Why do PVCu or Aluminium windows and doors fail in social housing?

This is the sort of question I love. It gets to the heart of the issue of how we should go about managing the repairs to the millions of windows and doors that keep residents safe and comfortable.

To answer this question we need to back-track to a time of predominantly timber or Crittal windows (steel often with timber sub-frame) within our social housing stocks. We’ll use 1985 as a marker but this differs wildly between stocks.

Timber windows prior to this time were simple. A couple of butt hinges and a peg stay in most cases. Single glazed in nearly all instances.  Local contractors were employed to cycle through these properties every 5 years or so and provide a new coat of paint. Crittal windows were treated in pretty much the same way.

Then came the revelation of uPVC framing (or PVCu which is actually the same thing. And in some early instances PVC). The wonder material that required no maintenance. Property owners tripped over themselves to replace their windows and doors. And aside from the odd ‘yellowing’ experience all was good. No more cyclical maintenance. Now what to do with that surplus budget? After all maintenance free means no maintenance budget.

But, as always, there was a catch.   

We got better hardware. Yes. We also got better insulation from sealed units. Yes. But no one mentioned maintenance free or life expectancy for these components.
Little can go wrong with a peg stay. A butt hinge that does not need to be millimetre perfect to allow operation of the window can give a bit over time and no one is any the wiser. A single glazed aperture does not ‘mist’ or breakdown.

But now we started seeing friction stays, espagnolette locking, sealed units, multi-point door locks. And standards. Oh how we all love standards. The never ending march of standards. Over the last 25 years the amount of hardware (by which read ‘moveable mechanical parts’) has reached saturation point.

My childhood weekends were often spent fabricating PVCu windows so I have seen first-hand (and may have contributed to) this explosion. In many cases all the hardware specified, no doubt with the best intentions, wouldn’t even fit on the window.

So our first issue. This hardware moves or at very least interacts with each other. And there’s the rub. Literally. Mechanical parts need to be lubricated and maintained or, well, they will fail.

For a number of years the problems were minor but slowly these increased in quantity. Contracts were created to handle these isolated failures through responsive repairs. But still no maintenance. Still no lubrication. Still no adjustments.

If we are to achieve the asset component lifetimes (often ranging from 25 to 40 years) without resorting to astronomical repair budgets a change of approach is needed sooner rather than later.
And as I said the hardware is just issue one. Sealed units (double glazing) have known life expectancies much lower than the the framing and will give asset managers and financial directors much to think about in the coming five years.

We are actively developing new services to tackle these problems for both today and over the next ten to twenty years and any comments on the shape and deliverables of these would be welcomed. To give you an idea of what can be achieved you may like to look at our case study covering nearly 3500 units for Shepway District Council as well as their review of the service in a 7 slide presentation they gave.

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