For thousands of years, columns have provided vital structural support, elegant aesthetics and much more. As vital architectural elements, columns have always been capable of making powerful statements. These included the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns of ancient Greece. Aristotle, one of its most famed philosophers, wisely asserted that "Quality is not an act, it is a habit."
In 18th and 19th century America, wood and concrete columns graced millions of porches and architectural edifices from coast to coast. Over time, these columns often deteriorated to the point that they required replacement. Let's take a closer look at the various problems that beset wood and concrete columns in the past.
Home renovation projects often include replacing wood columns. Over time, many wood columns and on older structures fell victim to relentless wind-driven rain, ice and heavy snow. Sometimes, overflowing gutters engulf column bases in water. Once the paint deteriorates or the caulk cracks, moisture intrusion is a near certainty. Wood columns subject to intense UV rays are often subject to dry rot and other deterioration. Once the integrity of the wood column is compromised, a variety of insect species often invade, including different kinds of ants, termites, beetles and even bees. Of course, some insects are more common in one region than another.
In certain applications, fiberglass columns can also replace cast concrete ones. Aging concrete columns may exhibit micro-cracking, scaling and delamination. Hundreds of freeze-thaw cycles often expand cracks until they extend deep into the column. Cast concrete columns are typically most vulnerable around architectural details and joints. In recent decades, this damage has often been reduced through the use of entrained air during the fabrication process.
Finally, cast concrete columns are heavy and unwieldy during installation. They also require far more structural support than those made from alternative materials.
When it comes to architectural columns, the combination of glass fibers and resin yields a strong, durable, attractive result. They are simultaneously resistant to water, rotting and insects. Unlike wood and concrete columns, they are highly resistant to cracking and other surface degradation. As a result, they are not vulnerable to the damage caused by freeze-thaw cycles repeated hundreds or thousands of time over the years.
Fiberglass columns are also receptive to both sanding and paint. In fact, premium architectural columns are fully sanded to ensure optimum paint adherence. For most applications, one coat of primer and two finish coats are ideal.
To fabricate a fiberglass column, technicians combine select thermoset plastics to create what is often called a binding agent or matrix. The liquid matrix is poured into a mold. It solidifies, resulting in a strong architectural product. Once it has solidified, it will not soften in hot, humid weather. For example, FRP can withstand 150-degree F changes in ambient temperatures. The chosen polymers exhibit various characteristics that contribute to a superior final product. Although this polymer matrix exhibits impressive properties, it still requires reinforcement to optimize performance. Glass fibers reinforce the material to create a strong, durable column.
Glass drawn into thin fibers has been around a long time. However, ultra-thin fiberglass is another one of those compounds that were "discovered" by accident. In 1932, a researcher for Owens-Illinois accidentally created fibers of glass when he pointed a compressed air stream at molten glass. Today, directional glass fibers add impressive strength to polymer resins used in the fabrication of architectural columns.
A high-quality combination of polymer resin and glass fibers produces a product with many desirable properties. Architects, designers, contractors and property owners increasingly favor fiberglass columns for many reasons.
FRP fiberglass columns are fabricated from fiberglass reinforced polymer (FRP). Glass fibers and polymer resin are mixed together to deliver a lightweight, strong composite. The material is spun cast using centrifugal force. The result is a hollow shaft with an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. In fact, it is to possible to enjoy steel-like strength at a fraction of the weight. FRP is often specified for weight-bearing columns 16 inches or more in diameter.
Cast columns are also very popular. They are often used for new porches and porch renovations. Diameters of up to 36 inches are possible. Fabricators can vary the type and quantity of glass fibers as well as the type of resin to achieve different strengths. Trust an American-made product to meet the structural requirements you have.
Why are fiberglass architectural columns so popular? Here are 12 reasons that tell you they are built to last.
First and foremost, you want to work with a column fabricator you can trust. Top companies excel at customer service, provide quick lead times and deliver excellent value for the price. As with most building product manufacturers, it is important that the manufacturer be a solid company that will be there for you year after year.
Given the stringent building standard of today's new construction and renovation projects, it is important to look at companies that make a habit of fabricating the highest quality fiberglass columns. Such manufacturers, as well as their products, are well-positioned to withstand the test of time. This is particularly important if your warranty is ever a factor. The ideal manufacturer has a well-established history and a strong reputation as evidenced by respected rating systems.
The safety of individuals depends on the structural integrity of architectural columns. They must be code-compliant on the day of installation, and they must remain so throughout their lifespan.
While some architectural columns are only for decorative use, premium-grade fiberglass FRP columns demonstrate excellent structural characteristics. Relative to weight, FRP demonstrates excellent tensile and compressive strength. FRP is so effective that advanced formulations have replaced alloy steel in select aviation and aerospace applications.
Premium-grade FRP architectural columns deliver the load capacities required for many restoration projects. In historic and other restorations, FRP columns are excellent, lightweight substitutes for both wood and concrete. For example, compare wood and FRP columns 12 inches in diameter and eight feet long. The 55-lb wood column has a load-bearing capacity of 10,000 pounds. The 114-lb FRP column has a load-bearing of 18,000 pounds, which is 80 percent higher. Larger FRP columns come with load-bearing capacities of up to 35,000 pounds.
Fiberglass columns are so lightweight that they reduce construction costs by reducing structural support requirements. Also, the lighter weight of fiberglass columns speeds installation while reducing labor expense.
Although fiberglass columns are rigid, they are also resilient enough to resist denting, cracking or shattering at impact. Keep in mind that exterior columns are often subject to unanticipated impacts, from exceptional hailstorms to flying debris. The highest quality fiberglass columns are carefully fabricated to balance structural integrity and resiliency.
Permeability is another measure of a good architectural column. In many instances, wood columns supporting historic structures eventually decayed due to moisture intrusion. Wood columns require absolute maintenance of all painted surfaces. They also require intact caulking and other protection at the ends of the column.
Similarly, cast concrete columns are often subject to moisture intrusion. Even the tiniest crack is exploited by the expansive force of freezing water. Such columns often crumble through repeated freeze-thaw cycles the relentlessly attack the surface year after year.
By comparison, the surface of a fiberglass column is highly resistant to water. It is a non-porous, impermeable substance.
When it comes to historic wood columns, it's not just the potential for wood rot. Deteriorating wood attracts carpenter ants as well. By comparison, fiberglass columns will not rot. In fact, with minimal maintenance, they will retain their structural integrity for decades.
Wet rot makes wood soft and spongy when moist. When the wood is dry, it crumbles into small particles. Certain fungi weaken or destroy wood through a process referred to as dry rot.
Resistance to rotting is directly related to insect resistance, and, in turn, that is linked to the ability of a fiberglass column to retain its surface integrity over time. Insects cannot invade partly because the column's surface does not crack or otherwise degrade. By comparison, wood softens as it rots, and insects can get into the wood.
There are four primary categories of such insects: termites, powderpost beetles, bark beetles/wood borers and carpenter ants. Termites actually feed on the wood. Carpenter ants live in wood cavities. Wood borers like to exploit a crack or crevice by laying eggs in them. Powderpost beetles convert wood they consume into a fine dust, a process that can quickly compromise the load-bearing capacity of a wood column.
Commercial and residential entrance columns are often exposed to deicing salt. Other exterior columns may also be subject to assault by solvents, acidic fluids and other corrosive compounds. FRP columns resist corrosive compounds that can impact various metals, including steel and aluminum.
The fire ratings of architectural columns also provide evidence that they are built to last. Lower smoke density numbers denote higher fire resistance. For example, ASTM E84-01 testing is used to establish a smoke density rating below 450 for WorthingtonCast columns. Accordingly, they are classified as NFPA Class A UBC Class 1 material. This makes them code-compliant for both commercial and residential use.
Certain foreign manufacturers fabricate "knock-offs" of high-quality, American-made architectural products. For example, certain imported fiberglass columns are fabricated in factories that do not adhere to the strict standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
For example, some of these foreign manufacturers use freon-based solvents to accelerate the hardening of the resin. This is a problem because of freon's adverse impact on the stratosphere's ozone layer. Freon is DuPont's brand name for a class of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) linked to ozone depletion in the stratosphere. The ozone layer helps to protect people from the harmful effects of UV-B radiation from the sun. UV-B rays can cause bad sunburn, eye disorders and even skin cancer. Increases in UV-B rays are also linked to decreased crop yields and increased smog.
The last thing you would think you'd be concerned with the lead in fiberglass columns. However, it has happened. If a manufacturer indiscriminately uses fiberglass derived from recycled glass, it is possible for the lead to find its way into an architectural column. The solution is for a manufacturer to ensure that it gets its fiberglass only from lead-free sources. The risk may be greater when columns are manufactured under lax conditions encountered in certain overseas markets.
It's reasonable to infer that a manufacturer will only offer a lifetime warranty on a product that's built to last. For peace-of-mind, you want to invest in columns backed by such a warranty. For example, Worthington Millwork offers a limited lifetime warranty on its WorthingtonCast and WorthingtonWound fiberglass columns. Compare this to the one-year warranty you'll often get with wood columns.
Contractors completed the Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center in 2015. The entrance of the $25 million Norfolk, VA, facility includes prominent use of WorthingtonCast FRP columns.
The James Wade Bolton House was built in 1899 in Alexandria, LA. The renovation of this historic structure included the use of WorthingtonCast FRP columns. The columns simultaneously delivered structural strength and attractive aesthetics.
After considering the many advantages of Worthington's architectural products, a Massachusetts community specified the use of WorthingtonCast FRP columns for a renovation project. Scenic Newburyport, MA, is a popular tourist destination about 35 miles northeast of Boston.
Worthington Millwork is an established supplier of premium-quality, American-made fiberglass columns. We also offer a comprehensive line of complementary millwork. We take a stand against certain foreign-made architectural products fabricated using processes that harm the environment.
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