Legacy uses two types of architectural fabric: polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). But in the battle of PVC vs. PE fabric, which makes a better fabric building?
Answer: It depends.
PE vs PVC Fabric: The Similarities
Both PE and PVC fabric are suitable for a variety of applications. Both types of fabric are rugged and durable, and designed to perform well when subjected to proper tension. Keeping the fabric tensioned both horizontally and vertically prevents most of the issues associated with the fabric structures of the past, including overstressing the fabric.
PE and PVC fabric are both available in several colors and weights. While many building owners prefer classic white cladding, creatively using other colors is a good way to enhance branding or display a company’s logo or mascot.
One of the most important ways to preserve the quality of PE or PVC fabric is by adhering to manufacturing standards. Every bolt of fabric should be inspected before cutting and welding. Welding equipment must be tested to ensure it is working properly and that the fabric welds are performing as expected.
In lieu of questioning the manufacturer directly, quality certifications including ISO 9001 and CSA A660 are good indicators that the manufacturer is following accepted fabric handling and manufacturing practices.
Fabric panels are manufactured using hot air or wedge welding, and the weld strength is nearly identical to the strength of the fabric itself. The fabric, the frame and the attachment all play a role in the strength of the building. Read more about the advantages of in-house manufacturing.
PE vs PVC Fabric: The Differences
But PE and PVC fabric do have some notable differences, including:
- Initial cost
- Light transmittance
While there is no one universal “right” fabric, comparing the qualities of PE and PVC fabric will help the building owner specify the best material for your use. An experienced sales representative can also answer questions about structural fabric and make recommendations based on building location and use.
PVC fabric is durable and designed to last a long time – up to 30 years. PVC fabric is thicker than PE fabric, weighing between 20-28 ounces per square foot. Compared to PE, PVC fabric has higher tear strength, making it a popular choice for buildings that are exposed to high UV rays, strong winds and other extreme conditions.
The translucency of PVC fabric is about 5% - lower than for PE fabric, which contributes to less natural light inside the building. Natural light in a PVC building can be increased by adding more light fixtures inside the building, or by adding a skylight.
PVC fabric is naturally flame-retardant, which is an important consideration for occupied buildings. PVC fabric has a long history with sports stadiums, including the Munich Olympic Stadium.
A primary drawback of PVC fabric is that it has a higher initial price than PE fabric.
Polyethylene fabric, also called PE, is lighter type of architectural fabric, commonly weighing 12 to 15 ounces. The lower weight fabric has a lower initial price and a lifespan ranging from 15 to 23 years.
PE fabric consists of a woven inner layer, called scrim, sandwiched between two layers of plasticized coating. The coatings contain protectants including UV inhibitors and fungicide. The coatings are permanent components of the fabric and will last the life of the building. A flame-retardant coating is also available (unlike PVC, PE is not naturally flame-retardant).
One advantage of PE fabric is that it self-cleans very well, with dirt and other elements washing off when it rains. PE fabric is also more translucent, transmitting up to 9% of the sun’s rays into the building.
The quality of a fabric structure is determined by many factors – including manufacturing, frame and construction. PVC vs. PE fabric is an important consideration in fabric structure construction, but determining the “right” option is more closely related to your specifications and needs than an across-the-board standard.