The casual jobsite observer could easily believe that wood is the primary component in constructing a home. In many cases, that remains true; however, a quick look around the industry reveals that plastic is fast becoming the building material of choice for many professionals.

“On the residential side, building professionals have really picked up the ball with plastics in the last five or 10 years,” says D'Lane Wisner on behalf of the American Chemistry Council's (ACC) plastics division. “Over time, the plastics industry has improved its products and we're seeing more and more interest in every market from windows to decking to insulation.”

MARKET DRIVERS Plastics-industry associations agree, citing two primary reasons for increased interest in vinyl, cellular PVC, and other plastic-based products: “The biggest reason is the increased importance put on energy performance, and the other is the low-maintenance feature,” says Rich Walker, president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturer's Association (AAMA).

In the window and door market, Walker says, vinyl meets both of these needs for consumers. As a result, vinyl windows in particular are gaining market share over wood. Independent research for AAMA shows a 2.9% decline in the number of prime wood windows shipped to the remodeling and replacement market from 2004 to 2005, while vinyl window shipments climbed 4.5% to 23.2 million units.

On the framing side, sales of structural insulated panels (SIPs) increased a whopping 64% to $329.8 million in the same time period, according to the Structural Insulated Panel Association. Moreover, the small-but-growing residential spray foam insulation market grew 3% in 2005, according to Mason Knowles, executive director of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Association. Recognizing the importance of well-sealed building envelopes, Knowles says he expects that margin to grow through 2009.

GREENER PLASTICS Overall, statistics from the ACC show that the annual compound growth rate for plastics in the building and construction market has been 3.4% since 1997. High public opinion of plastic-based building materials gets an additional boost with research showing that production of these products has a smaller environmental impact than some environmental groups would suggest.

In total, Wisner says just 19% of the 100 billion pounds of plastic produced annually goes to the building and construction industry (see above). Moreover, only 5% of fossil fuels go toward plastics production, and 1% goes toward construction. “If you look at the energy it takes to make plastic, versus the energy it saves over the life of the product, consumers get an incredible return on their energy investment,” Wisner says. “Based on the insulative properties, low maintenance, and resistance to wear and tear, plastics are very energy efficient.”

Ralph Bruno agrees. “Sustainability is one of the big benefits of polymer products, from a life-cycle standpoint,” says the president of AZEK Building Products. “Consumers are looking for good-looking products that are low-maintenance, and they inevitably lead themselves to plastics and plastic-based products. We're very encouraged by these trends and see an extremely bright future for plastics in a number of product categories.”

Source: APC Resin Review Statistics