Selecting the Right Architectural Membrane for Your Project

Selecting the Right Architectural Membrane for Your Project

For today’s architects and general contractors, pushing the boundaries of design and functionality is more important than ever. Modern construction projects are increasingly incorporating architectural membranes – those lightweight, yet visually striking fabrics – to create unique and innovative spaces

Selecting the right membrane material isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s a critical decision that impacts the entire project, from structural integrity and energy efficiency to long-term durability and maintenance requirements.

Top Contenders in the Construction Space

Three frontrunners in the architectural membrane race are ETFE foils, PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), and PVC-PES (polyvinyl chloride polyester). ETFE foils, known for their exceptional transparency and lightweight nature, are ideal for creating expansive, light-filled spaces. Looking for an option that can spar against the elements? PTFE is a high-performance material that boasts incredible strength and weather resistance, making it perfect for challenging environments. 

Finally, PVC-PES offers a balance of affordability and functionality, often used in permanent and temporary structures. Each material has its strengths and weaknesses, which makes the process of selecting the perfect fit for your project a partnered effort.

In this guide, we will highlight the importance of choosing the ideal architectural membrane for your next project. We will break ground on key factors to consider, the benefits of using membranes effectively, and what success may look like for you. Ready to find an architectural membrane that meets both your design vision and practical priorities? Let’s get started.

Overarching Advantages of ETFE Foil Membranes

ETFE foil membranes emerge as a captivating material. Beyond their captivating aesthetics, ETFE offers a unique synergy of properties that can elevate your project to new heights. This lightweight yet incredibly strong material allows for the creation of expansive, translucent structures. ETFE structures utilize natural light while maintaining exceptional durability and environmental advantages. 

ETFE: The Effortless Solution

ETFE stands for Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene, its unique properties, design flexibility, and sustainability benefits, make it an effortless solution for any membrane structure. Here’s how this material can empower you to create truly awe-inspiring and functional structures:

  • Top Transparency: ETFE lets in 90% of light, bathing your space in natural sunshine. Imagine a stadium roof that feels open to the sky or a botanical garden where the plants have direct UV exposure.
  • Lightweight Support: Compared to glass, ETFE is lightweight. This translates to lighter support structures, making it ideal for innovative curved designs.
  • Resilient and Self-Cleaning: ETFE thrives in a wide range of extreme temperatures, making it a global building block. It is self-cleaning (thanks to its non-stick magic). Plus, it’s super resistant to chemicals, meaning it’s relatively low maintenance in the long term.
  • Recyclability: ETFE foil membranes require less raw material compared to glass. It can be recycled and reborn into new applications. This minimizes waste and supports a circular economy where materials get multiple lives.

The Novum Advantage

By employing rigorous testing procedures and obtaining independent certifications, Novum demonstrates its commitment to providing top-quality ETFE solutions. Novum goes beyond internal testing by acquiring independent certifications from highly certified organizations. These certifications provide architects and contractors with peace of mind, knowing the ETFE meets internationally recognized standards. Look for certifications from bodies like:

  • ASTM International: A global leader in developing technical standards, their stamp of approval ensures the ETFE complies with industry best practices.
  • European Organisation for Technical Assessment (EOTA): This European certification signifies the membrane meets safety, performance, and sustainability requirements within the European market.

PTFE Membrane Performance and Applications

When specifying lightweight yet high-performance roofing or cladding systems, both PTFE and ETFE membranes emerge as strong candidates. While their exceptional properties like translucency, weather resistance, and fire safety might seem similar, a key distinction lies in their composition: PTFE, or polytetrafluoroethylene, is a fluoropolymer resin applied to a strong glass fiber base. The combination creates a microporous structure with superior tear and puncture resistance.

ETFE, on the other hand, stands for ethylene tetrafluoroethylene. It is a single-layer fluoropolymer film, offering excellent UV light transmission and self-cleaning properties. Understanding these compositional differences is crucial for selecting the optimal membrane for your project’s needs.

Benefits of PTFE Membranes

1. Color Stability and Fire Resistance

When designing with a focus on longevity and safety, PTFE membranes are a compelling solution. One key benefit is their exceptional color stability. Many organic materials can fade or discolor over time due to UV exposure. 

PTFE’s inherent chemical structure makes it highly resistant to sunlight. Vibrant facades and roofing systems can retain their intended aesthetic qualities for decades, minimizing the need for costly replacements.  

PTFE also boasts superior fire resistance, which translates to a very high melting point and inherently low flammability. In the event of a fire, PTFE won’t readily ignite and won’t contribute to flame propagation. It achieves high fire safety ratings, which allows for expansive light-filled structures without compromising safety. 

2. Longevity and Cost-Effectiveness

If one of your objectives is to arrive at a balance between longevity, cost-effectiveness, and aesthetics, PTFE membranes offer an ideal option compared to traditional materials. 

Longevity: Unlike traditional materials like metal panels or fabric canopies, PTFE boasts exceptional resistance to UV degradation, weathering, and chemical attack. This could contribute to a lifespan exceeding 25 years, with minimal maintenance required. Consider the long-term cost savings compared to materials that require frequent repairs or replacement.

Cost-effectiveness: While the initial cost of PTFE might seem higher upfront compared to some materials, a life cycle cost analysis reveals its true value. The extended lifespan, minimal maintenance requirements, and energy efficiency benefits (due to natural light transmittance) contribute to significant cost savings over time. 

Comparison to alternatives:

  • Metal Panels: While offering good durability, metal panels can be susceptible to corrosion, dents, and require repainting to maintain aesthetics.
  • Fabric Canopies: Generally less expensive upfront, fabric canopies often have shorter lifespans due to UV degradation and require more frequent replacement.

PTFE membranes can have a higher initial cost. Ultimately, they prove to be a cost-effective solution due to their longevity and low maintenance demands. Coupled with their unique aesthetic and performance benefits, they’re perfect for future-proofing your structure.

3. Cleaning Requirements

PTFE is inherently a low-maintenance solution, and unlike many traditional building envelope materials, offers several advantages that minimize the need for frequent interventions:

  • Self-Cleaning Properties: Due to its inherent hydrophobicity (water repellency), dirt and debris tend not to adhere to the PTFE surface. Rainwater effectively washes away most contaminants, promoting a naturally clean appearance. 
  • Minimal Dust Accumulation: PTFE’s smooth surface discourages dust particles from accumulating. Without the need for dusting aesthetically, it also minimizes dust-related maintenance within the building itself.
  • Chemical Resistance: PTFE boasts exceptional resistance to a wide range of chemicals, including harsh cleaning agents. With occasional cleaning and readily available solutions, the risk of damaging the membrane is mitigated.

Maintenance Considerations:

  • Periodic Inspections: While major maintenance is infrequent, regular visual inspections are recommended. They will identify any potential tears, punctures, or accumulated debris that might require attention. 
  • Minor Cleaning: For stubborn dirt or stains, a gentle cleaning with a mild detergent solution and soft brushes or cloths is usually sufficient. High-pressure washers should be avoided, as they can damage the membrane.

Overall, PTFE membranes offer a significant advantage for professionals trying to surpass expectations in aesthetics, performance, and low maintenance requirements. The ease of upkeep also converts to reduced long-term costs and allows the building’s design to truly shine over time, as intended.

Versatility of PVC-PES Coating Membrane

In the world of architectural membranes, PVC-PES (polyvinyl chloride-coated polyester) stands out for its versatility. This innovative material blends the best attributes of two distinct components. It’s a winning combination for architects and builders seeking both functionality and design freedom.

Breaking Down the Duality:

  • High-Tenacity Polyester Base: The core of the PVC-PES membrane is a woven polyester fabric. This base material provides exceptional strength and dimensional stability, allowing the membrane to withstand significant loads and maintain its form under tension.
  • Protective PVC Coating: A layer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is applied to both sides of the polyester base. This coating acts as a protective shield. It safeguards the fabric from environmental factors like UV radiation, moisture, and chemical pollutants. Additionally, the PVC layer enhances the membrane’s fire resistance and weatherproofing capabilities.

The Synergy of Strengths:

The beauty of PVC-PES lies in the way these two components work together. The robust polyester base offers the tensile strength needed for expansive structures. The PVC coating provides crucial protection and weather resistance. This partnership of properties allows PVC-PES membranes to excel in various applications, offering a unique blend of:

  • Durability: The combined strength of the polyester base and PVC coating ensures the membrane can withstand harsh weather conditions. They endure for extended periods with minimal maintenance.
  • Lightweight Design: Despite its impressive strength, PVC-PES remains a lightweight material compared to traditional roofing or cladding options. This translates to reduced structural support requirements and greater design flexibility.
  • Translucency and Aesthetics: PVC-PES membranes can be formulated to allow varying degrees of light transmission. By working with fabricators, architects can create light-filled, airy spaces while maintaining a desired level of opacity. Its wide color wheel opens doors for creative and visually striking building envelopes.
Benefits of PVC-PES Membranes

Variety in Color and Use

One of the most captivating aspects of PVC-PES membranes is their remarkable versatility in terms of color. Unlike some roofing and cladding materials that are limited to a narrow palette, PVC-PES offers architects a vibrant spectrum. This color variety unlocks a whole new level of design freedom, satisfying any design.

Tailored Translucency:

PVC-PES membranes can be formulated to achieve varying degrees of translucency. This allows architects to control the amount of natural light transmitted into the building. Opaque versions provide excellent thermal insulation and privacy. Translucent options bathe the interior in soft, diffused daylight, creating a sense of openness and connection with the outdoors. 

A Spectrum of Possibilities:

The PVC-PES membrane color palette is extensive, ranging from classic neutrals and earth tones to bold, saturated colors. This vast selection empowers architects to:

  • Complement the Building’s Design: The chosen color can seamlessly integrate with the overall architectural aesthetic, creating a cohesive and visually striking exterior.
  • Enhance Functionality: Specific colors can be employed to optimize solar heat gain or create a more reflective surface that helps regulate building temperature.
  • Express Creativity: The vibrant hues of PVC-PES membranes allow architects to push the boundaries of design. They transform buildings into landmarks that showcase their unique vision.

Diverse Project Applications:

Beyond aesthetics, the color variety of PVC-PES membranes opens doors for a multitude of project applications:

  1. Commercial Buildings: From shopping malls with inviting, light-filled atriums to corporate offices with a modern, sleek aesthetic, PVC-PES membranes can be tailored to suit diverse commercial needs.
  2. Sports Complexes: Translucent membranes in vibrant colors can create dynamic and visually stimulating environments for sports facilities.
  3. Transportation Hubs: Airports and train stations can benefit from the lightweight, weatherproof nature of PVC-PES. The color options allow for easy identification and wayfinding.

Fire Safety and Light Transmission

PVC-PES membranes offer a well-rounded solution for architects seeking a balance between safety and natural light integration. The PVC layer enhances the membrane’s fire resistance, meeting relevant building codes and fire safety standards. At the same time, PVC-PES membranes come in various levels of translucency. Fully opaque versions support superior thermal insulation and privacy. Translucent options have the power to promote energy efficiency with the presence of a natural light source.

Economic Advantages

PVC-PES membranes offer a convincing value proposition, but it’s important to note their high production volume and cost-efficiency as they relate to your specific project scope. Here’s a breakdown:

High Production Volume:

  • PVC and PES are both widely produced materials, making them readily available for membrane fabrication.
  • Established manufacturing processes for PVC-PES membranes allow for efficient production at scale.


  • Compared to custom-made or specialty architectural membranes, PVC-PES offers a more cost-effective solution. Due to its established production methods and readily available materials.

Factors influencing cost-efficiency:

Project size: PVC-PES membranes tend to suit larger projects that require more expansive membrane structures. The economies of scale associated with PVC-PES production become more significant.

Complexity of design: Simple designs with minimal curvature or customization needs will generally be more cost-effective with PVC-PES than highly intricate or bespoke structures.

Longevity and Maintenance

PVC-PES membranes offer an attractive proposition when it comes to lifespan and maintenance. They are a smart long-term investment for architects and general contractors. Well-maintained PVC-PES membranes can boast a lifespan exceeding 25 years. This impressive durability translates to a lower total cost of ownership compared to materials requiring more frequent replacement. Proper installation techniques are crucial for ensuring optimal performance and longevity.

Exposure to harsh UV radiation or extreme weather events can impact lifespan, but PVC-PES generally holds up well. Regular inspections and occasional cleaning help maintain the membrane’s integrity and extend its lifespan.

Maintenance Tips:

  • PVC-PES membranes are lauded for their low maintenance requirements.
  • Regular inspections: Similar to other building envelope materials, periodic visual inspections are recommended. Identifying potential issues like tears, punctures, or excessive dirt accumulation means problems won’t get out of hand. These inspections can be integrated into routine building maintenance procedures.
  • Cleaning: Due to the dirt-resistant properties of PVC, most dirt and debris are washed away by rainwater. For stubborn stains, gentle cleaning with a mild detergent solution and soft cloths or brushes usually suffices. High-pressure washers should be avoided to prevent damage.

Cost-Effective Architectural Membrane Structures

Selecting the right architectural membrane hinges on understanding the specific needs of your project. Factors like desired aesthetics, light transmission requirements, fire safety regulations, budget constraints, and project scale all play a crucial role. PTFE membranes excel with their exceptional color stability, fire resistance, and minimal maintenance needs, making them ideal for high-performance, long-lasting structures. 

Conversely, PVC-PES membranes are a strategic blend of affordability, design flexibility, a wide color palette, and good performance. They’re a strong choice for various applications, particularly larger-scale projects.

Interested in learning more about Novum’s systemic approach to high-value architecture? See how our integrated membrane workflow provides accurate information that enables designers to make the best decisions for their projects.