Environmentalism and sustainability are increasingly becoming the trend of the day. That’s a good development because it shows we’re finally realizing the importance of the only home we have, Planet Earth. This change of outlook has been most noticeable in architecture. While it may surprise some, fiberglass actually is known to rank relatively high when it comes to environmentally friendly construction materials. If you are still unconvinced, continue reading.
How Environmentally Friendly is Fiberglass?
At a glance, any individual might think that fiberglass columns, containing plastic polymers as a major component, would definitely not be environmentally sustainable. However, the distinctiveness of its application in architecture makes its long-lasting and durable nature a net-positive for the environment. Below are just some ways fiberglass is a natural choice if you are seeking green and sustainable solutions for your architectural design.
The Main Ingredient
People often forget that the main ingredient used in the making of fiberglass isn’t plastic, but silica (sand). Since silica is abundant and a non-depleting material, its mining is highly sustainable and can be done in areas that are low on biodiversity such as many deserts and badlands.
Furthermore, compared to other construction materials such as metals and concrete, the mining and processing of sand into fiberglass is far less energy-intensive, helping reduce greenhouse emissions and fossil fuel consumption.
As above mentioned, the manufacturing of fiberglass is a far less energy-intensive process compared to many other construction materials. However, there are plenty of other ways fiberglass can help energy consumption.
For one, fiberglass features terrific thermal insulation. It has a thermal conductivity that is 500 times less than aluminum. In addition, it has features extremely low thermal expansion, maintaining a tight seal in windows and doors against the weather.
Both of these properties means that it can easily retain heat inside the house during cold weather and helps greatly reduce the impact of outside heat when it is hot. This translates to a lower indoor energy consumption on climate control, helping save energy and reducing your monthly utility bills.
In addition, since fiberglass is a highly lightweight material and can be molded into the desired form right at the factory, there is great energy-savings in terms of transporting it to its destination and having it installed.
Built to Last
Though pure glass is very brittle, when it is drawn into fibers its tensile strength shoots up considerably. When reinforced with special polyester resin, you get a building material that is highly durable and long-lasting. In some applications, such as one-time disposable usage, this would be considered a negative. However, in the case of architecture, this is a big positive when it comes to going green.
Most buildings and houses are built to last decades or some even centuries. However, most of their components periodically require maintenance and repairs to ensure that their structural integrity remains intact and that they don’t look degraded. Fortunately, fiberglass is not one of them. Once cured and installed, fiberglass does not creep, deform or corrode over time. This means that its constructs e.g. fiberglass columns, balustrade systems, cornice, and domes can last for decades without any repairs or maintenance needed.
The long-lasting nature and natural resistance to the outside elements also make it ideal for outdoor architectural designs such as pergolas, and balustrade fences.
Over the long-term, this translates to far less waste going over to the landfill. It also helps reduce energy consumption as a result of fewer materials (paint, abrasives, building material, etc) needing to be produced.
This is why, in certain aspects, fiberglass may turn out to be even greener than wood as the latter degrades over time and needs to be replaced. Opting for fiberglass instead of wood may also help with forest conservation in developing countries as they provide many of the same properties as wood (insulation, low weight, and aesthetics) plus lasts far longer.
Eventually, sometimes, a fiberglass construct would have to be discarded. It could be for a number of valid reasons, say for example, as a result of the building it is part of getting demolished or the owner choosing to replace the said component with an upgrade.
Does that mean that fiberglass adds to land pollution? Not likely as long as your area has the facilities to recycle it. Yes, the material is recyclable and one of the most common ways to do so is to repurpose a said fiberglass construct into other things such as park benches, polls, and tables.
Fiberglass is a highly sustainable and environmentally friendly solution to your architectural needs. The material that it is mainly made up of is abundant and east to extract. Relative to other materials, both the production and application of fiberglass are tremendously more energy efficient and as such, translates to lower emissions. Because of their durable nature, it also leads to less wastage of materials over the longer term.
Of course, sustainability isn’t the only major benefit of fiberglass in architecture; you can read about the rest of them in the benefits of using fiberglass in architecture. Be sure to also head over to our fiberglass products page for a list of solutions that we offer.