How chemistry helps enhance building sustainability and resiliency
Thanks to advances in chemistry and the efforts of the American Chemistry Council, architects and designers now have access to new and innovative materials
Increasingly, architects, builders, and designers are embracing the concept of resiliency in building planning and design. This focus will continue to grow as cities and communities around the world face the effects of natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, major population shifts, and political upheaval.
Last year, the Resilience Building Coalition—led by AIA, the National Institute of Building Sciences, and other leaders in the US design and construction industry—released its first progress report, introducing a set of principles to clarify this industry’s commitment to significantly improving the resilience of the nation’s buildings, infrastructure, public spaces, and communities.
Resilient structures necessitate innovative materials that can not only endure stress but also return to a functioning, usable state. That’s why product and materials selection is a critical component in building for resiliency, as architects and builders seek high-performance products and materials that also will protect and promote the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants.
In a 2016 survey of 300 architects conducted by the American Chemistry Council, many of the surveyed stated that they want to specify high-quality, durable building materials that enhance building resiliency and health and wellness. At the same time, they reported challenges in finding innovative or “eco-friendly” building materials that help meet sustainability and resiliency goals.
The chemical manufacturing community seeks to collaborate with builders and architects to provide advanced materials that can help them reach their goals. Chemical manufacturers are innovating materials and products that will allow structures to better stand up against natural disasters, inclement weather conditions, and the test of time.
The following are just a few examples of materials made possible by chemistry that contribute to a building’s sustainability and resiliency:
- Spray polyurethane foams (SPF) can play a major role in insulating and air-sealing homes and buildings. This helps to reduce air leakage, which contributes to lower utility bills, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced contaminants for indoor air quality. Spray foam can also increase a building’s resistance to wind uplift in severe weather by creating an airtight roof assembly. Further, a home insulated with SPF may afford a higher R-value than traditional insulation, allowing it to maintain a more comfortable temperature during a power outage.
- Polycarbonate plastic—the same material used in eyeglasses and known for durability and clarity—is used in windows and frames that are both shatter-resistant and lightweight. Additionally, polycarbonate plastic has low thermal conductivity and can reduce heating and cooling costs while still providing protection against inclement weather conditions.
- Polycarbonate laminate sheets also have been engineered to help defend buildings—and their occupants—against ballistics impact, forced entry, and bomb blasts. Modern polycarbonate laminates may withstand both physical attack and gunfire from weapons ranging from 9-mm handguns to 7.62-mm NATO high-power rifles, enhancing resiliency for buildings including embassies, government buildings, and corporate headquarters.
- Pipes and fittings made from materials like cross-link polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) are easy to install, durable, and unlikely to rust or corrode over time. They each offer fusion integrity when joined properly, helping to eliminate potential leak points where water could be wasted.
- Vinyl flooring is virtually impermeable, holds up to traffic, and is easy to care for and clean—helping to provide a hygienic and safe environment. That’s why it’s often the choice of hospitals and health care facilities. Vinyl flooring offers the additional benefit of having no fibers to trap dust mites and other allergens.
For more information on how chemistry enables resiliency in a variety of building products, visit BuildingWithChemistry.org.
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