What do aquarium windows and roof coatings have in common?

Answer: Both are made with acrylic.

Everybody has heard of Plexiglass. Made entirely of acrylic, it is extremely durable. It’s also the same material that keeps tens of thousands of gallons from crashing onto you when you are enjoying the fishies at your favorite aquarium.

A Brief History of Acrylic

Invented in 1928, acrylic glass is considered one of the clearest plastics on the market. Some of its first applications were in WWII. They included submarine periscopes lenses and the curved windows of airplane gun turrets and canopies.

Acrylic glass saved this fight pilot’s life in WWII.

It is tough, hard, flexible, and transparent. Unlike glass, it can be broken, but won’t shatter. 17x stronger than glass, it is the ideal bulletproof window.

Acrylic’s Use in Other Applications

Although Acrylic fiber was first sold for use in clothing by Dupont in 1941, the first acrylic paints didn’t come to market until the mid-1950s. Since then, acrylic latex house paint has become the most widely used and durable house paint.

But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that National Coatings began brought acrylic roof coatings to market and changing the roofing industry for the better by extending the lives of existing roofs and keeping them out of the landfill.

Four Men doing roof restoration on cypress apartment complex in san jose

Workers embed polyester sheets in National Coatings acrylic roof coating for additional strength.

The Difference Between Acrylic Roof Coatings and Acrylic Paint

Although acrylic roof coatings may seem similar to acrylic paint, there are several key differences between the two.

True, they both have the same viscosity. Both can be painted, rolled, or sprayed onto a surface to form a protective covering, but that’s pretty much where their similarities end.

Acrylic paint is used on vertical surfaces. Nobody walks on it. Water evaporates off its surface quickly and reflectivity isn’t important. Additionally, the surface it is applied to doesn’t expand and contract much.

An acrylic roof coating job in Menlo Park.

On the other hand, coatings have to be much tougher than paint. Maintenance workers must be able to walk on them without causing damage. Water must be able to sit on them for days without causing deterioration.

Acrylic coatings are also applied 5 to 10 times thicker than paint. When dry, they are tough like TPO (the most popular single-ply roofing membrane), but with key differences. Whereas single-ply membranes are heat welded together and mechanically attached to the roof deck, coatings are monolithic. They have no seams and are fully adhered directly to the roof deck.

They also have high impact resistance and can be walked on without being damaged. The elastomers in the coating make them flexible enough to withstand the continual expansion and contraction caused by thermal or seismic forces.

Most people think buildings don’t move much, but they do!

Whereas Plexiglass is clear, acrylic coatings are usually white so they can reflect the UV light and heat of solar radiation to keep roofs cool, and energy costs down.

It’s clear that acrylic glass and coatings are both incredibly tough but in different ways. For example, a 5mm thick acrylic sheet can support the weight of a human. A similar sheet of acrylic coating would not support that same person.

In conclusion, acrylic glass and coatings have some things in common. Both are incredibly durable, and both protect something of great value. One protects lives, the other protects valuable property.

So, the next time you are at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, sitting in front of the kelp forest windows, take a moment to marvel at the versatility of this amazing material that protects so much.

This view of the kelp forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium wouldn’t be possible without acrylic glass.

About the Author

Donovan Rittenbach Jr. is the digital marketing manager at ACS. He is a photographer, web developer and copywriter.