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CLTE Coefficient of Linear Thermal Expansion for Common Building Materials

  • THERMAL EXPANSION of MATERIALS - CONTENTS: What is the definition of coefficient of thermal expansion?How do building materials change in dimension in response to temperature changes, sun, shade, ice, snow?How do the dimensions of different building materials vary with temperature, heat, cold?Table of Coefficient of Expansion of Building Materials
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Thermal coefficient of expansion of building materials:

Here we provide a Table of Coefficient of Thermal Expansion of Building Materials - what is the linear expansion of glass, metal, wood, masonry or plastic in response to temperature changes.

We include a discussion of the definition of thermal coefficient of expansion, how thermal expansion causes trouble in building materials, and how to use the data in the thermal expansion table to calculate changes in material size as temperatures change.



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Table of Coefficients of Thermal Expansion of Common Building Materials

Sketch at page top and accompanying text are reprinted/adapted/excerpted with permission from Solar Age Magazine - editor Steven Bliss.

Definition of the coefficient of thermal expansion or CLTE, Coefficient of Linear Thermal Expansion

The linear expansion of a heated solid (or liquid) is measured by

α = the coefficient of linear expansion,

The coefficient of thermal expansion is defined such that α measures the percentage change in the length of the material per degree of temperature change. Be careful in comparing the coefficient of expansion of different materials from different reference sources for thermal expansion coefficients as various references quote α in degrees C, others in degrees F. Usually people use the term CLTE or Coefficient of Linear Thermal Expansion as expansion along the long dimension of a material is most likely to be greater and thus of greater concern in construction. CLTE may be expressed as a fraction or as a power of ten as you'll see in the table below.

The following simple formula for the coefficient of thermal linear expansion in a building material is written to measure the percentage change in length per degree of temperature change:

α = (Change in Length / Original Length) / Change in Temperature

One can write similar formulas to calculate the coefficient of thermal expansion of a material in area (applicable, for example in thermal splitting of asphalt roof shingles ) or to calculate the coefficient of thermal expansion of volume. But because so many building material failures and leaks derive from cracks or openings due to thermal expansion of materials in length, that is our focus here.

Comparison of Coefficients of Linear Temperature Expansion (CLTE) of Common Building Materials

CLTE Ordered by Name of Material
Ordered by Coefficient of Thermal [Temperature] Expansion 
Material Coefficient of Expansion in inches of expansion per inch of material per degree F.  Material Coefficient of Expansion in inches of expansion per inch of material per degree F. 
ABS plastic 0.0000170 (glass fiber-reinforced) Acrylic 0.0001300 (extruded)
ABS plastics 0.0000410 Polyethylene 0.0001110
Acrylic 0.0001300 (extruded) Polycarbonates 0.0000440
Acrylic 0.0000410 (sheet cast) ABS plastics 0.0000410
Aluminum

0.0000123 - 0.0000129

11.7 to 13.7 x 10-5 in/in/F 1

Acrylic 0.0000410 (sheet cast)
Brass 0.0000104 - 190 Epoxy 0.0000310
Brick 0.0000031 (brick masonry) Ice 0.0000280 (effects of freezing water)
Cast iron 0.0000058 ABS plastic 0.0000170 (glass fiber-reinforced)
Cast iron 0.0000060 (gray cast iron) Zinc 0.0000165
Cement 0.0000060 Lead 0.0000151
Clay tile 0.0000033 Aluminum 0.0000123 - 0.0000129
Concrete

0.0000080 (Concrete structure = 0.0000055)

0.4 to 0.7 x 10-5 in/in/F 1

Brass 0.0000104 - 190
Copper 0.0000093 Copper 0.0000093
Epoxy 0.0000310 Concrete 0.0000080 (Concrete structure = 0.0000055)
Glass, hard

0.0000033

0.4 x 10-5 in/in/F 1

Iron, pure 0.0000067
Glass, plate 0.0000050 Steel 0.0000063 - 0.0000073 (also Iron, forged)
Glass, Pyrex 0.0000022 Cast iron 0.0000060 (gray cast iron)
Granite 0.0000044 (also Limestone, Marble) Cement 0.0000060
Ice 0.0000280 (effects of freezing water) Cast iron 0.0000058
    Vinyl2 (siding & trim)
4.5×10 −5 in/in/F 1, 2
    PVC (cellular) 4.5 x 10-5 in/in/F 1
Iron, pure 0.0000067 Glass, plate 0.0000050
Lead 0.0000151 Granite 0.0000044 (also Limestone, Marble)
Masonry 0.0000026 - 0.0000050 Nylon 0.00000447 (molding & extruding compound)
Mortar 0.0000041 - 0.0000075 Mortar 0.0000041 - 0.0000075
Nylon 0.0000447 (molding & extruding compound) Clay tile 0.0000033
Polycarbonates 0.0000440 Glass, hard 0.0000033
Polyethylene 0.0001110 Brick 0.0000031 (brick masonry)
Polystyrene 4.16 x 10-5 in/in/F    
Polyurethane 11.0 x 10-4 in/in/F (Density Dependent) 1    
PVC1(rigid) 3.5x10,-5 in/in/F 1    
PVC (cellular) 4.5 x 10-5 in/in/F 1    
Steel

0.0000063 - 0.0000073 (also Iron, forged)

0.8 x 10-5 in/in/F 1

Wood,Oak 0.0000030 (across grain)
Vinyl2 (siding & trim)
4.5×10 −5 in/in/F 1, 2    
Water see HOT WATER PRESSURE EXPANSION RATE    
Wood,Oak 0.0000030 (across grain) Wood, Pine 0.0000028
Wood, Oak 0.0000027 (parallel to grain) Wood, Oak 0.0000027 (parallel to grain)
Wood, Pine 0.0000028 Masonry 0.0000026 - 0.0000050
Zinc 0.0000165 Glass, Pyrex 0.0000022
       

Notes:

Definition of CLTE: The coefficient of linear thermal expansion (CLTE) of any material is the change in the material’s length [and to a much lesser degree the width or thickness] per unit change in temperature.

Special thanks to Bob Fankhauser <blueboxconst@hevanet.com>, a retired engineer / professional handyman and Habitat for Humanity volunteer who offered comments, suggestions, additions for vinyl CLTE (Coefficient of Linear Thermal Expansion), CPVC, PVC, cellular PVC, and vinyl (25 Feb 20-16) as well as helpful discussion concerning the wide variation in coefficients of expansion of materials given by various sources.

See Notes 1 & 2 and details now found at VINYL SIDING COEFFICIENT of LINEAR EXPANSION

Readers can see from these building material coefficients of thermal expansion (also called coefficient of linear temperature expansion) that assembling a building component that uses multiple materials requires methods that allow for these differences in the degree of expansion as temperatures change. Failing to permit movement of abutting or connected building materials whose rate of thermal expansion varies significantly will lead to separation, cracks, leaks, or damage in many instances.

Examples of the problems caused by differences in thermal expansion of building materials are particularly seen in windows and skylights.
See SLOPED GLAZING DETAILS

At SKYLIGHT LEAK DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR we include an example of failure of roof flashing cement that has lost its ability to tolerate thermal expansion and contraction on the building.

As we discuss at CRACKS in FIBERGLASS SHINGLES, we have not found a source defining the coefficient of thermal expansion of asphalt roof shingles
- CONTACT Us if you can provide that information.

Reader Question: can thermal expansion of some building materials can lead to loud noises?

Can the high heat (100F today) cause a building material to expand/contract and cause a loud boom and vibration. - Angela 7/22/11

Reply:

Interesting question, Angela; I can imagine that very hot metal roofing installed without allowance for expansion/contraction, or even a thin metal storage tank that is nearly empty could make a loud noise on being heated. But loud boom and vibration - if it is recurrent you'll be able to track down the noise to a source (let us know what you find as it may help other readers)

If the building was damaged by something else like structural movement you'd expect to see cracks or stuff out of plumb/square.

If the noise was due to a dangerous gas explosion (sewer gas or LP or natural gas) you need an expert on site immediately.

Reader Question: I don't understand coefficients of thermal expansion

can we have the answers in plain english please?

Reply:

Anonymous:

Sure, glad to oblige.

When you heat various substances, most of them expand, or get bigger.

The just how much bigger something gets is a function of the amount of temperature change and the properties of the specific material itself. Different materials expand at different rates.

Because the increase in size (thermal expansion) in a material can cause problems like breaks and cracking, especially where the material is bound tightly by something else, designers pay attention to the thermal expansion data of the materials involved.

The table above gives, for many substances found in or on buildings, the Coefficient of Expansion in inches of expansion per inch of material per degree F.

In plain english, the coefficient of expansion is the amount of increase in size of a given material for each degree Fahrenheit that its temperature increases.

Example: if the COE for pure copper is 0.0000093, that means that if we heat any specific volume of copper, say one cubic inch of copper, by one degree F, the copper will get bigger by 1 x 0.0000093. So our one cubic inch of copper would now occupy a slightly larger space = 1.0000093 cubic inches.

For an interesting example of how failure to allow for thermal expansion of materials causes trouble,
see THERMAL EXPANSION CRACKS in BRICK

or for a case that can cause a tank to rupture or a pressure/temperature relief valve to blow,
see THERMAL EXPANSION of HOT WATER.

Some Common Building & Material Failures We've Seen that Appear to Track to Thermal Expansion-Related Damage

Reader Question: industry standard temperature change range for exterior building materials located in the states where there is snow

(Apr 8, 2014) Temp said:
What is the industry standard temperature change range for exterior building materials located in the states where there is snow in the winter?

Reply:

Temp,

This sounds like an interesting question but before I research an answer I'd like to understand what you are actually asking. Are you asking what is the temperature range to which building materials are exposed in states where there is snow? Are you asking what is the range of coefficients of expansion? What country are we asking about? - our website has readers in about 270 countries.

A basic question about temperature ranges by geographic area is something we can certainly find from a national weather service. What am I missing?

(Apr 9, 2014) Temp said:

Sorry for being too vague. I just wanted to find out what the construction industry uses as a minimum and maximum range of temperature for computing the projected thermal expansion of an exterior cladding material over its lifetime to allocate expansion joints within the wall system. An example would be for an aluminum cladding installed, lets say in Chicago during winter. Does the engineer/ architect allow for the historic temperature lows and historic temperature highs? Or is there a set range of let's say 100°F?

Reply:

Interesting question, I don't know. I'd think that because most building products are used across a very wide range of climates, e.g. just in the U.S., vinyl siding is installed from Florida to Northern Maine and perhaps in Alaska, that the product engineers design for the full range of weather exposures.

About siding "gaps" and gap width, siding is normally overlapped more than enough that thermal movement won't open a (leaky) gap; 1/4" clearances are left at the J-channel at siding ends, and siding is "hung" on the wall, not nailed to the wall, so that it can move and not buckle as temperatures change.

Vinyl siding installation at very low temperatures in Two Harbors MN (C) Daniel Friedman 2016

Above: vinyl siding being installed on a Two Harbors MN home, February 2016 - working at temperatures well below freezing and often at 0 °F .

See

Thermal Expansion of Materials: Articles

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