There’s a lot more to construction these days than old-fashioned brick and mortar. Scientifically developed materials with enhanced physical properties are changing the way buildings are constructed. We take a closer look at nine of these.
1. Energy-efficient roof coatings
Roof coatings that reflect heat are made from acrylics, silicones, styrene block copolymers and urethanes. They save energy costs by reducing air leaks and by reflecting heat, thus reducing both heating and cooling costs. In addition, they prolong the life of the roof itself by reducing thermal shock. The chemistry behind these coatings includes finding scientific ways to control film thickness and improve UV resistance.
2. Polyurethane is lightweight, a good insulating material, and is durable and versatile
One of the exciting projects in which polyurethane was used was the refurbishing of the Dawson Bridge in Edmonton, Canada. By creating a polyurethane core between steel bridge deck plates, the bridge was made lighter, stronger and more rigid.
3. Continuous insulation
By creating a blanket of insulation with no air-gaps, the energy efficiency of buildings can be improved by as much as 40%. Materials that help to make this possible include thermosets and thermoplastic foams. These materials can be sprayed on or be formed into insulating boards with seams that are taped or sealed to eliminate energy leakage.
4. Cross-linked polyethylene piping
Resistant yet flexible, cross-linked polyethylene piping can be bent in a variety of forms, making plumbing installations easier and much more versatile. The Minnesota Vikings’ stadium uses this piping to prevent snow from falling off its roof onto the playing field. Hot water circulated through the pipes helps to melt snow before it can build up.
5. New uses for vinyl
Durable luxury vinyl tile (LVT) looks as good as ceramic tiles, but is much warmer. It can even be installed without grout. Outdoor vinyl trim looks just like wood, but can’t be damaged by damp and decay. Vinyl materials can be flexible or rigid, allowing for greater design versatility and reduced waste.
6. Lightweight cement
When polystyrene beads are added to regular cement, it can be up to 100 times lighter, reducing transport costs, making it easier to pump up to high floors, and reducing building load without loss of durability and strength. This technique has been used in the construction of the new World Trade Center.
Nanotechnology is more widely used in construction than most people realize. It is used in corrosion-resistant coatings, helps to exclude heat and even microbes, and helps with the creation of lightweight materials. New “smart” windows can go from clear to opaque at the touch of a button thanks to nanotechnology. 1 nanometer long carbon micro tubes are incorporated into materials, allowing molecular level control. New research is currently exploring nanotubes that can allow windows and doors to move on their own without external motors.
8. Engineered wood
Even wood is stronger these days. By combining formaldehyde resins and adhesives with wood chips or wood layers, wood-based composites that are much stronger than regular wood can be made. Using these materials, spans of up to 100 ft (30m) long and walls up to 20ft (6m) high can be constructed from nothing but wood composites.
9. Structural silicone glazing
Beautiful glass-plated buildings are being made using structural silicone glazing that allows for larger spans and the use of bigger panes. Silicones are used to bond glass and metal to structures without using mechanical fasteners.
This is made possible by silicone’s ability to bond to materials like glass, stone or metal that would generally be hard to bond together. Silicone materials are specifically formulated to meet the requirements that make them suitable for use in a variety of construction applications. In glass, it improves wind-load resistance, supports a better dead load and accommodates thermal dilation.