When Utah-based Rock West Composites receives a new order, it is usually for things like carbon fiber tubing, carbon fiber sheets, or prepregs. The question is, can they go bigger? Could companies like Rock West fill orders for single piece roofs and wall panels for residential homes? Maybe not now, but perhaps in the very near future.
The reason for proposing this question is simple: residential home builders are beginning to look at carbon fiber as a primary building material. They have already observed a number of commercial structures built using large sections of carbon fiber, and they are beginning to imagine the possibilities of using the material for residential construction.
Here are five reasons home builders could be using carbon fiber sooner rather than later:
1. It’s Tougher and Stronger
The one thing almost everyone knows about carbon fiber is that it is tougher and stronger than steel, aluminum, and wood. Those other materials do not hold a candle to it in terms of sheer tensile strength. The implications of that strength make for some intriguing possibilities in terms of architectural design.
Carbon fiber wall panels and roof trusses would make it possible to design residential homes with completely open floor plans and floor-to-ceiling windows. Architects could create large, open spaces where light and air flow freely. These are the kinds of things that modern home buyers are looking for.
2. It’s Better at Resisting Weather
Carbon fiber is by no means a perfect material. But when it comes to resisting weather extremes, it does extremely well when compared to other material choices. Its resistance to weather suggests that carbon fiber would not age nearly as quickly as wood, vinyl, brick, etc. This further suggests that a carbon fiber house would last longer without the need for major repair or maintenance, at least in theory.
3. It Can Be Combined with Other Materials
One of the downsides of carbon fiber as a residential building material is its lack of aesthetic warmth. But that’s not a problem. Carbon fibers can be infused with other materials in order to create a homey environment. A Japanese company is doing just that.
Tokyo’s Teijin Ltd. has developed a way to combine carbon fibers with structural timber to make a hybrid product that offers high tensile strength and aesthetic beauty simultaneously. It is the best of both worlds for builders who want the strength and durability of carbon fiber without giving up the aesthetics of wood.
4. It Could Reduce Construction Times
Assuming carbon fiber panels could be mass-produced in a factory setting, building with them could substantially reduce construction times. To wrap your brain around this, think of manufactured housing. Manufactured and modular homes are produced more quickly than custom builds because components are manufactured in a factory setting. The same could be done with carbon fiber components.
While components are being manufactured, builders could be selling homes based on a limited number of model choices. Construction would be as simple as trucking the components to the site, assembling them, and finishing home interiors. Houses could theoretically go up in days or weeks, instead of months.
5. It Has Mass Appeal
Last but not least is public perception. Carbon fiber has mass appeal as a space-age material for building everything from bicycle frames to subway cars. The fact is that consumers love it.
Will carbon fiber ever become a primary building material for home builders? Time will tell. For now, builders are seriously considering whether they can make carbon fiber work in their industry.