Championing sustainable retrofitting

Recognised as one of the world’s ‘50 Sustainability and Climate Leaders’, Rehau is advocating the benefits of prioritising retrofitting buildings over demolition. Russell Hand, head of product management and technical at Rehau Windows, discusses the positive effects polymer windows can have.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) estimates that a sizeable proportion of a building’s lifecycle carbon is emitted during construction: 35% and 51% for office and residential properties respectively.

Unsurprisingly, these findings have prompted campaigns for developers to prioritise the restoration of older properties over demolishing and replacing them, which carries a higher carbon cost. This clearly identifies the need for fabricators and installers to offer windows with eco-friendly credentials. Taking this into account, system houses such as Rehau have redoubled efforts around co-extrusion, as well continually investing into R&D to improve efficiency, and therefore optimise older buildings.

We all know the world is changing, this year in particular. The people who both construct and use our buildings are becoming increasingly conscious of the impact their actions have on the planet. Rehau’s response to this drive is a PVC Recycling (PVCR) concept developed to ensure fabricators and installers have access to a convenient, profitable, and socially responsible way to protect the environment. By using PVCR to recycle old PVCU windows and doors, businesses can not only manage their waste effectively, but can also minimise disposal costs, all while reducing their impact on landfill and feeding recycled material back into the supply chain.

A little-known fact about PVC is that its thermoplastic nature means it can be recycled several times before any significant loss of performance. The result is one of the most ecologically efficient materials around, and Rehau is already helping installers and fabricators fully realise its benefits. Once old PVC windows and doors of any brand have been sorted, cleaned, and shredded, the product is fed directly into Rehau’s own co-extrusion process to produce new, recycled windows and doors. Using recycled materials rather than new materials in production can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 88%.

This is an innovative method of producing top-quality window profiles, enabling different PVC materials to be processed on the core of the profile and the outer skin. The use of recycled material means that valuable secondary raw materials can be re-used, which helps to protect the environment.

One of the most distinctive features of older buildings is their ability to lose heat, and windows represent the largest area through which heat escapes. However, PVCU not only offers a chance to replicate traditional windows, it actually improves building performance too. Take Rehau’s Heritage windows for example: they benefit from built-in thermal efficiency and can be used with double or triple glazing to negate such issues.

Previously, occupants in period properties could experience poor thermal efficiency due to single-glazed timber sash windows. Nowadays, PVCU windows can be double or even triple-glazed to provide further comfort and lower energy bills. Achieving an A rating, the highest possible Window Energy Rating (WER) for thermal efficiency, should be a top priority.

It can be wasteful to opt for new-builds over renovating older properties, especially at a time when we should be reducing emissions. Consequently, retrofit window solutions will be vital to an upgrade-centric approach and aiding the construction sector’s fight against climate change. Following calls from architectural experts to save on carbon emissions by upgrading older buildings instead of knocking them down, retrofitting should be considered to improve overall efficiency.

Installing windows in older buildings will often unearth some nasty surprises at some point down the line, inevitably elongating the renovation process. Therefore, having technology and tools to aid the process is imperative. Rehau recognised this through extensive research working with installers, and will therefore be launching JustSmart next year, a smart tool to increase capacity via a one-man installation solution. The fully automated system will enable easy handling for high installation quality and faster installation times.

There of course will always be a need for new buildings in this country. However, there are thousands of empty homes and commercial buildings crying out to be restored back to purpose. It is therefore crucial that the window sector champions the merits of polymer by showcasing its ability to be more sustainable and efficient than most traditional materials.

Rehau believes in sustainability as a philosophy and wants to develop forward-looking technologies to improve lives, and strive to support installers and fabricators toward this aim.