Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Plastics and the 100 Year-Old House

 Several months ago my husband and I purchased a 100 year-old row house in Washington, DC. As with any old house, you quickly learn that things don’t always function as well as you hoped. We have recently learned that the previous owners did some “improper” plumbing which has resulted in the need to cut holes in various walls to figure out (a) what the damage was and (b) what needs to be fixed. Thankfully the motto is “plastics to the rescue.”

Before the plumber cracked open some walls, he covered furniture and room entryways with polyethylene (PE) sheeting and drop cloths. The PE has been a great barrier to keeping the dust and grime from taking over the house. Once the walls were opened up the plumber quickly realized that he had to replace the piping and put in a proper configuration – this is where polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping stepped in. PVC is one of the most versatile of all pipe materials. It is corrosion resistant, has good chemical resistance, has tremendous strength to weight ratio, is resistant to wear and abrasion, provides watertight joints, is a good thermal insulator and provides great flame resistance.

By looking inside the walls I also noticed the wiring which involved fluoropolymer resins. Fluoropolymers insulate wire and cable placed in the air space between a suspended ceiling and the structural floor above. Fluoropolymers play a key role due to their excellent durability in fire situations to meet and exceed safety codes and outstanding chemical and thermal resistance.

Once this project is finished I’m not sure what we will tackle (or “discover”) next. However, I suspect that as time goes on and we continue to modify the house, plastics will proliferate – from easily installed ceiling materials with excellent acoustic, thermal and fire-resistance qualities, lower-cost window frames that stand tough against the elements but need little maintenance and durable entry doors that offer superior insulation…from foundations to roofing and virtually everywhere in between, plastics increasingly will answer the call for building materials that hold up and stand out.

 Photo by TRiver (1980) via Flickr Commons

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