Posted August 11th, 2014 by Christy Serafini
Metal panels are widely used in construction for their durability and versatility, but for years architecture and construction firms have had to turn to energy-intensive metals to ensure that their panels can stand the test of time. These include aluminum, copper, steel and various other metals that require a lot of energy to be mined and processed. These metals do work incredibly well in commercial and residential construction projects, but they aren’t exactly sustainable. Not only are they non-renewable resources, but the refining process needed to make these metals into a usable form can be difficult and hard on the environment.
Copper and steel are still widely used in construction, but in recent years zinc panels have become very popular in the United States. Zinc panels have actually been used for generations in parts of Europe and Asia, and it is only relatively recently that American architectural companies have started to fully embrace zinc as an architectural metal.
Sustainability and Availability
Part of the reason why zinc panels have become so popular in architecture is due to its sustainability and availability. Zinc is the 23rd most abundant in the world, and it is found in rocks, air, soil, water and in all living organisms. It is used in fertilizer as well as in construction, and its ability to mix with other elements in soil keeps it at a safe level for human exposure.
Zinc is also mined throughout the world using an extraction process that avoids strip-mining. This means that the land surrounding zinc mines remains relatively undisturbed and undamaged. At current extraction levels, it is estimated that there is 750 years worth of zinc that can be mined. That number increases when zinc recycling efforts are taken into account.
All metal needs to be processed if it is to be used for construction. This uses a lot of energy, and in many cases it can have an adverse effect on the environment. However, the good news about zinc is that its relatively low melting point of 787 degrees Fahrenheit makes it easier to smelt and process. This translates to less energy being used and lower environmental air emissions during the smelting process.
Benefits of Zinc Panels in Construction
Because zinc is a non-ferrous metal, it is much more resistant to corrosion and rust, issues that can plague iron and steel structures. It requires very little maintenance over time, and its natural coloration actually improves as it ages. Zinc has even been known to heal scratches and other minor imperfections over a period of years.
Since zinc is such a low-maintenance material that doesn’t need to be painted, many architects leave it unfinished and rely on its natural appearance. There is no need to touch up any paint jobs or repair panels that have been damaged by regular wear and tear.
With its durability and sustainability, its no wonder why zinc has become so popular in construction. Zinc panels probably won’t replace copper or steel as the go-to construction metal, but due to its properties it is very useful as cladding in commercial and residential buildings. It can be expensive, but the right architectural company will be able to provide you with zinc construction panels at an affordable price.