PVCU in period properties

Kevin O’Neill, commercial sales manager at Rehau, explains how the PVCU range has been expanded for wider applications, including solutions for previously hard-to-replicate period properties.

There are over 9,000 conservation areas across the UK, ranging from historic town centres and residential streets to vast, distinctive rural landscapes. Timber windows have endured as a firm favourite in these areas over this time, with authenticity considered essential for the overall look and feel of more traditional period-style properties.

However, the durability of these traditional windows are short-lived compared to the endurance of PVCU. Furthermore, due to technological advances, these PVCU windows are not only a more practical option for the property and the homeowner, they can also provide aesthetic appeal on par with timber.

With that in mind, below are some common myths that the PVCU industry has come up against.

Plastic is not sustainable. PVCU windows are a sustainable option for the fenestration industry. Due to its thermoplastic nature, PVC can be recycled several times over before recording any significant loss of performance, resulting in sustainable, energy-efficient windows.

Rehau recently invested in its PVC recycling solution at PVCR. By doing so, the company has enabled the reuse of polymer window profiles that may otherwise have been placed into landfill. With a lifecycle of 35 years, Rehau windows can be recycled up to six more times, including everything down to the glass and hinges.

PVCU not only replicates the old-style windows, it actually improves building performance too. Windows represent the largest area through which heat escapes, and Rehau’s Heritage windows benefit from built-in thermal efficiency and interior protection to negate this.

Previously, occupants in period properties could experience poor thermal efficiency due to single-glazed timber windows. Nowadays, PVCU windows can be double or even triple-glazed to provide further comfort and lower energy bills.

Period properties were also not exposed to the noise levels associated with modern life. Particularly in busy cities such as London, where traffic is near-enough constant, sound attenuation is a key factor for review. PVCU double-glazing units ensure noise levels are kept to a minimum, again enhancing homeowner comfort.

They don’t look the same as traditional materials. Too often, PVCU has come under criticism for not being suitable for period properties due to a perceived lack of character. With the limited choice of foil colour options from the 1980s, with solutions mainly in white, this argument was understandable. Now though, there are a plethora of foil ranges and colouring solutions available in the marketplace. Rehau, for instance, can simulate foils that mimic the wood and cream surface finishes used in period-style properties. Additionally, because of technological advances around specialist designs, flush casements and Georgian bars, it is now possible to replicate nearly any material when coupled with the right foil.

In the past, PVCU profiles were considered too large. However, we can now replicate very closely to what could formerly only be produced in timber. Indeed, Rehau’s Heritage range even offers Georgian astragal bars to add more authenticity to its range. Fitted to the internal and external face of the window, these bars create a grid that give the effect of traditional period features.

Applications will get declined as they don’t comply with regulations. The Conservation Act 1990 states that local authorities, housing associations and building owners are charged with preserving heritage structures and conserving the materials and workmanship.

Contrary to long-held views that PVCU will disrupt existing structures, in some applications it may be that timber is no longer suitable. Thanks to the continued development of PVCU technology, windows today have been designed to be more sympathetic and durable. This is in contrast to timber which, without a continual maintenance regime, is susceptible to rot and deterioration from poor weather and general wear and tear over time, resulting in a shorter lifespan.

Furthermore, PVCU also complies with Article 4 of the Permitted Development Rights Act, which details the dimensions of how windows should look, rather than the type of material they must be made from. However, it must be noted that customers are often left to the final approval of the conservation officer to confirm their choice of materials.

In addition to this, PVCU windows can now have the cleaning operation completed from within the building, which is a far safer option than the original timber window allowed. Rehau’s Heritage window range, for example, is designed to allow the opening sashes to tilt inwards for safer measures. Each window has been built with mechanical balances specifically selected and tensioned to allow the sash to move more easily and allow the customer to have ease of use. Furthermore, Rehau windows can be fabricated with enhanced security measures to meet the current Building Regulations and, in particular, Approved Document Q for security.

For installers specifically, it is important to give customers reassurance and the best possible advice particularly when customers require planning permission for replacement PVCU windows. This can take the form of:

Advising where and how to make a planning application online.

Warning customers about potential delays for councils getting back with a decision.

Submitting applications with good imagery and literature to offer further support around the use of replacement windows.

Supplying section drawings of the profiles to be used, so that a comparison of existing and new materials can be made.

Try to conserve the overall appearance of the original windows, so as to be sympathetic with neighbouring properties.

Suppliers, such as Rehau, work closely with installers to ensure their windows are designed and installed with the least amount of stress, to meet current Building Regulations and performance requirements. The company also works with the Heritage Windows Group of The Glass and Glazing Federation, an organisation that addresses issues around glazing in conservation areas and heritage buildings.

Rehau works with English Heritage and Conservation Officers to make sure we are considering all the benefits of new materials while being sympathetic to the building’s existing structure.

Ultimately, it is not that timber is a poor choice for period-style homes, and it is understandable that property owners would consider the material for certain heritage applications. But thanks to innovative developments in PVCU technology, tradition can be replicated with more modern and sustainable materials, without any compromise on curb appeal.