condensation resistance factor. The higher the CRF, the more resistant the window is to condensation.
Common Myths about Vinyl
1. Vinyl can’t be recycled – Because vinyl is a thermoplastic, vinyl products can be melted and remolded repeatedly. Vinyl scrap, trim and off-spec material recycled from the vinyl production process adds up to more than 1 billion pounds per year. According to the 1999 Principia Partners study, Post-Industrial and Post-Consumer Vinyl Reclaim, this mean that 99 percent of all manufactured vinyl is made into products, avoiding the landfill. In fact, post-industrial vinyl recycling has proven so viable that its price in indexed in leading plastic industry publications.
The study also states that an estimated 18 million pounds of post-consumer vinyl are recycled annually. A tremendous amount of post-consumer material is not available because it is still in service as durable pipe, energy-efficient window profiles and other products that last decades. Furthermore, many companies offer take-back programs and are increasingly exploring other opportunities.
2. Vinyl is a major source of dioxin – Dioxin is an unwanted by-product of incineration, uncontrolled burning and certain industrial processes. Through regulation and voluntary efforts, releases of dioxin to the environment have been dramatically reduced.
Vinyl is an extremely small source of dioxin, so small that levels in the environment would be essentially unchanged even if vinyl were not being manufactured and used every day in important products. The vinyl industry has studied and worked to reduce its contribution to dioxin.
In fact, according to the latest data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, vinyl manufacturing creates only grams of dioxin per year, which equates to less than one half of one percent of all dioxins generated annually. Other dioxin sources include forest fires, volcanoes, burning wood in fireplaces, vehicle emissions and the manufacture of other building materials. Overall dioxin levels in the environment have been declining for more than 30 years, according to the EPA. During this time, production and use of vinyl more than tripled.
3. Vinyl contributes to the danger of building fires – Fire science shows that the greatest hazards in a building fire are heat and carbon monoxide – a lethal, odourless gas produced in abundance by virtually all burning materials. If any hydrogen chloride – an irritant gas with a pungent odor – is released, it can serve as a fire warning. Furthermore, HCL sampling in real fires shows that it tends not to reach dangerous concentration.
Because the vinyl polymer is made from 57 percent salt, a plentiful natural resource which by its nature resists combustion, this can help slow down fires and save lives. Vinyl is one of the few materials meeting the stringent National Electrical Code of the NFPA for insulating electrical and data transmission cables and the interior of aircraft.
4. Synthetic materials, like vinyl and other plastics, are bad for the planet – All materials, both natural and synthetic, have an environmental impact. A 2004 study of environmental life cycle analyses of vinyl and competing building materials by the European Commission found that vinyl offers environmental benefits equal to or better than those of other materials in many applications. The USGBC PVC Task Group reached similar conclusions in its draft report issues February 2007. Versatile, energy-efficient vinyl provides a vital role in the built environment and in sustaining the environment. Products made from vinyl can and do last for generations and contribute to sustainable buildings. As technology advances, vinyl will continue to evolve as a part of life.