In a statistic that will come as no great surprise, it is now a fact that our homes generate 30 per cent of the UK's carbon emissions, while the construction industry accounts for around 85 per cent of timber used in the UK, with 55 per cent used for housing.
Decreasing the environmental impact of the construction and use of our homes is vital, and timber windows provide just one small, if effective, means.
Timber windows present an extremely green alternative to their PVC-u or metal counterparts. The production of timber windows remains highly energy-efficient, requiring only a fraction of the energy involved in the production of PVC-u or steel windows.
And timber is, of course, the only renewable material that can be used for window construction. The manufacture of PVC windows can involve the use of hazardous chemicals, and their disposal by incineration ultimately requires landfill.
Greenpeace has spent six years researching the effects of PVC-u windows and has dismissed them categorically as an environmentally viable alternative. The organisation's final report says: 'Timber is a sustainable resource. As long as the timber is sourced from properly managed forests and care is taken in the choice of preservatives, paints and stains, timber windows are by far the best environmental choice.' PVC-u has been seen traditionally as a low-maintenance solution. However, a number of local authorities and the National Housing Federation are finding that, in some cases, PVC-u frames can prove more expensive in terms of initial capital and even more expensive (or certainly no cheaper) than timber over the lifetime of the window.
Developments in contemporary window design and in the products used to finish them can potentially have a longer life than PVC-u, which, counter to some claims, is not necessarily maintenance-free but can discolour with age, and is difficult to repair without complete replacement of the entire unit.
The other main advantages of timber compared with PVC-u are its design flexibility and potential. As more architects use timber cladding for their buildings, the incorporation of timber windows becomes an inevitable and obvious choice, while luxury housing still demands timber as an indicator of quality. Cedar in particular is being used in social-housing projects for its flexibility and durability. Softwood laminates, currently being imported from eastern Europe, are also proving extremely successful at providing a stable and strong material, with very little waste.
Water-based preservatives for timber and water-based paints have also significantly reduced the toxins being released into the environment and made timber windows an even greener option. Westport Timber Window & Door Technology uses an Eisenmann paint plant, currently the only one in the UK. The paint and finishing products were developed by Westport in collaboration with Glasurit and ensure an extremely efficient process, employing paint recycling and producing less than 5 per cent waste.
Another issue affecting all the players in the window industry is security. Secured by Design, a police initiative developed to encourage the construction industry to adopt crime-prevention measures early and build them into its programmes, has proved an effective measuring tool.
Westport's products can be supplied Secured by Design, certified by the Association of Chief Police Officers' Crime Prevention Initiatives. These built-in measures are designed to contribute to a safer environment and reduce the fear of crime.
Castlefields Masterplan, Runcorn, Cheshire English Partnerships, John McCall Architects, timber-frame manufacturer Space 4 and Westport Windows are developing a 58-dwelling eco-friendly scheme for the Castlefields Masterplan in Runcorn.
The aim is to make this small-scale project a template for a far more expansive scheme in the future. The blend of two-bedroom apartments and three-bedroom houses is intended as an experimental approach to high-density, mixed-tenure housing and urban design.
Westport is developing windows in collaboration with the architect and Space 4 to meet aesthetic demands, as well as targets for sustainability, best value and ease of maintenance over the buildings' lifespan.
The windows are being made in Space 4's factory in Solihull, creating easier site conditions and great economies in construction time. The result is that, with a team of four working on site, a house can be erected in as little as a single working day, and its structure rendered entirely enclosed and weatherproofed. The timber windows fit seamlessly into the materials palette of western red cedar boarding and traditional brick and render. Neil Elliott, of John McCall Architects, says: 'It's a really good product.
The paint finish and the trim are excellent.
I've got nothing but praise for it.'