Polycarbonate: Sustainable Weatherproofing at Home

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For the United States to meet its goals of having 80 percent clean electricity by 2030, a power sector that is 100 percent carbon-free by 2035, and nationwide net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century, all new housing construction must comply with green building standards. A LEED certification ensures that the house design, materials, and construction provide adequate natural light and clean indoor air while reducing energy and water consumption. Furthermore, the house must stand protected and resilient against adverse conditions, such as catastrophic weather.

The Advantages of Using Polycarbonate

According to the American Chemistry Council, Inc.’s  Building with Chemistry, there is a material that helps green builders achieve this in a home because it meets LEED requirements — polycarbonate. This high-performing recyclable thermoplastic can be mass-produced through thick-walled injection molding, making it inexpensive. It is lightweight but durable. Moreover, it has high resistance to heat and flammability.

Its strength and impact resistance are so high that it is used for blast-proof and bulletproof windows in vehicles, bank teller shields, guard booths, hurricane shutters, hockey rink walls, and plane windows. According to Green Building Solutions, Florida’s Miami-Dade County building codes certified polycarbonate plastic panels because they performed successfully in laboratory hurricane tests. Polycarbonate storm panel windows resisted the impact of an eight-foot-long 2×4 fired by an air cannon at 34 miles per hour. A polycarbonate barrel-vault skylight also passed a test of impact and high-pressure equivalent to winds of 355 miles per hour.

Polycarbonate panels can be opaque or as transparent as glass and can come in many colors. As a resilient unbreakable alternative to glass, polycarbonate also allows natural light in. At the same time, it can provide significant insulation against heat and cold and protection against UV radiation when used as multiple walls. Double polycarbonate panels with an air space between the sheets can already lower UV to 0.16. With recent technology, it can have as many as eight walls, and any combination can be used to achieve the required rating. By controlling indoor temperature, it reduces energy use and results in savings.

Tests for Polycarbonate Standards

new house

For structural strength, polycarbonate panels undergo the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) E 330. For water infiltration, they undergo AAMA E 331, and for air infiltration, they undergo E 283. To ensure weatherability, resistance to fire, and smoke generation, the panels undergo ASTM E 84, which is the standard method for testing the surface burning characteristics of building materials, and ASTM International D 635, which is the standard method for testing for the rate, extent, and time that plastics burn when in a horizontal position.

Manufacturers of cellular polycarbonate panels and monolithic polycarbonate sheets usually issue warranties for erosion and loss of light transmission. They also have warranties against leakage and deterioration.

How to Use Polycarbonate Panels in a Home

The ultimate use of polycarbonate panels is in the Kite House, a prefabricated cabin meant for weekend getaways designed by the Brussels-based firm D44 Architecture. The walls and roof of the cabin are predominantly made of polycarbonate. The inside is lit by natural daylight, and at night, the interior house lights illuminate the surroundings.

In New Jersey, a 70 x 130-foot tennis court used polycarbonate panels for all walls without aluminum mullions or other framings. Instead, polycarbonate battens snap together the 38-feet polycarbonate wall panels.

In any home, polycarbonate can be used in windows, skylights, and garden rooms, conservatories, or greenhouses. In London, a building used multicolored polycarbonate as an external feature wall that was lit from behind to glow. It also functioned as a thermal envelope. Polycarbonate panels can, therefore, also be used as cladding.

Polycarbonate is also ideal for use in decorative lighting. It can enclose light-emitting diodes (LED) both indoors and outdoors because of its heat resistance, low flammability, and transparency that will increase energy efficiency. Outdoors, the sturdiness of the material, despite its delicate appearance, will ensure long life.

In terms of aesthetics, the light-diffusing characteristic of polycarbonate panels blurs the perception of dirt and scratches. The glow of polycarbonate can be enhanced by adding fine glass beads to the polymer’s resin in production. With this, light passing through the panels containing the beads will appear iridescent.

Polycarbonate panels are less expensive than insulating glass units (IGU) and last longer. A large part of the savings come from lower labor costs for installation. Cleaning is simple, with just a hose-down or pressure-washing.

By using polycarbonate, you will always have bragging rights when you show off your home. Who else can say that they have windows, skylights, or even walls that are in the same family as bulletproof windows?

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