Guest Column - January 2015
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Building Materials

The Right Materials
Benefits of Solid Phenolic in Lockers, Benches and More

By Jennifer Clark

Every athletic facility manager would readily admit the need for durable and versatile building materials in the construction of lockers, benches, furniture and other features of a recreation facility. Materials that can hold up to the wear and tear of everyday use as well as exposure to contaminants and constant cleaning are an incredibly valued resource in terms of return on investment and occupant satisfaction. While metals, plastics and hardwoods are the most commonly used material for such applications, solid phenolic is an innovative new material that has been gaining popularity among facility managers for its combination of benefits.

Solid phenolic is an innovative material used in interior and exterior building products that facility managers across the world have begun to embrace. Solid phenolic is shaped into flat panels made by thermosetting resins, homogenously reinforced with cellulose fibers and manufactured under high pressure and temperature. The resulting product is an incredibly durable, versatile and sustainable material suitable for a wide range of interior and exterior applications.

Assessing the Needs of a Facility

When deciding whether or not to use solid phenolic material, facility managers should assess the unique needs of their building based on several factors, the first of which is the type of wear and tear the material will need to endure as a result of daily use. It is very important for the material used in recreational facilities to hold up to its intended purpose without easily scratching, denting, warping or delaminating. Additional factors to consider are how frequently the facility is cleaned and how vulnerable it is to vandalism. The material chosen for a recreational facility must be able to hold up to constant cleaning with harsh chemicals as well as potential damage caused by vandalism. Solid phenolic material is a top performer in each of these categories.

How Phenolic Compares

After assessing the unique needs of their building, recreation facility managers should consider how solid phenolic material compares to other available options in the categories of durability, functionality, fire rating and versatility. When judging the durability of a material, it is important to include all potential causes of harm: rust, dents, scratches, graffiti, corrosion, rot, mildew and water damage, to name the most prominent examples. Solid phenolic material, as a result of its unique formation process, is extremely scratch-, impact- and wear-resistant, providing a more durable solution than many other building products.

Solid phenolic material also offers multiple functional aspects that are valuable to recreation facility managers. The material has two times the screw retention strength of natural red oak, making it extremely resilient to removal attempts while also providing an excellent option for installing mounted storage racks or other hardware. This unique feature combines the versatile properties of wood with the strength and durability of metal for installing accessories. The non-microbial properties of solid phenolic material do not support mildew or bacteria growth, eliminating the risk of spreading infections in a facility. This is not a feature of plastic laminate or hardwood. The material can also be steam cleaned or pressure washed and will not rot, warp or delaminate.

The fire rating of a potential building material is an important aspect of the decision process, and solid phenolic material is an excellent candidate for any facility with its standard class B fire rating and optional class A availability. Solid phenolic meets the performance level of painted metal and stainless steel in this category while outperforming plastic laminate, solid plastic HDPE and hardwood.

If a unique color scheme or design element is desired in a new recreation facility, solid phenolic material is versatile enough to fit seamlessly with the vision of the designer or architect. With its comprehensive color options, wide range of surface textures and thin profile, solid phenolic material can take on many shapes, colors and sizes to provide an attractive addition to any building interior. The surface properties of solid phenolic material also allow it to be routered with custom verbiage or graphics, providing an aesthetically appealing option for facility signage or wall logos. This level of flexibility and versatility in both color and shape is not available in any other common building material.

Comparative Performance Testing Data

The results of tests based on standards from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) verify these comparisons between solid phenolic and other materials such as metal, wood and plastics. Based on AS test data, solid phenolic material matches or exceeds the performance of all other industry standard materials in the areas of graffiti, scratch and impact resistance as well as surface burning characteristics. One particular test proved that solid phenolic material has 10 times the impact resistance of metal, stainless steel, plastic laminate, HDPE and hardwoods (red oak). Tests for flame spread and smoke development also showed that solid phenolic outperforms plastic laminate, HDPE and hardwoods.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, solid phenolic material can arguably be classified as the most suitable material for use in recreational facilities based on its proven durability, versatility, sustainability and appearance retention. In the search for a material that will hold up to the common needs of athletic facilities, facility managers should look no further than solid phenolic material.

Jennifer Clark is the director of operations at Spec-Rite Designs, LLC with more than 18 years of experience in multiple facets of the engineering profession including value engineering, cost estimating, project management and architectural planning and design. Having pursued a degree in mechanical engineering at The Ohio State University, Clark recently became the recipient of the Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt Certification. Clark is also a LEED Accredited Professional with a focus on sustainable design and construction.