More and more home builders, architects, design professionals, and homeowners are considering the value of composite materials for a variety of homebuilding applications. For those interested in composites, now is a great time to build with them. Many product options are available, and the high quality of the materials makes it realistic to renovate or build a luxury home without compromising on aesthetics and durability.


What Are Composites?
Composites consist of materials made from two or more constituent materials that have significantly different or chemical characteristics. People have used composite materials since ancient times for construction applications. Today, composites have evolved to integrate a plastic polymer as the binder and fiber to provide the structure and strength. These composites have the technical names of fiber-reinforced plastics or fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP). The versatility of composite plastics has to do with the ability to engineer the product to provide specific performance characteristics. With an array of attractive features, such as durability, high strength, light weight, corrosion resistance, and low maintenance requirements, composite building materials are a suitable alternative for traditional wood.

Building Systems and Composite Materials
A few years ago, a study conducted by the National Association of Home Builders revealed that framing lumber, for an average 2,400-square-foot home, requires 14,000 board feet of wood — the standard measure of the usable wood contained in a tree. Other wood products used in the home—including plywood, hardboard, particleboard, glulam beams, wood I-joists, laminated veneer lumber and medium-density fiberboard (MDF)—take you beyond 14,000 board feet.

The following applications for composite materials are becoming more popular for large homebuilding, renovation, and addition projects.

  • Structural Framing: Innovations in composite technology have led to the fabrication of composite structural framing, which contractors can integrate with traditional building materials and techniques. For example, structural framing components using fiberglass resin are more lightweight, durable, and sustainable than typical framing materials.
  • Eco-Friendly Roofing Materials: Alternative roofing materials have seen major improvements and include recycled shingles fabricated from rubber tires as well as composite roofing materials that are difficult to tell apart from real wood and slate. Some of these products actually exceed the fire rating and impact resistance of the traditional materials that they mimic. Most composite roofing materials have a 50-year warranty and Energy Star certification.
  • Alternative Siding: Composite siding consists of recycled materials such as wood, stone, concrete, or even old tires mixed together with special bonding agents and put into a mold where the material hardens under a heating or cooling process. The manufacturer applies a coat of weather-resistant laminate, which creates the finished look of traditional clapboard, brick, or other material.
  • Composite Decking: Decking has become another popular choice for the use of composite materials. Fabricated through different processes and available in a variety of sizes, patterns, and strengths, composite decking can replace cedar or pressure-treated wood. It is resistant to moisture and will not split or warp. Depending on the specific material chosen, the material can also be used for steps, benches, and railings.

Manufacturing technology and advances in composite formulations offer a great opportunity to incorporate eco-friendly features and high-performance characteristics into your custom-designed home or renovation project. The advantages of composites over wood go beyond simply reducing carbon footprints and include:

  • Each piece is identical in size, strength, and performance
  • Often made with recycled materials
  • Superior insulation qualities
  • Fire-, termite-, and pest-resistant
  • Resistant to mold growth
  • Panels can be manufactured and assembled in large sizes

As the call for high-performance building solutions continues to grow, the unique properties of composites provide an attractive substitute for traditional wood materials, without giving up on aesthetics.