Polymers in the construction industry

Polymers form the basis of many construction materials that are integral to modern buildings such as foams, paints, sealants, rubbers and plastics.

These materials cover a broad range of products and applications for building interiors and exteriors including insulation, piping, flooring, wiring, window installation, solar modules, ventilation systems, awnings, painting, tiling and landscaping.

polymer insulation

The challenge

Whether in the construction, use or end-of-life phase, buildings consume vast volumes of energy equating to large volumes of greenhouse gases (GHG).

In Australia, our buildings account for 19 per cent of total energy used and 18 per cent of our total direct GHG emissions.[i] This figure would be closer to 40 per cent of total GHG emissions (in line with the global building and construction sector) if indirect emissions were also included.[ii]

According to the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), buildings in Australia constructed after 2019 could make up more than half of the country’s total building stock by 2050.[iii] The ASBEC recommends strengthening construction codes to address the energy efficiency of new buildings and those requiring major retrofits as an immediate priority.[iiii]

Constructing and renovating buildings with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind is vital to our low-carbon future, particularly at a time when Australia’s energy costs and demands are increasing.

The performance and durability of construction products – particularly insulation – is key to creating more energy efficient buildings.

Products should be long lasting, require low maintenance or ongoing energy demand, and ensure structural and thermal performance throughout their lifetime.

A sustainable solution

Polymer-based construction materials are a key part of a sustainable, energy efficient solution because they have a range of advantages over alternative materials for meeting energy efficiency requirements.

These materials are durable, easy to install, weather resistant (less prone to corrosion) and high performing. Their durability and long-term aging properties mean they require minimal additional resources to support them during their life cycle.

While building materials generally last 30 to 50 years, polymer-based materials such as PVC pipes can last longer. This removes the need for replacement products – conserving resources and reducing waste.

The durability of polymer-based materials also means they can be recovered for future use, with manufacturers working to further extend their life cycle, energy efficiency and lifetime energy savings.

This includes moving away from the simple re-use of products to more diverse recycling solutions such as chemical recycling and energy recovery.

A lifetime of saving energy

Polyurethane insulation materials save more energy during their lifetime than are used in their production – something common to polymer-based materials in building and construction.

Plastics Europe estimates that in an average house, plastic insulation products recover the energy used to manufacture them in only one year. [v]

sustainable construction

This energy recovery and saving continues for the lifetime of the product; in total, these materials can save more than 200 times the energy used in their production. [vi]

Polymer-based insulation materials are also highly cost-effective when rated on the cost per tonne of carbon dioxide saved.

Key benefits

Taken together, the durability, flexibility, performance, reliability and cost-effectiveness of polymer-based construction materials such as PUR and PIR insulation make them an essential part of the sustainable construction solution.

They can help to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of our buildings, and promote a circular economy in which we reduce total materials used, prolong their use and eventually recycle or re-use them.