Vinyl has become one of the building industry’s most ubiquitous plastics, for it is simply derived by combining ethylene produced during petroleum and natural gas production with the chlorine in common salt. The resultant ethylene dichloride is further processed into gaseous vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) that can then by polymerized into vinyl resin. That vinyl resin is used to make a variety of vinyl compounds.
As chlorine is most readily and cheaply obtainable from brine or seawater, vinyl compounds tend to be both inexpensive and resistant to market fluctuations (such as those affecting oil-based products). Furthermore, chlorine — having flame retardant properties — allows for use of the derived vinyl compounds in situations of potential ignition or flame spread.
There are virtually endless applications of vinyl. Rigid, it becomes PVC piping, employed in water and sewage piping. Flexible, it becomes medical tubing, IV bags and storage bags for blood and other liquids. As a sheathing, it insulates and protects wiring and cabling. It can accept any color, whether opaque, translucent or clear. It can be made UV resistant and durable to many types of assault by chemicals and solvents. From its initial introduction to use in the 1920s, vinyl has for the past century continually expanded its capabilities and use.
One of the few historic drawbacks of vinyl has been off-gassing, or the emission of potentially toxic emissions. However, over the past several decades, improvements in production processes have drastically reduced emissions from various forms of vinyl.
Perhaps vinyl’s greatest asset (in addition to competitive cost) is its durability. Vinyl piping can last longer than a century, and most vinyl-based building products can provide decades of reliable service. Its next greatest asset is its maintainability over time. Being impervious to moisture and resistant to corrosion, vinyl resists staining and can be often and easily cleaned. Since vinyl can be integrally through-colored, the needs for occasional refinishing or touch-up are virtually eliminated. Furthermore, unlike metals, vinyl has warmth to the touch, and lends itself to soft, curved surfaces, making it a desired material for human contact surfaces, finishes and products.
Vinyl is a thermoplastic, meaning it can continually be processed and reprocessed through the appropriate application of heat, giving it high sustainability. But, since roughly 70% of all vinyl used in construction materials is for elements intended to remain in service for a decade or more, recycling happens much more slowly than with some other materials.
Health care environments can benefit greatly from the versatility, variety, durability and easy maintainability of vinyl. It is therefore no surprise that in some health care settings almost everything may be composed of some form of vinyl: flooring, wallcovering, ceiling surfaces, furniture, upholstery, countertops, handrails, equipment, tubing, wiring, fixtures, supplies, signage, etc.