Wooden Windows and uPVC. Comparisons of the cost of ownership

Introduction

I have recently undertaken a replacement of the timber windows round my house. The house was built around 1880, and the windows are a mixture of old growth softwood frames, steel casements and oak sills. The house is not listed, so I was free to choose materials. Further I have just replaced a completely rotten softwood conservatory with an Unplasticised Poly Vinyl Chloride (uPVC) one which I am perfectly happy with. I am not per-se against uPVC.

I am publishing the results of this research, my decisions and the reasoning behind them as they may assist others. I will update this over time with the maintenance history and details of how the windows actually age.

The age of UPVC

Wooden Windows have lost much ground over the last 30 years to UPVC and Aluminium framed windows. This is predominately because of the reduced maintenance requirements offered by these newer technologies reducing total cost of ownership. People want double glazing for sound and heat insulation, and in many instances they want it as cheaply as possible.

Joinery Shops versus Big Factories – Wooden versus UPVC windows

There has also been an element of ‘big business’, where uPVC and Aluminium windows tend to be manufactured in massive facilities, with large capital requirements and consequently significant capital backing. Wooden windows are typically made by relatively small joinery shops, which simply cannot afford to compete on marketing or sales activity with the uPVC and Aluminium window manufacturers. Any product, regardless of it’s real physical attributes, will be outperformed over time by a competitor which is far more aggressively marketed to the public. This marketing is capable of setting perceptions amongst the public, and has certainly set the perception that wooden windows are more expensive than uPVC ones.

Of course, it will be obvious to everyone that the cost of all of that sales and marketing activity; the national and local advertising campaigns, the direct mailers and the legions of telephone marketers who will ceaselessly follow up any indication of interest; cost money, which you pay for when you buy the product. The sales and marketing activity does not make the product better, it get’s you to buy it. By comparison if you go to a joinery shop and order wooden windows, you are paying for materials, a craftsman’s time and a profit for the joiners.

Wooden Windows fight back, The Wood Window Alliance

The Wooden Window Alliance (WWA) was formed by a group of members who are associated with the supply and manufacture of wooden windows.

They promote high manufacturing and finishing standards designed to enhance the public perception of Wooden Windows, and ensure decent service lives. These factors certainly have always been important, and poor on-site finishing did lead to many wooden windows which failed very early in their lives.

In addition they offer the ‘large organisation’ capabilities that individual manufacturers did not have, such as the commissioning of academic studies designed to prove a case they wish to be made.

In April 2012 the WWA published a press release that claimed that Wooden Windows cost far less over their entire life span than uPVC ones. This seemed utterly unlikely, and indeed proved to be so on analysis. For the full details of the press release, underlying report and the reasons that it is incredible, just click here.

OK, the report is incredible, but what can we learn?

The WWA report relies on a very low maintenance cost for the windows to say that they are cheaper than uPVC windows. Personally I think £20 a window is unrealistic to repaint a window, especially to do it properly and that scaffolding is probably involved. However, this report does highlight that reducing the cost of ownership of wooden windows depends on reducing maintenance costs, and that if this can be done then Wooden Windows can be cost effective. My efforts have revolved around reducing maintenance costs by:

  • Making the paint (or varnish, the maintenance costs of varnish are even more excessive without this treatment) stick properly to the window in the first place. This reduces the maintenance required.
  • Ensuring that the wood is properly sealed against water ingress at any joints and exposed end grain. The joints are areas where paint is most likely to fail, due to the expansion and contraction of the timber with moisture and temperature cycles, and sealing the end grain will significantly extend the life of the windows. This massively reduces degradation in the event of damage to the topcoat.

For further details of the techniques I used, see here: MultiWoodPrime – 2 part epoxy wood primer.

wooden window priming multiwoodprime cpes reduce maintenance cost
Priming new oak windows before painting.

Influencing factors in the uPVC / Wood debate. Cost / Maintenance / Durability / Appearance

This article is only intended to describe my decisions, and for it to be of any use to others I have to outline carefully my drivers, the factors that do influence me in a buying decision, and those that do not.

My house is solid walled part timber framed mock Tudor house, built around 1880. The timber frame is black, and the rendered panels between are white. It is not listed, so I do have choice of construction materials. The previous glazing has leaded lights.

 

Factors that influenced me

  1. Cost. I am performing this work on a very limited budget, and cost is of great significance. I recently replaced an expensive rotten softwood conservatory with an excellent one in Aluminium and uPVC which cost a fraction of the price of the original softwood one.
  2. Maintenance. I am trying to achieve as low a maintenance house as I can, given the type of house that this is. Low maintenance is also low running cost.
  3. Durability. My old slow growth softwood frames were fitted in the 1930’s I think. I want my new windows to last as long as possible, ideally that long or better.
  4. Appearance. Is important, as I am very fond of my house, however, the house could be fitted with windows with white, black or wood frames and look just fine, so there is choice here. My personal preference is probably for black frames to match the house timbers.
  5. Quality. I am really annoyed by ‘cheap stuff’. handles, hinges etc. that break would destroy the pleasure of ownership. i can’t wait for us to import less from China and make a little more onshore.

Factors that did not influence me

I am not suggesting that these should not influence you, I am just saying that they were not part of my decision making process.

  1. AAA+ Energy rating. This is used as a strong marketing driver, but it really doesn’t matter to me. Given the nature of my house which has solid walls, I want double glazing, but don’t need silly insulation values. Above a certain level my money is better spent elsewhere, on heat recovery systems for instance, as I will always have to ensure a decent level of ventilation on the property.
  2. FSC Sustainably sourced. This is not a driver to me. I would not buy timber from a rainforest, but from the choices offered to me the ones that were marketed as FSC seemed the most inappropriate (very quickly grown plantation softwood, which I have seen fail very quickly), or that modified as Accoya (whose cost appears the same as hardwood). I am far more interested in the durability and ultimate suitability of the materials than a marketing tag.
  3. Carbon Footprint. A lifetime as a scientist tells me I am being lied to here, and I just don’t believe any of it, sorry. Happy to enter into deep discussion elsewhere, but for here, this is not a driver in any way shape or form. I believe CO2 is plant food, and is used for the generation of taxes by politicians who understand not what they do.
  4. Credit. I borrowed against the mortgage to fund this, so did not require a credit agreement to fund the purchase.
  5. Security. Not a major driver, I have always been painfully aware that all windows can be opened pretty easily with a brick. Quality locks are important, and may bring security with them, but the security is not the driver itself.

Tendering For New Windows For My House

A large variety of window manufacturers were allowed to visit the house to measure and quote. The brief was left fairly open, as I had not decided upon any specific solution.

Quotes were invited in both UPVC and Wood, from established high street names at both the top and middle end of the market, through to the local joinery shops ( and a remote one too). Some of the results really did surprise me. All firms were asked to provide written quotes from the outset, and were told that I would not, under any circumstances, suffer ‘hard sell’ techniques. A typical house visit consumed 2 – 3 hours of my time showing the salesman around, and I really had hoped that this time would be valued.

There were, in the first part of the selection process, 2 categories of company:

Incompetent or Plain Dangerous

Everest

Bizarrely, totally failed to provide a quote. By the time their follow up machine realised, they had lost the measurements, and I did not feel inclined to waste another three hours. This may be rare behaviour for them, but it inspired no confidence from me.

SafeStyle

Utterly refused to offer a quote, offering instead to send a salesman round to ‘negotiate’. As this would have been a hard sell ‘We are in the area next week, and if you sign now…’ They were told to provide a written quote or forget it. They then endlessly telephoned. They are sufficiently incompetent that I would not trust them to put a stamp on an envelope, let alone fit windows. They also lost the measurements, and despite endless requests to stop phoning they still contact me now, a full year into this. AVOID them like the plague. I am sure they are not alone in behaving like this, but you do not want their windows, instead i recommend you trust your local cut price merchant, who will set reasonable expectations and meet them if you want cheap UPVC (as I have done in the past, on different properties).

Competent And Probably Highly Capable

There were a large number of companies who offered quotes, who did not lose measurements and who met my expectations. I will not single out any names here except to say that the local joinery shop (N and S Joinery, AKA Kent Joinery) provided a very competitive quote, and were my second choice. Their quote was roughly a third of the price quoted by a top end wooden window company (who appeared highly competent, and whose quote did include fitting, but fitting is not that expensive, more later on that), and I honestly wonder where the additional £40,000 would have gone (advertising probably).

The Company Selected To Do My Windows

I ultimately selected a firm called Classic Joinery, that were recommended to me by a builder who specialises in high end work of many years experience. They appeared to offer the capability to meet my exact requirements, and were even cheaper than the local joinery shop. Given the relative cost of having the windows in Oak, Accoya or Softwood, the Oak was selected. The difference was very little indeed, and the Oak is going to give a very durable and very pretty window, my preferred choice for a price I could afford.

The Low Maintenance Affordable Wooden Window

Wood Versus UPVC. Cost

Please do contact a few small joinery firms BEFORE thinking you cannot afford wooden windows, the quotes were UPVC money, and you are paying for windows, not advertising and sales people.

Wood Versus UPVC. Low Maintenance

Having selected a firm to build the windows, and chosen a nice stable hardwood, oak, to build them in, the job of minimising maintenance (reducing the requirement to paint or varnish them) was the last remaining task. That story; the construction, finishing and fitting of the oak windows, is told here (work in progress…)

If you are about to embark upon fitting new wooden windows to your house, or are about to spend the time restoring your old ones, you may also wish to try these techniques.

If you are fitting new windows, use Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer to enhance the life of your varnish or paint finish.

If you are repairing existing wooden windows which have already been affected with rot, then we sell wood repair kits specifically designed to make permanent repairs.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any queries.