Monday, July 19th, 2010

Cruel Summer? Despite the Heat, Plastics Keep Us Cool

It’s the middle of July here in Washington, D.C. and the temperature has been over 100 °F much too much for my liking of late. Thankfully plastics continue to play a critical role in keeping things cool both indoors and out.

From a housing standpoint, plastic building products promote the efficient use of energy and other resources. For example, walls that use structural insulated panels made with expanded polystyrene (EPS) can help homeowners save hundreds of dollars annually on heating and cooling bills. EPS starts out as a plastic pellet and ends up as nearly 95 percent air which is a very effective insulator. Another example is polycarbonate which can be used in windows. In addition to being lightweight and shatter-resistant, polycarbonate has low thermal conductivity, which can help to reduce heating and cooling costs. And what about plastic house wrap technology? Plastic house wrap technology reduces the infiltration of outside air and helps to drastically reduce the energy required to heat or cool the home. So with these technologies (and, of course, air conditioners and fans  — which have plenty of plastic parts) one can keep cool indoors.

When outdoors, what you wear can make a difference. I’m partial to the clothing that uses wicking technologyto keep you cool. Traditional cotton clothing tends to soak up and retain sweat, making the wearer unable to cool themselves off properly and making the garment heavier. Wicking technology utilizes fabrics that move sweat away from the skin to the outer surface of the fabric, where it evaporates. Many of these fabrics are made out of polyester fibers and often can be recycled through program’s such as the Common Threads Recycling Program.

Getting in the water is, of course, a favorite way to keep cool in the summer. Most bathing suits are made from plastic materials such as polyester, nylon and Lycra (or Spandex). Of course, we have blogged here before about the uproar in competitive swimming circles concerning new high tech suits made from polyurethane.

In addition, many above ground pools and most inflatable wading pools are made from some combination of PVC (which has excellent resistance to damage via abrasion, impact and sunlight), polypropylene and polyester mesh. Backyard pools also depend on flexible, durable and easy-to-clean vinyl liners to keep their inner surfaces smooth on feet and protected from sunlight, abrasion and water-treatment chemicals. Swimming pools with vinyl and polypropylene covers bring safety and peace of mind to pool owners with very small children. Even diving boards are usually covered with polyurethane epoxy resin paint that creates a non-skid surface to prevent dangerous slips.

So whether you are indoors or out, plastics play an important role in making these hot days more bearable.

Photo courtesy of Infrogmation of New Orleans

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