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Oh: How The Myths Persist!

14 September 2017

Sigh: ever have a day where you wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “have we been wasting our time these past 30 years”? That’s not far from the collective sensation recently when we came across this LinkedIn post from a seasoned building professional, and chartered surveyor to boot, when describing an image of some PVC-U windows that were being replaced:

“Short termism, short sightedness, quick fix, local politics, backhanders, lack of education, inadequate funding, no foresight etc are just a few terms that potentially sum up this picture. In the foreground is a skip full of plastic windows that have reached the end of their life. Just behind (not the block in the background but next door) is the HA low rise block with another set of plastic windows replacing those in the skip. Repeat every 20 years until the ocean is full”.

While the mind was boggling at where this vituperation could have sprung from, this – er – erroneously conceived tirade was then almost immediately endorsed, unsurprisingly perhaps, by some people in the joinery and timber merchanting sector. Whoudda thought eh?

Ignoring the egregious suggestion that our industry is singularly corrupt (and that post-consumer PVC-U waste is dumped offshore – c’mon, please), there is so much wrong with the above, it’s hard to know where to start: but first thought was, what happened to education about PVC-U these past 30 years?

To be fair, we must accept that there was a significant degree of overclaim – especially from the retail element – in the late 60s, 1970s and into the early 1980s; but since then we have seen a sustained, quality, informed educational effort from the likes of the Glass & Glazing Federation and British Plastics Federation, not to mention the better, more established systems companies.

And yet, and yet: these myths persist – it really does make you wonder if we have been wasting our time, given the obdurate maintenance of belief in some really, really outdated tosh about plastic windows.

There comes a point, like now, where it doesn’t seem rational and that the disdain for this material by a rump of specifiers perhaps has to be seen as a function of little more than snobbery.

Worse still, you get the impression that, amongst these backwoodspeople of materials technology, the myths become part of their practices' DNA: and are passed down folklorically from generation to generation, and the light of science barely penetrates their libraries' twilight.

Just take a couple of assertions from the above post, and a commentator thereafter who observed that timber windows outperformed PVC-U windows for longevity.

First, PVC-U windows have been given a minimum reference service life (RSL) of 35 years by the BRE, with minimal maintenance during this period; yet first generation PVC-U windows – now 50 years old – are still performing strongly well beyond this. The replacement would not be as a function of the frames failing: it would most likely be an upgrade – our technology improves exponentially all the time – to a higher performing iteration.

And then those scrap windows find their way back into the manufacturing chain because…

… Second, we are at the point whereby reclaimed PVC material can be recycled up to 10 times – this then giving a window frame, or its raw materials, a lifespan of anywhere between 350 and 500 years! In fact, and beyond the frame material, all parts of a PVC-U window can be recycled.

Third and, oh, did you know you can’t recycle painted wood?

Of course, sustainability is not the be all and end all of the ‘antis’ myth- and mischief making about PVC: there are legion others and, a little while back, we took the time and trouble (we don’t think we’re wasting our time, see) to tackle a few of the more obvious and silly ones. Take a look here: eurocell.co.uk/objectionsanswers

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