The only way is timber

Sean Parnaby, managing director of West Port, says timber is the only true ‘conservation’ material on the market.

Too many people labour under the illusion that ‘conservation’ means timber alternative.

It’s strange when you think about it. For hundreds of years, windows were made of timber. In the overwhelming majority of conservation areas, windows were made of timber. But now, somehow, we’ve reached a point where a large number of people, even in the fenestration industry itself, think that a conservation product is a plastic window made to look like timber.

The roots of this phenomenon go back a long way. In the first half of the 20th century, mass-produced wood windows were widespread, and many of them were of poor quality.

The timber industry suffered lasting reputational damage as a result – even today, say ‘wood window’ to some people, and they’ll immediately associate it with rotting, warping, maintenance headaches and low performance in general.

But that was a long time ago and, today, timber fenestration is lightyears ahead of where it was then.

All a modern engineered timber window needs is a light sanding and re-coating once every ten years to keep it in top condition. What’s more, it’ll last you at least 60 years, which is considerably better value than the 30-year lifespan of a PVCU window.

It will also offer you outstanding thermal and acoustic performance, all while costing you much less than you might think – the difference between a plastic heritage style window and a genuine timber one can be as little as 10%.

And today, the only products able to cut it in increasingly tough-to-enter conservation contexts are timber ones.

Over the last decade, more and more installers have tried to make headway in conservation areas. Ever-stricter regulations governing what products can be installed in historically sensitive areas have given birth to an entire timber-alternative industry, aimed at providing vintage aesthetics without the supposed drawbacks of timber.

But the whole concept of a ‘conservation’ product – an-off-the-shelf window or door that will be accepted for use in conservation areas – is extremely flawed.

Conservation officers aren’t looking for windows that look like timber ones. They’re looking for windows that exactly match the specific design of timber window that was traditionally made in the area in question.

A timber-alternative window might have a mock run-through sash horn, for example – but that’s just a standard piece of plastic. It might look nothing like the design of horn that the town’s local joiner used to make in the nineteenth century, and that’s therefore on every historic window in the area.

In other words, ‘timber-alternative’ plastic products will never offer the kind of complexity and versatility that conservation requires. In conservation, the only way is timber.