Is placing uPVC in older buildings wrong?

August 7th, 2018

The swathe of uPVC windows being fitted in period buildings reached such an alarming peak a few years ago that the English Heritage took to the streets in a countrywide campaign to stop the influx of plastic double glazed windows. Whilst you would have heard a great deal of support for keeping the period look of the building, with the original timber windows, there was a large, growing voice advocating the use of uPVC.

So the question is, is placing uPVC windows in conservation areas really wrong?

Well, the short answer is yes! But why?

uPVC is the cheaper solution and, really, we can’t expect everyone to afford the installation of bespoke oak windows in their homes. Therefore, for those who are suffering during winter at the cruel hands of single glazed wooden frames, it seems like the best option.

Yes, they will save on your heating bills, but at the same time, there are other, even cheaper, solutions which will achieve the same result. What are they? Well, buying or even just closing your heavy curtains will show a dramatic increase in heat insulation, as will the installation of draught-proofing strips. These are far cheaper than installing those plastic frames – though, of course, perhaps not as long-lasting.

The secondary option is to install secondary glazing. Sure, we’re not very happy with what secondary glazing does either – they’re a little cumbersome (stealing sill space) and often not the prettiest, but they will ensure you can keep the original aesthetic of your period windows whilst offering very good insulation as well as noise reduction. If money is the object then these units, which you can often install yourself, will do what you need for a low cost.

The Green Cost

Sure, they are cheaper to install, but why are they cheaper? It’s because their manufacture and production don’t cost as much – and why’s that? It’s because uPVC is a by-product of the petrochemical industry, and has a whole heap of nasty chemicals added to it in order to stabilise it and make it fit for purpose. Unlike their timber alternatives, plastic frames will not harmlessly biodegrade, meaning that landfills will be laden with those unwanted window frames for eons. Like most things, if you’re saving money on something, you’re incurring costs elsewhere, and in this case, it’s the environment!

The Aesthetic Cost

Perhaps not the most important, but ironically the most protected reason is the aesthetic cost. Houses in most conservation areas will require like for like replacements – uPVC is quite simply out of the question. And whilst this may seem like a flimsy argument for those who want to just install cheap double glazing, it’s very important for us to protect our architectural heritage and the, frankly, quite ugly dulled white of plastic frames does nothing but detract from our otherwise beautiful buildings.

So what’s your opinion? Do you think the English Heritage and the insistence upon using more expensive timber frames in conservation areas is something that hurts those that can’t afford it, or is it a necessary cost for both conservation and the environment?

Image by Stephan M. Höhne

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