Architectural columns can be a great addition to any new home or restoration project. There are many different column styles available today and knowing the difference between the various types of columns can go a long way in determining what will look best for your application.
The most popular columns are made with fiberglass or a fiberglass composite material. The differences between the two materials are the amount of resin used, the thickness of the columns and the weight of the columns. Fiberglass composite columns are made of marble dust, resin and fiberglass. They have a wall thickness of approximately ½” and are considerably heavier than fiberglass columns. Fiberglass columns have no marble dust in their composition. They are produced with fiberglass and resin only. Their wall thickness is approximately 3/16″, and they weigh approximately 2 lbs. per square foot. Composite columns are load bearing and true fiberglass (FRP) columns are decorative column wraps.
Both materials have their advantages. The composite columns are more economical in the smaller sizes from 6″ in diameter up to 12″ in diameter. In the size range from 14″- 18″ in diameter, both materials work equally well as far as cost factors are concerned. When you get into larger sizes, FRP columns can be more advantageous for your project because the lighter material costs less to install. For example, a composite column that is 18″ in diameter could weigh as much as 400 lbs. A fiberglass column would weigh 125 lbs. You would not need to bring in a crane or a boom to maneuver and install the larger FRP columns. Specifications and personal choice factor into which column works best for your project.
Another difference between the two materials concerns the use of decorative capitals with the columns. The Tuscan style capital and base fits both the composite column and the FRP column the same. These caps and bases side over the shaft on both conditions. They add no height and can easily be trimmed on site, by cutting from the bottom of the shaft, to cut the column to your desired height. When you get to more decorative styles of capitals such as Roman Corinthian, Ionic, Scamozzi, Temple of Winds, Modern Composite and others, the installation method will help determine which material to use. On the composite columns, the decorative capitals are made for load bearing capabilities. They are not designed to wrap around structural supports. This can cause problems when you are trying to hide a 4 x 4 post or I beam. The FRP capitals are a thin walled hollowed shell made for the purpose of wrapping around structural posts.
Both materials come in a variety of styles and sizes ranging from round and square, smooth and fluted, tapered and straight shaft.