uPVC – A Tragic Love Story

November 19th, 2013

For years now I assume you, like me, have been plagued by cold calling double glazing salesmen trying to offload their products in order to earn themselves a commission. These people have no interest in the actual properties of the products they are selling, the effects they might be having upon the environment or the actual issues that may arise from placing uPVC windows in your property. Found implanted in most houses up and down the country, an alien visiting the planet would be forgiven for thinking that we are inexorably amorous with these white rectangles.

So, because we’re a friendly bunch that wants you to understand the issues with installing plastic window frames, we thought we would outline the pros and cons for you.

The Pros

  • Unlike many natural products, uPVC will not biodegrade.
  • It is resistant to weathering, requiring little to no maintenance. The lifespan of uPVC windows is a plus.
  • It retains its shape in normal weather conditions and does not suffer the problems of movement as timber products can, however, this is more relatable to older timber windows. New technology allows timber windows to be made from multilayers which means the grain of each layer is opposite to each other which stops expanding the wood, preventing the wrapping which would happen in single layered timber.
  • It can be reshaped, and therefore can be recycled.
  • It is cheap.

Now, all of these things sound fantastic, however, there are a few cons to the use of these kinds of plastics that we should all be aware of.

The Cons

  • Extremely hot weather conditions can cause the frames to rupture (Not that you have to worry about this with the British weather!!!)
  • They come in limited colours and designs.
  • Unsustainable resource (uPVC is a petro-chemical product).
  • A manufacturing process of uPVC emits dioxins which are poisonous and have been proven to cause serious illness to those working in, and living in nearby factories.
  • Often not recycled, landfills are stuffed with uPVC products that leech harmful chemicals into the soil.
  • In the event of a house fire, burning uPVC releases toxic fumes. The lifespan for uPVC windows is thought to only be 35 years unlike timber windows with the new technology can last 60 years, which means your investment will last longer.

  • Although uPVC windows generally have low maintenance, over time the use of the window can cause the bolts to become loose and fall out.
  • uPVC windows tend to make more of a negative impact on the environment as statistics, but timber causes a positive effect as the trees used to make the timber use co2 in order for the photosynthesis cycle.

  • uPVC windows tend to decrease the value of a property and some councils planning proposals don’t allow uPVC windows to be installed.

Clearly, the overriding problem we find with this material is that uPVC, unlike say… wood, is an unsustainable resource that is having a massive impact on the environment. Basically, a malleable poison, this plastic product, though easy to work with (in terms of large-scale industrial manufacturing), is fundamentally harmful.

Even regarding the pros, mainly the lifespan of uPVC windows, we find that more sustainable products made of materials such as wood offer alternatives that can do just as good a job. The issues with biodegrading and movement in the timber are combated by the right treatment of the product (through achieving the right humidity of the timber, to finding the right kind of finish to use on the final product).

Speaking aesthetically, uPVC, though it will often offer neutral decor, will rarely add any value or character to a house. In fact, in a campaign run by English Heritage a few years ago, in which they sought to spread the message that buying uPVC was a detriment to conservation areas, the organisation claimed that installing uPVC windows was, in fact, lowering the value of properties. Predominantly found in its stark white guise, these plastic window frames cannot even be considered to rival the richness that a hardwood such as Ash can add to a property.

The frank reality is that this love affair with cheap and cheerful products, much like the CFC fridges of yesteryear that polluted our planet for decades, had to come to an abrupt end, so too does our sordid sortie with uPVC.

image by Daveybot

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