A Brief History – About Vinyl Building Products

For those who are interested, here are some more technical details about early and more modern vinyl building products, including pvc pipe, fencing, gates, patio covers, decking and railing.  My name is Rick Stull. I am president of Vinyl Concepts, based in Thousand Oaks and Torrance, CA. I have been in the vinyl fence and patio covers business for 27 years.
Vinyl fences and patio covers and other similar alternative building products are relatively new building products (fences have been around since the late 1970′s).  There seems to be many questions and even more opinions regarding these products.  As with any newer product or subject, there are plenty of myths and half truths around. There are also many different product qualities available, and they are not always easy to differentiate.
Hopefully we can educate interested parties about the advantages and disadvantages of these products, and help give a good name to a product we believe in very strongly.
The vinyl fence, gates, patio covers, decking, railing, and other outdoor products discussed here are made from rigid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) extrusions, available in various shapes known as profiles. These profiles are cut, routed, reinforced, welded, assembled, or otherwise fabricated into outdoor building products.
Polyvinyl chloride was discovered in the late 1800′s. Click here to learn more.
Vinyl building materials have been around for a long time. One of my associates has been extruding vinyl pipe since the late 1950′s, and has been extruding UV stabilized vinyl since the late 1960′s. 
According to several sources, PVC pipe produced and installed in housing in central Germany in the mid 1930′s survives and is in use today! 
>>According to Robert Walker, P.E., of Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association, (Published in Summer 1990 Edition of the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe News): “From 1936 to 1939 over 400 residences were installed with PVC drinking water and waste pipelines in central Germany. Various test pipelines of PVC were laid in Leipzig, Dresden, Magdeburg, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Heidelberg and Wiesbaden during the period of 1936 to 1941. Both the pipelines for chemicals and those for water supply and waste water came up to expectations, as did the test pipelines in the cities mentioned above, apart from damage caused by World War II. The PVC pipes installed in central Germany are still in use today without any major problems.”<< 
Later, ultraviolet inhibitors were added to withstand the harmful effects of the sun, and these profiles were used above ground as conduit, and then other types of building products. 
How it’s made.
>> In the U.S., PVC’s materials are natural gas and rock salt. 
Natural gas is heated under pressure to form ethylene. This is called “cracking”. 
Common rock salt (sodium chloride) is split by electrolysis to produce chlorine and lye (sodium hydroxide).  Chlorine and ethylene are combined to form vinyl chloride monomer (VCM).  VCM molecules are then joined end-to-end (polymerized) to form long chains of Polyvinyl Chloride polymer (plastic).  The thermoplastic PVC powder is compounded, melted and extruded into pipes. 
Many companies are having success producing plastics using bio based products rather than fossil fuel based sources.
For a more complete history of PVC, visit http://www.ppfahome.org/pvc/historypvc.aspx
There are a variety of product styles, designs, and qualities available on the market today. 
When I first became involved with vinyl fence, only the “ranch rail” design (3 rail fence usually used for horses) was available.  Soon many other styles and designs were developed, including privacy fence, semi privacy fence, picket fence, railing, swing gates and roll gates, arbors and gazebos, as well as decking and pergolas.  The desire for more fence styles and other products created the need for more and more profile sizes, designs, and colors, as well as a variety of brackets, caps, reinforcements, and accessories, and the trend continues today.

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