Window revolution

Neil Puttock of Boavista Windows explores how material innovations can foster tangible benefits

An American engineer and professor by the name of William Edwards Deming once said, “Innovation comes from the producer – not the customer.” This arguably rings true for fenestration.

What is the incentive for housing associations to seek an alternative to tried, tested and familiar fenestration products when those products do exactly what is required of them: they let light in, enable those inside to see out and provide an adequate level of security?

However innovation, like evolution, plays a key role in not only enabling housing managers to adapt to the constant changes and demands of a continually changing world, but also pre-empting those changes and demands by developing products and services that significantly improve the lives of those who use them.

A green window of opportunity

From a sustainability standpoint, fibreglass performs highly due to its reliance on silica, which is naturally found in abundance. In fact, there is at least 10 per cent recycled glass used in its production.

Using the latest in pultrusion technology, fibreglass frames are created by pulling resin-soaked glass fibres through heated dies, which only consumes 0.07 kilowatt to produce a linear metre of window frame weighing approximately 1kg.

When the windows need replacing, they can simply be shredded into sections and then mixed with concrete and asphalt to deliver a lightweight, stronger and crack and shrinkage-resistant composite material – a process that requires little energy to carry out.

In terms of insulation, fibreglass is a natural insulator as a result of its low thermal and acoustic conductivity, which means housing associations willing to incorporate fibreglass frames will be helping to ensure that residents are able to keep the heat in and the sound out.

“Innovation comes from the producer – not the customer” – William Edwards Deming

Designing out compromise

While it is true that window frames generally represent one component of the built environment and a relatively minor constituent in the construction of the UK’s social housing stock, they are a key contributor to the overall aesthetic of a building. Windows also have a long lifecycle, meaning that what is installed today is likely to be around many years from now.

In terms of design, fibreglass supports the construction of visually appealing housing. In fact, it opens up a world of possibilities for housing associations due to its strength and stability, which enable it to hold large surface areas of glass, bypassing the need to produce and fit specialist, and often very expensive, structural glass.

They also support more adventurous design projects that would previously have been prohibitive due to the cost associated with incorporating bespoke glazing solutions. Not only that, but fibreglass also expands in line with window glass, removing the need for gaskets to hold the pane in place, adding further aesthetic value to a building.

Minimal maintenance required

Perhaps one of the most striking features of a fibreglass frame is that, despite how light it is, it is exceptionally hardwearing. Plus, it is highly rot and corrosion resistant delivering a long lifecycle.

The challenge now is overcoming the UK’s inherent resistance to change

In fact, it is these factors that have underpinned the material’s success in parts of Europe and Canada; countries that were quick to harness the power of fibreglass to counteract the weather-related erosion that window frames in coastal regions and harsh climates are subject to.

Against the backdrop of a survey carried out by a prominent housing media title earlier this year, which revealed how housing associations’ expenditure on major repairs reduced by 7.3 per cent in 2015/16 and that planned maintenance expenditure dropped by 1.6 per cent, sustainable and durable products will surely offer some welcome relief.

Future proofing the UK

A House of Lords report created by the Select Committee on Economic Affairs entitled Building More Homes concluded that the government’s target of one million new homes by 2020 will not be enough. More importantly, it put forward the case that in order to address the housing crisis, at least 300,000 new homes are needed annually for the foreseeable future.

This is by no means an insignificant amount. If we are to meet this target then the annual window footprint alone would be considerable, and the volume of plastic and aluminium required quite daunting.

Given the renewed focus on sustainability, which is made even more urgent by government targets that seek to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint, it is time that the industry embraced new approaches to window frames and considered the role it plays in contributing towards delivering sustainable housing.

The technology exists. The challenge now is overcoming the UK’s inherent resistance to change by making fibreglass window frames a standard component within UK social housing in order to improve the sustainability credentials of today’s buildings while helping to shape those of tomorrow.