Should vinyl building materials be banned from green homes? Some environmentalists think so. There seem to be three categories of building materials that particularly irk the anti-PVC crowd: vinyl siding, vinyl windows, and vinyl flooring. Since there are alternatives to all of these materials, these environmentalists argue, green homes shouldn’t include any of them. (Although the anti-vinyl group sometimes mentions PVC pipe used for drains and vents, it seems that neither plastic pipe nor the vinyl insulation on Romex wiring raises as many hackles as vinyl siding, windows, and flooring.)
Vinyl-framed windows now outsell windows with wooden frames, aluminum frames, or fiberglass frames. Moreover, in many areas of the country, vinyl siding outsells all other types of residential cladding, and PVC is by far the most common material used to manufacture residential drain pipes. While these facts probably distress anti-vinyl crusaders, they provide evidence that these vinyl building products outperform competing products in some ways. Vinyl building products fill a niche. Vinyl is durable, weather-resistant, low-maintenance, and affordable.
The anti-vinyl position rests on several arguments:
All of the above arguments have been used by anti-vinyl groups. Some of the points are indisputable, while others are debatable. On some points, evidence points to an opposite conclusion than the one reached by anti-vinyl crusaders. On other points, the evidence is inconclusive, and more research is needed before we can reach firm conclusions.
For a good background on the issues surrounding the PVC debate, I recommend an Environmental Building News article written in 1994 by Nadav Malin and Alex Wilson, “Should We Phase Out PVC?”
Environmental Building News revisited the topic in Februrary 2014, when it published “The PVC Debate: A Fresh Look.”
Environmental life-cycle assessments attempt to weigh all of the pluses and minuses of building materials so that one product can be…