Shattering conventions

Neil Puttock of Boavista Windows, explains why fibreglass window frames have stirred a revolution in the glazing industry.

An American engineer and professor by the name of William Edwards Deming once said, “Innovation comes from the producer – not the customer.” When it comes to the window industry, I couldn’t agree more. After all, there is little incentive for the customer to seek an alternative to reliable products such as PVCu and aluminium windows, when those perform adequately in terms of functionality and security.

However, innovation is a natural human response to a continually changing environment and it helps us shape the world we live in by creating useful products and services. An example of this is fibreglass window frames – a sustainable alternative to plastic and aluminium, which offers durability and performance without compromising on design, function or form.

A green window of opportunity

From a sustainability standpoint, fibreglass is far superior than its PVC and aluminium counterparts due to its reliance on silica, which is naturally found in abundance. This is in contrast to the fossil fuels used to make PVC windows – a resource that is both heavily polluting and finite.

A Trend Monitor report entitled Five Key Trends which will impact on the UK home improvement industry in 2016 highlighted how the millennial consumer looks beyond the cost of a purchase and towards sustainable solutions.

Using the latest pultrusion technology, fibreglass frames are created by pulling resin-soaked glass fibres through heated dyes – a process that only consumes 70 W to produce a linear metre of window frame weighing approximately 1 kg (2.2 lb).

If the windows need replacing, they can simply be shredded into sections and then mixed with concrete and asphalt to deliver a lightweight, strong and crack and shrink-resistant composite material – a process that requires very low energy to carry out.

Designing out compromise

In terms of design, fibreglass opens up a world of possibilities due to its strength and stability, which enable it to “hold” large surface areas of glass, bypassing the need to produce and fit specialist structural glass.

From the perspective of an architect, fibreglass frames support more adventurous designs 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 unsightly gaskets to hold the pane in place, adding aesthetic value to a building.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of a fibreglass frame is that, despite weighing half that of aluminium, it is exceptionally hard-wearing, highly rot and corrosion resistant, and delivers a much longer life cycle than PVC and aluminium.

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

In addition, reducing the maintenance associated with repainting – or even replacing – windows would not only cut costs for specifiers but also help enhance and regenerate a locality.

Futureproofing the UK

The case for fibreglass is not exclusive to coastal towns or high-spec residential properties or office blocks, but also applies to the wider housing market.

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 the industry is 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 underpinned by Government’s objective to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint, it’s the right time for the industry to embrace new approaches to window frames and consider their role in contributing towards sustainable environments.

While the technology exists, the challenge now is to innovate by making fibreglass windows a standard component within the built environment in order to improve the sustainability credentials of present and future buildings.

Neil Puttock is managing director of Boavista Windows