Last Updated: December 7, 2018
What is PVC? You might think you know, but do you really? Although PVC is perhaps best known as the quality material used to create the plumbing pipes found in the majority of modern homes, it plays many important roles outside of the hardware store as well. There are PVC windows, PVC sidings, linoleum floors (which are made of PVC), and even PVC fences and railings. Although the materials used to create these products are not identical, they are tremendously similar. Who knew that PVC was such a multitalented product?
What Is PVC?
What is PVC? Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the third-most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer. It is formed from three basic raw materials: crude oil, natural gas, and chloride. The chemical process links vinyl chloride monomers together to form long chains called polymers. To learn more about the science involved, visit the American Chemistry Council website.
Did you know that PVC is one of the oldest synthetic materials with a long history of industrial production? PVC was accidentally discovered at least twice in the 19th century: by French physicist and chemist Henri Victor Regnault in 1838 and by German chemist Eugen Baumann in 1872 (source). Despite these investors’ ingenuity, PVC was not widely used at that time because no one could figure out how to manipulate it effectively.
In 1913, German inventor Friedrich Henrich August Klatte took out the first patent on PVC. He actually used sunlight to initiate the polymerization of the vinyl chloride.
As the early twentieth century continued, scientists continued experimenting. At the B.F. Goodrich Company in the United States, researcher Waldo Lonsbury Semon further developed PVC in the 1920s. Semon was the first to use PVC as a fabric coating, creating popular water-resistant garments. Demand for PVC boomed during WWII as well, when the material was used to insulate the wiring on military ships.
It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s, however, that a wide range of companies began utilizing PVC for consumer products and construction. The number of companies producing PVC increased quickly, from 5 companies in the 1950s to 20 companies in the 1980s. Today, PVC is the third-most popular commodity plastic.
PVC vs. Vinyl
Although some people use the terms PVC and vinyl interchangeably, these are two different substances. So what is PVC as compared to vinyl?
Most vinyl is composed primarily of PVC. When PVC is used to create siding, windows, railing, and fencing, ingredients are added to improve the product’s strength and weatherability. To form vinyl compound, PVC resin is typically combined with UV inhibitors (TiO2), impact modifiers, stabilizers, and toners. These ingredients combine to form a versatile, cost-effective product. However, sometimes vinyl is composed of other related compounds, like polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC).
Keep in mind, however, that vinyl has a broader meaning in chemistry and encompasses a larger range of compounds.
What is PVC known for? A modern alternative to more traditional building materials like wood, metal, concrete, and clay, PVC provides a plethora of functional benefits. Don’t underestimate the performance advantages of this popular plastic.
- Versatile: As we explore in more detail below, PVC is an extremely versatile material used in numerous products in a variety of industries.
- Strong: Tough and resistant to abrasion, PVC is commonly used in construction.
- Durable: PVC is resistant to many damaging processes, including weathering, rotting, corrosion, shock, and abrasion. For this reason, it’s often used to create outdoor products that need to have a long lifespan.
- Lightweight: Many strong materials are also very heavy or bulky. PVC, on the contrary, offers excellent mechanical strength and toughness while remaining lightweight.
- Low-Maintenance: Who wants to spend their weekends fussing with home maintenance? PVC doesn’t require very much of you, so feel free to sit back and let it do its thing. With barely any help from you, it will continue looking good for decades.
- Cost-Effective: PVC is very cost-competitive when compared to materials used for similar applications. Plus, its durability and lack of maintenance lower its overall cost further.
- Water-Resistant: Since it’s resistant to water, PVC doesn’t suffer from water damage like wood does. You won’t have to worry about rot, fungus, mildew, or mold. Due to its smooth, nonporous surface, it is difficult for any organic materials to attach to it.
- Fire-Resistant: PVC will burn if it is exposed to fire, like all other organic materials (including other plastics and wood), but it is also inherently resistant to fire due to its chlorine content. It slows down continuous combustion, prevents the progress of burning, produces an odorous gas (allowing for early detection), and produces less heat than other plastic materials. Overall, it is more naturally fire-resistant than other plastics.
With all of these advantages, it should come as no surprise that PVC is a coveted manufacturing material used to create a number of different products. In fact, companies are creating new uses for PVC all the time. If you spent the day shopping and browsing the store shelves, you could find dozens of PVC/vinyl products. Here are just a few examples:
- Water pipes
- Shower curtains
Railing & Fencing
PVC’s strength, durability, and lack of required maintenance make it an excellent choice for both rails and fences. If you’re planning to purchase new vinyl railing or fencing, be sure to check out MMC Fencing & Railing. You might be interested in the PolyRail Vinyl Railing system, which is distinctive, versatile, and virtually maintenance-free. Amongst the many available styles, you’re sure to find one that fits your home’s style and your personal preferences. If PolyRail doesn’t charm you, take a look at the TRX Vinyl Railing system. The styles are classic, simple, and airy, and they’re also available in a number of different colors and design variations.
If you’re on the hunt for vinyl fencing, browse our Polyvinyl Fence Systems. These fences are available in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes. Whether you need a small fence for your garden, a decorative fence to border your pool, or a grand and far-reaching fence to house your horses, Polyvinyl is the perfect solution.
For more railing and fencing options, please check out the MMC Fencing & Railing online store or give us a call at 1-866-931-5002.