So, uPVC windows (and doors)..shall we discuss? Do we have to? Yes, let's. The rise and rise of the uPVC replacement is, in my opinion, one of the untold design trajedies of the modern era (worse even than postwar housing) and nowhere is worse hit than the United Kingdom. We are not a large country, we are a pretty, small, island and we have a surprising amount of quite lovely, some might say idyllic, houses dotted about hither and yon looking all quaint and historic. Or at least we did. Since the invention of the plastic replacement window this wipe clean, paint free, charm free horror has become the scourge of the beautiful landscape we live in and marrs almost every half decent (and even some not so decent) building in the country. You literally cannot go a hundred yards in any direction (except in the smartest postal codes) without coming up short against them. Like bandaids on a pretty face.
So just briefly let me count the ways I hate them...Firstly there's the ridiculous and offensively bright white colour, (nothing historic or Anouska Hempel about it), secondly there's the smell, (straight out of a chemistry lab), thirdly the unnatural creaking as you open them and the horrid plastic frame rubs against the horrid plastic sill, fourthly the stubby thick sightlines leaving barely enough room to see out, fifthly the nasty faded nicotine yellowing they get when they're old, sixthly the cracking (sanding and repainting not an option)...Shall I go on? I could...oops maybe not, too many. But in short it may be said that I was a staunch, if not zealous, critic of the uPVC replacement window. Yes, yes, I know they are essentially maintenance free - apart from the odd wipe down with a soapy dishcloth, and certainly they are a fraction of the price of wood or steel (about a quarter) but still, really? Do we have to? They are killing the beauty of the roadside hamlet, the pretty tucked away village and even the large urban sprawl...pretty much stone dead.
At least that was my opinion, dearly held - and even argued with a weird haughty vehemence, until I visited The National Self Build Centre in Swindon (well worth a look by the way, even if you are not lucky enough to be planning a self build). I was there to research aluminium doors for a client (more on their highs and lows in another post later) studiously ignoring the plastic windows, when I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being wrong.
Cold flat out wrong.
Because as I wandered about my eye was caught by some Georgian style, small paned double glazed windows with slight little glazing bars that I took to be wood. I hurried over just to get a feel of the illustrious product, only to discover to my wonderment that the windows were made of plastic. Ridged and lined to look like wood, and coloured in a pleasing Farrow & Ball type verdigris. But honest to goodness, right out of a factory plastic. And they looked good. Really good. From a few paces away you would be fooled. As I was. I picked up the literature.
Residence9 is a new window system designed to replicate the 19th Century Flush Sash Window System.
I went around behind them and opened them out. Not wood, but the action was clean and smooth. No smell. The interiors were beautifully moulded, no creaking or squeaking. The handles were smooth, heavy and well designed. And just incase you were wondering R9 windows have U-value of just 0.8 W/m2K, meaning they are one of the most energy efficient windows on the market. After that there was no stopping me, I was Impressed from Somerset. I tore around greedily taking in this new plastic window revolution. There were many different types and some still looked like the old smooth planed, bright white nightmares, but most did not and some even were lined with real wood inside (try Blackmillwork.co.uk) so that from the interior, you couldn't tell. Did you hear me? You couldn't tell. Outside the wind would howl and the rain pour down and your wipe clean, Evergreen (or Dove grey or Duck-egg blue or whatever colour you chose to compliment your lovely 16th Century house - probably Stone) would be safe as could be withstanding the storm and you'd be by the fire gazing out of your wood framed sash windows happy in the knowledge that you weren't going to be dragged aside at a village meeting to be upbraided for ruining the chance of winning the Most Beautiful Village award for the third year running.
Now I am not going to lie. This type of artful deception does not come cheap, (approximately £350 per m2 of glazing, compared to standard white Everest type uPVC of £200m2 ) but the fact is one day it may and while the plastic torment rolls on and people persist in wanting to put their windows in and forget about them, there is now a greater hope that as I drive the highways and byways blithely minding my own business (if only!) I will no longer be struck dumb (again, if only!) with the horror of all that lost beauty.