The reason why plexiglass is so expensive lies in the manufacturing process. Production of plexiglass is time and labor-intensive. Acrylic made with the cell cast method is the least cost-effective. Plexiglass is also highly valued because it is stronger and more resistant than glass.
Did you fall in love with one of my gazebo greenhouse ideas? Maybe you tried to build it, but are now surprised by how expensive acrylic sheeting is?
I was surprised too! Plexiglass is a great synthetic alternative to glass. It is less brittle, easier to cut, and produces fewer unwanted reflections. Despite all these benefits, many people skip on plexiglass for one good reason. It is too expensive!
This makes you wonder: “Why is plexiglass so expensive?“
Well, the manufacturing process is the main reason for the high cost of acrylic plastics. I will explain in detail how production affects the cost of this material. Let’s get to it!
High Price Of Plexiglass Explained
What Is Acrylic, Plexiglass, & Plexiglas?
People use these terms interchangeably without knowing that there is a slight difference between them. Let me explain!
Acrylic is a term referring to transparent plastic material. Acrylic goes under many names, including acrylic plastic, acrylic glass, PMMA, plexiglass, and many more. Acrylic plastics imitate glass, only they are stronger and weigh less. Acrylics come in several forms and plexiglass is one of them.
Plexiglass is a type of clear acrylic sheet. Its scientific name is polymethyl methacrylate or just methyl methacrylate. This long name is often abbreviated as PMMA.
Plexiglass gets its name from the brand name product called Plexiglas, created and patented in the early 1900s. Today the generic name plexiglass can refer to the original product Plexiglas or several other similar products made by newer manufacturers, like Acrylite, Lucite, Crylux, and Perspex.
The main difference between acrylic and Plexiglas is in their manufacturing. Acrylic plastics can be made through the cell cast and extrusion method, while Plexiglas is only made with the cell cast process.
Why Does Plastic Glass Cost So Much?
Cost Of Manufacturing
In most cases, manufacturing is the number one reason why plexiglass costs so much. The production of Plexiglas is not a one-step process. It requires a lot of materials and equipment. Acrylics can be manufactured in two different ways:
Cell Cast Acrylic
Plexiglass is just one form of acrylic plastic polymer. Its scientific name is methyl methacrylate or polymethyl methacrylate, often abbreviated as PMMA. Brand name Plexiglas is only manufactured via the cell cast method.
The cell cast method produces highly durable acrylic that can be formed into different shapes, sizes, and colors. This manufacturing method produces acrylic sheets in thicknesses from 0.06 inches up to 6 inches.
The first step to making cell cast acrylic involves mixing a monomer with a catalyst to create a polymer. This molten plastic is poured into a custom cast. Once the acrylic sheet is partly solid, it is removed from its mold.
The semi-solid acrylic sheet is later transferred into a pressure-cooker-type oven called the autoclave. The heat and pressure eliminate air bubbles from the material, giving it recognizable high transparency and solid composition in turn. This treatment alone takes more than half a day to finish and is a huge contributor to the steep value of plexiglass.
Once the acrylic is removed from the oven, it is sanded and buffed to the customer’s request. This final step is tedious and takes time to achieve the desired gloss.
The cell cast acrylic is manufactured in a closed environment to minimize the impurities that could lower the clarity. This requirement increases the cost of production and consequently the cost of the Plexiglas.
See what the cell cast process looks like:
Extrusion is a more cost-effective manufacturing method of acrylic. Unfortunately, Plexiglas is not manufactured with this method. That’s why extruded acrylic is a cheaper alternative to cell cast Plexiglas.
The extruded acrylic is made using polymer pellets as a base. Polymer pellets look like droplets that manufacturers make by suspending a monomer in water and adding a catalyst to the mix. These polymer pellets are fed into the machine called an extruder – hence the name of the process.
The extruder melts and liquefies the pellets using heat. The molten acrylic is then transferred into some type of mold that creates consistent sheeting using pressure. The thickness of the panels is chosen in this step. Once the sheeting comes out, it needs to be cooled and solidified. Only then, it can be cut, sanded, and buffed.
The cost to manufacture plexiglass is not the only reason for its steep price. Plexiglass has qualities that are highly desirable in the construction industry. When a product has something unique to offer, it is only natural for it to be valued more.
Plexiglass costs more because it is stronger and more durable than glass. It can withstand greater pressure and weight before breaking.
Despite its impressive strength, plexiglass is still lighter than glass. These are ideal traits for construction materials. It is not often that you come across a material that is strong and lightweight at the same time.
Since acrylic is lighter than glass, it is easier to handle, carry and install on the roof and sides of a greenhouse. Even if your greenhouse has curved walls, you can cover them in acrylic. Unlike glass, acrylic can be bent into different shapes during manufacturing.
Acrylic is a building material for greenhouses, windows, bathroom doors, ceilings, and aquariums. Big aquariums that hold hundreds of gallons of water can’t be made with regular glass. Instead, they are made with acrylic that is stronger and more transparent.
These qualities make plexiglass extremely versatile, which is why you will have to spend a little bit more on it.
Why Is Plexiglass A Good Material?
Strength And Durability
If you want superior strength for the windows in your greenhouse or windows in your house, opt for plexiglass instead of traditional glass as it is more resistant and can handle 20 times more impact than glass. Breaking one of your windows will be much harder and intruders will have to work 20 times harder to break into your home.
Even if the window breaks, the chances of anybody getting hurt are minimal because plastic doesn’t cut as easily as glass does.
I also have to mention that plexiglass tolerates big temperature swings. It can withstand temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius. Only at about 200 degrees Celsius does plexiglass start to melt, so you can safely use one of these heat lamps for plants in your greenhouse.
A sheet of plexiglass weighs less than a sheet of glass per square foot. Of course, both sheets have to have the same thickness. In fact, Plexiglas is only half the weight of glass. You will have less trouble installing a clear roof on your greenhouse if you use acrylic.
There is another hidden advantage of using acrylic over glass. You will pay less for shipping if you purchase material online.
Easy To Work With
Acrylic is a light material that is easy to carry, seal and install onto whatever you’re building. You also won’t need a diamond blade to cut through the sheets or any advanced tools to cut acrylic to the size. A table saw is all you will need!
I have to mention that glass is more scratch-resistant than acrylic. Acrylic is prone to getting scratches, so be careful how you work your saw.
This may come as a surprise, but plexiglass is more transparent than glass. It allows more than 90 percent of light to penetrate, unlike window glass, which has 83 to 90 percent light transmission. This is a good thing because you want your greenhouse to get more light.
Since plexiglass absorbs light better, it shows fewer reflections on the surface. That’s one of the reasons why shops and aquariums love to use acrylic over glass.
Is plexiglass cheaper than acrylic?
Plexiglass is not cheaper than acrylic because it is made with the cell cast process. Cell cast manufacturing is more time and labor-intensive than the extrusion method. Extruded acrylic is more affordable than plexiglass.
Is plexiglass cheaper than regular glass?
Plexiglass is not cheaper than regular glass, generally speaking. Plexiglass costs about 10$ per square foot. Tempered glass prices stand at roughly $5 per square foot. The final cost depends on where you buy the product, its current demand, and its thickness.
Does plexiglass get cloudy?
Plexiglass gets cloudy when its surface is scratched and dirty. Plexiglass is scratch-prone, unlike glass. Its surface becomes less transparent with time. But not to worry, the damage can be reversed with a cleaning solution and buffing.
Plexiglass Is Well Worth Its Price
Plexiglass is a quality construction material well worth its price. It is in high demand despite its price tag. That’s because it gives you all the benefits of glass and much more. It has superior strength, is lightweight and doesn’t shatter as easily as glass and other budget-friendly acrylics.
If you don’t have the budget for Plexiglas, use any extruded kind for your greenhouse. It will work just fine!
Did you get the answer you were looking for? If not, feel free to ask questions in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!