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March 17, 2015

Why ETFE Membrane Roofs Are the Future

Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) is a polymer with a high melting temperature threshold, excellent radiation, electrical and chemical resistance properties. This is why ETFE membrane roofs are the future in many industrial applications including agriculture and construction industry. Originally developed as a futuristic replacement for Polyethylene, which has good natural light properties but poor life expectancies, the ETFE polymer was initially used in designing professional fluorine-based fabrics that are then used to cover agricultural structures such as greenhouses. However, with its almost legendary properties and expectation adaptation capabilities, architects across the globe have begun to discover just how this new type of tensile membrane fabric can be used to provide design inspired coverings for Stadiums, Sport Halls, Shopping Centers, Airports, Office Blocks, Schools and Theatre Halls to mention but a few.

Recently, ETFE has gained international acclaim as a premium tensile membrane material for high impact roofing construction design due to its unrivalled properties.

Advantages of ETFE Roofs

ETFE has revolutionized and modernized the world of architecture. The degree of innovation built-in to this material makes it beneficial in most applications. Architects can now realise free flowing, crystal clear open span designs not possible with glass. Among the advantages of ETFE roofs include:

Super Lightweight – The ETFE film incorporates materials that give it an impressive lightness. The advantage of this in construction is you will require less structural steel to support the ETFE film hence resulting into a much lighter, but strong structures. In addition this ETFE roofing puts less stress loading on the building, meaning structural steel works can be lessened as the main building can usual act as support. This flexibility and lightweight nature explains why ETFE membrane roofs are the future since they give greater design freedom and capabilities.

Durable and Self-Cleaning – Whether it is exposed to chemical, thermal, or physical destructive elements; ETFE is structurally resistant, and can perfectly withstand the shock. Research shows that the ETFE film has the ability to retain its strength for more than 35 years whilst at the same time retaining its transparency and self-cleaning properties.

Excellent Insulation Performance – ETFE can either be used in a single, double or triple layer model, with each option giving it outstanding insulation properties. During the colder seasons, structures built with ETFE retain heat whilst in summer months the same structures keep off heat from entering into the indoor space below.  Depending upon which Thermal Value is required, the ETFE roof design can be manipulated to achieve as little as 0.1W/m2k U-values for a roof. This is practically impossible for glazed roofing.

Solar Control – An ETFE installation although transparent and excellent in light transmission, can be manipulated using a variety of techniques, so as to give it tremendous solar control features. Among the techniques used to achieve this include performance printing also referred to as fritting, tinting, surface treatments, radiation and the addition of extra layers of EFTE foil so as to minimize light transmission and control solar gain. This makes ETFE foil one of the most thermally controllable tensile fabrics on the market.

Such manipulations of the ETFE fabric can be used to make the fabric semi-translucent for privacy purposes or to ensure it keeps the heat out at a certain time of the day. This makes it perfectly suited and ideal for botanical garden bio domes in climates normally associated with weather that could be too hot during certain daylight hours.

Eco-Friendliness – Unlike other artificial materials, ETFE is a 100 percent recyclable polymer. When it has served its term, it can be removed and recycled back into beneficial ETFE products such as tubing, castings or wires. Being a lightweight fabric, ETFE requires less fabrication and transports costs and this reduces its carbon footprint.

Natural Day Light – Most of us believe that pure glass is 100% clear and provides us with almost perfect natural light transmission. Well you would be in the majority if you thought so; actually glass can block out as much as 38% of natural day light. This means glazed roofs can require artificial lighting during daylight hours. A single layer of ETFE membrane fabric can actually allow up to 92% of natural day light to penetrate to the room below, increasing internal lighting for the buildings occupants. This is now known to help with Seasonal Adjustment Disorder (SAD). As such more and more designers and architects are choosing to use ETFE for roofing in buildings such as Schools, Shopping Centres and office blocks where SAD in known to diversely affect learning and shopping habits, as well as employee productivity rates.

Other advantages of ETFE roofs include reduced lighting costs, fire resistance, and elasticity which reach up to 600 percent at breaking point.

Liquid Glass – Roof Construction

The ETFE films or foils have a density of 1.012 ounce per cubic inch. Unlike conventional glass, ETFE liquid glass has a surface with a low coefficient of friction making it very difficult for dirt or dust to stick onto the film. Being UV transparent, this material does not discolor or weaken structurally over time; which is why it has one of the highest life expectancies than any other tensile membrane fabric.

In terms of construction technology, ETFE can be single-layered, double-layered, or even triple-layered. In the single-layered form, the film is reinforced with lightweight steel, wire cables or aluminium tracks in order to maintain its shape and stability. In the double or triple-layered construction, the ETFE liquid glass incorporates a pneumatic system responsible for maintaining air between two or three layers of foil attached in aluminium extrusions and firmly supported by a lightweight structure hence creating inflated cushions.

On average, the ETFE material is reported to last more than 50 years and is unaffected by atmospheric pollution, UV light and other types of environmental weathering.

Excellent Light Transmission

ETFE is a transparent material that gives excellent light transmission across the whole visible light region which ranges between 380-780nm. A layer of medium weight ETFE can have up to 85 percent light transmission, a percentage that reduces minimally with the addition of multiple layers.

The ultraviolet range transmission achieved by ETFE is approximately 83 to 88 percent which makes the material an excellent choice in greenhouse construction as it allows vegetation to vibrantly grow underneath. The excellent light transmission property of ETFE films lowers the lighting costs in buildings. Instead of putting on lights during the day, the ETFE covering provides sufficient natural light for the entire structure. Additionally, their absorption of infrared light makes them effective in improving energy consumption.

Looking at the aspects discussed above, there is no single doubt why ETFE membrane roofs are the future in buildings, construction and modern day architecture.

Why ETFE Membrane Roofs Are the Future

Shade Sculpture ETFE Structure Capabilities

With in-house tensile design architects and tensile membrane engineers, Shade Sculpture has always had the design and engineering capabilities to handle ETFE membrane design projects. However, with our soon to be announced merger with an internationally renowned company recognised for their specialism in large scale ETFE Foil projects, we now have greater design, engineering, fabrication and installation capabilities than any other company operating within the UK. This increased expertise in ETFE not only puts Shade Sculpture at the forefront when it comes to ETFE membrane projects within the UK, but also large scale project across the globe.

To find out more about why we believe ETFE is the Fabric of the Future and how we can help you better understanding just how incredibly versatile ETFE Tensile Fabric Structures can be, simple call us on +44 (0)1249 848649 and ask to speak with one of ETFE specialists. Alternatively, email us at for impartial advice and expertise.