Sustainable Design and Manufacture – Timber vs. UPVC Window Frames

There was a time where UPVC windows were seen as the perfect replacement for old and unreliable wooden windows prone to unwanted drafts and noises. Wooden window frames, however, are now able to offer not only a longer lasting, more reliable option but also a more environmentally friendly one. If winter has questioned your home’s window framing then these may be some important issues to consider.

Sustainability

Wooden window frames are able to provide us with a sustainable alternative to the UPVC windows which were once so popular. The EU Timber Regulation has been introduced to ensure that the EU timber market only consists of timber harvested from a sustainable source, outlawing any products formed from illegal and unsustainable harvesting.

Although the raw materials needed for production of UPVC for use in windows mainly involves abundant materials such as salt, the methods used to produce the UPVC is highly intensive on the environment, requiring huge amounts of energy. In fact, the processes involved in the production of UPVC involve just under half of the most hazardous chemicals which have been considered the priority of EU governments to eliminate. I think it’s safe to say that wooden frames have the upper hand here.

Recyclability

It is a similar story in terms of recycling when it comes to wooden window frames versus UPVC. Both materials are fully recyclable, but unlike wooden windows UPVC is incredibly intensive and involves the production of a high level of dangerous chemicals as result of its high chlorine levels. The products of UPVC recycling can be very damaging both on human health and the environment. For this reason there are regulations making it necessary to neutralise all dangerous emissions, it has been found however, that this is not always the case and these extremely dangerous and hazardous gases have, in some instances, been escaping into our atmosphere.

It seems as if UPVC isn't fairing so great here either.

Building the Timber Frame House: The Revival of a Forgotten Craft

Building the Timber Frame House: The Revival of a Forgotten Craft

Carbon Impact

The production and preparation of timber for use in wooden window frames is a relatively simple process which involves little carbon usage. As a result of all timber used for trade being legally required to sustain itself, in its raw state it is carbon neutral. When it comes to treatments, many high quality woods do not require treatment. Some woods do require treatment but the treatments needed are of a low intensity and will increase the insulation abilities, greatly outweighing any energy usage with increased efficiency.

I think it goes without saying that the high levels of energy needed in the production, disposal and recycling of UPVC, in the majority sourced from unsustainable sources, make it no match for this wooden alternative.

Convenience

As we all know, convenience is a huge factor here. Anything could be sustainable, have no carbon emissions and even be free, but if it does not do the job it is supposed to then what is the point?

Fortunately we have no problem here. Wooden window frames have been shown to be equally as insulating, even longer lasting and as secure and sound-proof as their UPVC alternative. We needn't mention that they look absolutely beautiful when compared with a scratched, marked plastic frame! Timber frames are also able to be maintained. With correct maintenance timber frames are expected to last as long, if not longer than UPVC. It is also worth noting that UPVC frames are generally not able to be maintained, if they are broken they need replacing.

You will be relieved to know that maintenance of wooden frames is not as demanding as it used to be with many frames being treated and laminated against rot, insect infestation and warping as well as being sealed against unwanted drafts and noises.

Now that winter is finally melting away, it may be a convenient time for you to improve the framing of the windows in your home to give your house a re-vamp and improve your insulation. Wooden window frames seem, unquestionably, the way to go both environmentally, aesthetically and in terms of quality.


This is a guest post by Laura Swain, writer and researcher for George Barnsdale & Sons, manufacturers of Timber Casement Windows.  When she’s not writing she loves upcycling old things and interior design.

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