Energy & Environmental Performance

Vinyl products offer a number of energy and environmental benefits.  The following benefits are organized according to principles advocated by certain green building organizations.

Reduced material use

  • Vinyl is more than half derived from salt, one of the most plentiful resources on earth.  As a result, vinyl uses less fossil fuel than other polymers.
  • Advances in vinyl formulations have made today’s vinyl products highly durable, meaning they save on replacement materials and require less maintenance over their useful lives.
  • When properly designed and installed, PVC pipe has an estimated life span of more than 100 years, with little or no loss of strength.  The National Research Council of Canada estimates the “break rate” for vinyl water distribution pipe at 0.5 breaks per 100 km (62 miles) per year compared with 32.6 breaks per 100 km per year for cast iron and 7.9 breaks per 100 km per year for ductile iron.1
  • Vinyl building products like siding and fencing – which don’t require the use of paint, stain or harsh cleansers – can directly replace wood products that do require the use of these treatments on a regular basis.
  • Vinyl roofing eliminates the need for asphalt, tar and other materials used in built-up roofing, and similarly is easily maintained without additional resource expenditures.
  • Vinyl is lighter to transport than most other building materials, reducing the amount of fuel and other resources used for such transportation.

    Post-consumer recycled content
  • While the post-consumer recycling of vinyl overall occurs at a much lower rate than, say, soda bottles made of PET or HDPE, a 1999 study conducted for the Vinyl Institute concluded that part of the reason is the long life of most vinyl products.2  Most post-consumer recycling of vinyl occurs at the business-to-business level since it involves the non-residential, non-disposable packaging waste stream. The study concluded that post-consumer recycling of vinyl will increase over time.

Post-industrial recycled content

  • The same study cited above found a 79 percent recycling rate for post-industrial rigid vinyl and a 71 percent rate for post-industrial flexible vinyl.

Building products that reduce heating and cooling loads

  • Because vinyl roofing membranes typically are light in color, they are known as "reflective" roof surfaces that help structures to stay cool and reduce energy use for air conditioning.  Many vinyl roofing membranes have been recognized by the Energy Star® Roof Products Program.
  • Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found that summertime urban air temperatures can be greatly reduced by using light-colored roof surfaces rather than dark-colored industrial/commercial roofing.3  Decreases in urban air temperature can substantially improve air quality, since smog is the result of photochemical reactions that are triggered by air temperature increases. Vinyl roofing membranes – when installed on multiple buildings in an urban setting – can diffuse heat within a city and assist in lowering air-conditioning consumption, thereby helping to lessen smog formation.
  • Vinyl windows and doors conserve energy.  For example, chambers in the frame of vinyl windows resist heat transfer.  Frames and sash corners are fusion-welded for maximum strength and protection against air and water infiltration.  Many vinyl window and glass door products meet the energy efficiency standards of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). Thousands of window products listed in the most recent NFRC Certified Directory are made with vinyl frames. NFRC also qualifies vinyl windows for the Energy Star® rating on the basis of the products’ U-factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient.

Products that contribute to a safe, healthy indoor environment

  • The tough, smooth surfaces of vinyl wallcoverings and flooring make cleaning easy, reducing opportunities for proliferation of dust mites, pet dander and other allergens that have been associated with asthma.  While problems with mildew are sometimes attributed to vinyl wallcoverings, the primary cause of mildew actually is condensation from warm, humid air infiltrating the wall cavity.  Because vinyl wallcoverings are fairly impermeable, in hot, humid weather they can trap moisture inside the wall cavity, where it condenses against the relatively cool inside surface of the wall. 
  • Manufacturers of vinyl wallcoverings have taken steps to address these concerns with innovations such as mildew-resistant wallcovering and adhesives and “microvented” wallcoverings, which allow moisture trapped behind a show surface to escape into the room.  

1B. Rajani and S. McDonald, "Water Main Break Data on Different Pipe Materials for 1992 and 1993," National Research Council, Ottawa, Ontario (1995).

2"Post-Consumer and Post-Industrial Vinyl Reclaim: Material Flow and Uses in North America," Principia Partners, July 1999.

3Konopacki, S. and H. Akbari., "Measured Energy Savings and Demand Reduction from a Reflective Roof Membrane on a Large Retail Store in Austin," Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Report LBNL-47149, Berkeley, Calif. (2001)