Plastics over Steel for easier rural home construction

I am exploring the use of fiber reinforced plastic products in place of structural steel for use in residential design. I believe that if used right, these will allow economical use of materials and allow constructibility for rural/remote construction without depending on heavy lifting equipment.

Quick definition of Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP)

What are fiber reinforced plastics? Also known as FRP, these are a mix of plastic and fiber. Depending on the formula, these offer different advantages. They are used in automotive, aerospace, marine and in some construction industries. I honestly have not seen them used enough in construction.

Available in conventional structural shapes

They are available in most structural shapes like I-beams, flanges and channels. They perform structurally comparatively the same to their steel counterparts. They do not rust and have different formula depending on your performance requirements.

The benefits I see with using them: ability to take advantage of structural steel spans without the increased installation cost. You can lift these channels, i-beams without heavy-lifting equipment. Imagine the cost you avoid with not needing to bring in a crane to lift your steel into place in your rural site-just bringing the crane to your property is a cost saving you cannot pass on.

Uses conventional tools to install

My understanding is that these are typically bolted in place-not a problem and not really a pro either. Being conventional there is expected, and using conventional tools is easier.

Reduced structural weight to self and to whole structure

Obviously this reduces the weight of the structure of your home. Your structure does not add the same weight of steel, but can carry the same loads that steel can. Offers the same strength but adds less weight it will have to self-carry.

You would also be saving fuel to ship/deliver to your site. You would be able to carry more material in your pick-up truck than if you were depending on steel.

Low Maintenance

FRP does not warp, rot, corrode, rust or decay. It also does not attract insect damage. Critters probably do not care for it as it is not organic material in the first place.

Does not conduct heat/cold

It also offers the strenght and ability of steel without the thermal properties of steel. This is advantageous to Texas heat. If I can reduce heat in my structure from collecting and transferring throughout, my energy use will have much less cooling load.

Fire Retardant properties

It is available with fire retardant properties-but it does not compare the same to steel. The ratings are probably much lower, but for home construction there are ways to work around this characteristic. There are already countless ways that wood is used to protect your home from fire anyway, and I am positive there are ways to make those work with FRP using proper detailing.

I have ranted a bit much on the positives. I have yet really to learn the product availability of this in my area. I’ve used them on large commercial projects in my day job/corporate job, but I have yet to learn their use for residential projects. I do plan to follow up with some of these companies and, if it works for my needs, I plan to include these in details that will help my permaculture concept house more efficient.


My goal at Alt-Ark is to Make Architecture More Permaculture, to help you build that permaculture house on the homestead.