The case against replacing replacement windows

Like me, some readers will remember the point in the mid-80″s when PVCu windows swept onto the UK market, replacing wooden and metal frames as the industry standard.

Using strong and durable PVCu certainly removed the need for the continuous repaint and restore cycle of the original frames, but in my opinion its ‘maintenance-free’ properties were taken far too literally.

Twenty years on, and with little done to repair them, many of these replacement units began to develop faults. Housing Associations and Local Authorities asked the question: ‘How can we replace our failing stock?’

Our clients, many of them local authorities and landlords, were asking us for new units with double glazing and improved hardware. They wanted units with a better appearance, improved security, energy efficiency and reduced Co2 expenditure.

Replacement tempts

Stock managers could be forgiven for simply ordering the next generation units to “replace their replacements”.

A recent study by Nottingham Trent University showed by replacing the original windows of their 13,700 properties with double glazing over a period of just four years, Nottingham City Council increased the SAP emissions rating on average by four points, reducing CO2 by nearly half a tonne per property per year. That”s an energy saving equal to taking 1,200 vehicles off the road.

Good for pockets too; with Saving Trust figures suggesting each tenant could save between £95 and £223 a year on their fuel bill as a result of the installs.

Repairs hold potential
An impressive result, but at what cost?

What is great news for today”s landlords is that the enhancements that are currently possible for windows can achieve the same results as replacement: improving thermal performance; safety; security and cleaning. Ventilation can also be upgraded to help reduce condensation.

In Nottingham”s case, with a simple glazing component change I would suggest the council could have saved around 50% from full replacement costs and achieved very similar results.

What”s more, improvements can be carried out without removing the framing from its aperture.

For example, common complaints amongst tenants which in the past have led to unit replacement are windows that won”t close or have misted over. By replacing only the failed components and retaining those that are still in good working order, I would argue you can achieve the same results as replacement while reducing wastage and disruption to tenants.

Keep maintenance in mind
We can make further savings still by protecting our window stock with regular maintenance.

Consider the sealant used on most units: modern stabilisers allow you to give the PVCu component a lifespan of over 40 years. But as windows and doors are exposed to the elements, some superficial damage can occur over time. However, by maintaining the gloss on the surface finish of the PVCu, we can easily and cheaply preserve its strength and appearance.

Conclusion: A no brainer!
Overall, I believe upgrading stock rather than replacing offers significant savings on capital expenditure. At the same time, the component assets can be enhanced to meet or even exceed compliance standards and remain 100% operable.

With this in mind, when stock fails surely the question for asset managers should change from ‘How can we replace?’ to ‘How can our asset be stretched for longer?’.

• For more about how you can repair existing units to make the most of your assets read our current case study, or dip into my previous blog on the true cost of replacement windows.