PVC-U: A strong investment

Quality windows and doors must provide not only safety, but also comfort and adequate thermal performance. Andrew Reid of Profile 22 explores the solutions.

Social landlords can get caught up in a perfect storm when looking to carry out maintenance work on a budget. Government rent cuts, housebuilding targets and various changes and caps to revenue and benefits all have a direct impact on spending. This in turn adds to the challenges asset managers need to overcome when planning improvements to their housing stock, on small or large-scale refurbishment projects.

When specifying building materials for use in social housing projects, there are unique factors that come into play for each housing association depending on their individual needs, such as cost, performance and aesthetics.

Because of their low cost and flexible application, investing in PVC-U windows and doors presents a vital opportunity for housing managers to future-proof their stock. Managers are then able to recoup the whole-life cost, and contribute towards improving living conditions for tenants by combating fuel poverty.

Facts and myths

A number of myths exist around the use of PVC-U in windows and doors, especially when compared with timber or aluminium variants. Though PVC-U is cheaper than timber and aluminium, it is a common misconception that it’s of a lower quality.

In fact, PVC-U is a highly-engineered, cost-effective building material that performs incredibly well on thermal, weather, acoustic, aesthetic and cost level – all imperatives for landlords. It has stellar thermal insulation properties in windows, and U values as low as 0.8 can be achieved when combined with the most energy-efficient glazing options. This is as well as Window Energy Ratings of WER D or C, which meet current building regulations, all the way to WER A++.

If security is a major concern for a housing association, windows and doors made from PVC-U profiles can be manufactured to Secured by Design standard – a police-backed standard aimed at crime prevention – for added assurance.

Aesthetically, the idea that PVC-U doesn’t look as good as timber and aluminium is no longer so widely accepted. Manufacturers have a foiling technology available to ensure that windows and doors fabricated from PVC-U can now be made to exact requirements, in a wide range of colours. Certain technological advancements such as flush casements, that give cleaner, more modern-looking lines, mean PVC-U is as forward-thinking in terms of design as alternative materials, and at a fraction of the cost.

Bearing in mind that PVC-U windows and doors are the cheaper option and can be configured to the highest thermal and design specification, it makes good business sense to keep PVC-U front of mind for future refurbishment work.

Made to last

Future-proofing is about maximising the whole-life value of products to address unpredictable, on-going change in an uncertain economic climate. The key to any refurbishment project is to specify products which help to future-proof houses for many years to come while meeting environmental, health and safety, and security regulations.

With financial constraints top of the social housing agenda, thermal performance, reduced maintenance schedules and durability are just some of the factors that must be considered, and PVC-U windows and doors have a significant role to play.

The latest figures from The Department of Energy & Climate Change show fuel poverty affects 2.39 million homes in England alone. Given the scale of the issue, and in light of the limited resources available, social landlords have to address it with affordable solutions. Heat is chiefly lost through windows and doors, so they must be able to retain temperatures in the home.

To address this, PVC-U windows and doors can be made with thermal performance and energy efficiency in mind. They can be specified to achieve the lowest U-values and prevent valuable heat from escaping properties, in turn reducing fuel bills over time.

Installing the best performing windows and doors will help limit the negative effects of fuel poverty on a property, such as mould or damp problems caused by condensation, which are costly to thoroughly repair and can ultimately result in tenants’ ill health.

Choose wisely

By proactively combating fuel poverty in this way, landlords can also make significant headway in streamlining maintenance schedules. PVC-U windows and doors that help protect against the cold can soon recoup their initial cost, saving on unnecessary repairs.

Future-proofing also goes beyond performance and considers aesthetics. PVC-U windows and doors now have mass visual appeal, and the latest durable designs can last for 35 years – the BRE life cycle – if properly maintained. Overall, it’s advisable to select a suite of PVC-U window and door products that satisfy technical and aesthetic demands. It is important for housing associations to make carefully considered choices when specifying PVC-U windows and doors for a specific application or project.

Manufacturers regularly offer guidance to social housing clients to help them meet a specific brief in line with their business and tenant requirements – whether that’s value, sustainability, whole-life costings or changing the appearance of older homes.

The rise in use of building information modelling (BIM) – a 3D-modelling software that enables professionals to look at buildings and products as they would appear in reality – means it’s possible to ensure solutions are right for the aesthetics of a scheme before financial commitments are made.

For refurbishment in particular, it’s advisable to work closely with a profile manufacturer that can ensure everything from project planning and design down to product and supplier selection, to get the strongest return on investment, both long and short term.

Andrew Reid is commercial sales director at Profile 22.