How Strong Is Polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is the one of the most popular roofing materials on the market today. While they’re not traditionally used on residential builds such as homes, polycarbonate roofing systems are exceedingly popular in the construction and renovation of sheds, garages and lean-tos to name a few. What’s more, statistics show that the demand for polycarbonate roofing is growing in Britain year-on-year.

But what is it about polycarbonate that makes it so popular? Polycarbonate’s exceptional strength is certainly one of its key selling points. Its ability to maintain performance and integrity is a driving force behind its ascension in the roofing industry and beyond. But just how strong is polycarbonate, and why?

How is Polycarbonate Made?

The first step to understanding the strength of polycarbonate is to learn how it’s made. First and foremost, polycarbonate is a plastic, with many properties that make it uniquely ideal for roofing applications. The full scientific name of polycarbonate is ‘polycarbonate of bisphenol A’, a reference to the chemical reaction required to create it.

Polycarbonate is manufactured through a process called condensation polymerisation between bisphenol A and carbonyl chloride (or alternatively diphenyl carbonate). The resulting material is an extremely strong plastic which can be mass produced into sheets to create incredibly effective roofing materials.

What Makes Polycarbonate So Strong?

The source of polycarbonate’s strength is its incredibly strong chemical structure. Its molecules possess tremendously strong bonds in high numbers, giving it its unique levels of resistance. Polycarbonate’s ability to withstand a range of forces and impacts is another result of this. However, despite its outstanding resilience, it’s also a highly flexible material. This allows it to give way to incoming impacts and pressures to better absorb the force before returning to its original shape.

Tensile strength is a measurement of how well a material can resist breaking under tension. Polycarbonate typically has a tensile strength of between 55–75 MPa (force per unit area). With regards to tensile strength, another plastic alternative such as acrylic is roughly 4-8x stronger than glass, whereas polycarbonate is up to 200x stronger.

What are the Different Kinds of Polycarbonate Roofing Sheets?

Multiwall Polycarbonate

Multiwall polycarbonate sheets are more frequently used than solid sheets. They’re often applied to structures such as conservatories and lean-tos. Their thick, multi-layered structure makes them fantastic thermal insulation. It’s for this reason that many homeowners choose to incorporate multiwall polycarbonate into buildings that see year-round use. This kind of polycarbonate also tends to be much lighter.

The various layers in multiwall also make it much more resistant to impact. The entire structure of these products is built so that each layer takes a certain amount of pressure, dispersing the impact throughout to prevent any single area or layer absorbing the entire force.

Solid Polycarbonate

Solid polycarbonate roofing sheets on the other hand are made from a single layer of polycarbonate. Solid polycarbonate is one of the most impact-resistant roofing sheet options on the market today. Rather than relying on multiple thinner layers to absorb a force, these sheets have been designed to operate as a single layer of solid plastic.

Solid polycarbonate is seeing an increase in use as an alternative roofing material to glass. This isn’t only because it’s exceptionally stronger (boasting up to 200 times greater resistance). It also retains many of glass roofing’s benefits, such as excellent light transmission and ease of installation.

What is Polycarbonate Used For?

Polycarbonate enjoys widespread use throughout plenty of different industries beyond roofing. It is commonly used in products that need to ensure the safety of their user, such as heavy-duty safety goggles and riot shields. There are many types of polycarbonate that are bullet and even explosion-proof! That’s just how strong polycarbonate is.

With regards to roofing applications, different types of polycarbonate sheets are used for various purposes. As previously mentioned, multiwall works excellently as a thermal insulator, and is used in the construction of conservatories, lean-tos, carports and garages.

Multiwall polycarbonate is also an ideal option for structures that will require a certain level of flexibility in the roof application, as multiwall is much more adaptive to movement and alteration than solid polycarbonate.

Meanwhile, the right kind of solid polycarbonate can be incorporated into many structures that would traditionally use glass, such as greenhouses and sheds. Prioritising optical clarity and light over thermal performance, they are ideal to see out of or to let in an increased amount of sunlight.

What can Damage a Polycarbonate Roof?

Despite their impressive tensile strength and resistance to damage, polycarbonate roofing sheets aren’t invincible. While they are not vulnerable to complete destruction such as glass shattering, they are susceptible to numerous subtle forms of microdamage.

While the flexibility of polycarbonate helps it to absorb impacts, it leaves it open to scores and scratches caused by a range of everyday hazards. For example, if the branch of a tree were to fall onto your polycarbonate roof, the sheet would most likely stay in one piece, but may receive a series of scrapes and slashes from the sharp twigs and bark of the branch.

UV rays are the other main threat to polycarbonate roof performance. When exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods of time, the material can suffer from a variety of side effects. These can include gradual yellowing to embrittlement, putting it more at risk of breaking under impact.

How Long Does Polycarbonate Last?

Any damage or wear that polycarbonate suffers from tends to be extremely gradual and many sheets see many years of use before these scratches or UV-induced problems start to occur. With expected lifespans of around 25 years, this material will last as long, if not longer, than many alternatives such as shingles and felt.

Polycarbonate roofing sheets are incredibly sturdy and reliable roofing options, and while they don’t last forever, they are incredibly easy and cost-effective to replace, with many manufacturers offering intuitive systems and methods for both installation and replacement.

Whether you are looking to incorporate this exceptional material into your new project or need to renovate an existing structure, Roofing Megastore offers a wide range of polycarbonate sheets from some of the UK’s top manufacturers, as well as easy-to-use calculators, informative guides and dedicated customer services.

More Information

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Please note: The information in this article has been written for information purposes only and we, therefore, take no responsibility for any purchasing decisions you make as a result of reading this article. Whilst we act as a retailer, we are not experts and we, therefore, recommend that you also refer to your manufacturer's guide and, if appropriate, consult a qualified professional before you make any final decisions.