In the still-developing building and construction segment, composites adoption has been slow. Laudable efforts by the American Composites Manufacturers Assn. (ACMA, Arlington, VA, US) to modify the International Building Code (IBC) and a growing awareness of composites’ environmental sustainability through lifecycle analysis tools had previously earned the composites industry only small gains in what architects call the “building envelope.” Exterior decorative elements, such as cornices and columns, as well as window lineals, entry doors, skylights and light panels represented a beginning. But industry observers saw big opportunities for composites in wall panels, foundations, building cladding and roofing. In 2014, that door began to open, as architects responded to the International Code Council’s (ICC, Washington, D.C.) revised (2009) International Building Code, which now includes IBC Chapter 26, “Plastic,” and Subsection 12, “Fiber-Reinforced Polymer.”
A key 2014 milestone was Kreysler & Associates’ (American Canyon, CA, US) introduction of a new glass fiber composite cladding material, called Fireshield 285, which its designers say solves the riddle of fire-code compliance on high-rise structures. The cladding panel system recently passed one of the construction industry’s most stringent fire tests, NFPA 285, which involves testing a full-scale mockup of a multi-story façade system to gauge its flame-spread characteristics. Kreysler & Associates believes its cladding is the first to pass muster under NFPA 285. Company president William Kreysler says the patent-pending process involves a “proprietary blend of synthetic resins and natural aggregate that provides an attractive but extremely durable, environmentally efficient and highly fire-resistant product.”
Fireshield reportedly turns designers loose to use the light weight and versatile plasticity of shape and texture afforded by composites reinforced with glass fiber or carbon fiber to create large façades of almost any shape, contour and texture, yet also meet all IBC requirements. Kreysler notes, “Shapes that have never existed outside of a computer model are now possible, both unique and repetitive designs.”
Panels can be merged to create large, seamless façades, such as the sculpted 10-story façade (see photo at left) on a new expansion at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The SFMOMA expansion’s Fireshield cladding will present a rippling horizontal texture said to be reminiscent of California’s San Francisco Bay just a few blocks away. Fabricated by Kreysler & Associates, the façade’s 700 panels have a skin thickness of only 4.8 mm and weigh, on average, only 24 kg/m2.
Another milestone was passed in residential construction, where poured-concrete foundation walls have been the industry standard for private homes in the U.S. for more than 100 years. Patented Epitome composite foundation walls from Composite Panel Systems (Eagle River, WI, US) are fabricated by Fiber-Tech Industries Inc. (Cadillac, Mich.), using fire-retardant Modar resin from Ashland Performance Materials (Dublin, Ohio). The wall concept consists of a foam-cored fiberglass composite panel (178 mm thick, 7.4m long and 2.8m tall) with integral cavities for structural studs and mechanical installation. Shaped connection flanges on each panel enable attachment of adjacent panels. Currently approved for use in Wisconsin, the wall system was reported to on track for compliance on the national level with the ICC’s International Building Code and International Residential Code by October 2014.