‘Consumers Exercise Material Choice’ By Lennart Jonsson - MD Senior Architectural Systems

Not too long ago we were being encouraged to change our old single glazed timber windows at home with new white PVC window systems. There was little choice of material for the consumer, but there were many good deals on offer and most importantly the products generally performed well. These new windows saved home owners both the cost of ongoing maintenance, significantly improved properties insulation, and in turn, improved property values.

As some of the earliest PVC window installations now reach replacement, for various reasons, homeowners are once again looking to improve their current properties rather than take on the extra costs of moving home.

If we look even further back, we can still see today some of our older window replacement examples, those of hardwood framed, anodised aluminium, double glazed windows. These date back to the 1980’s and earlier and have offered home owners energy savings for over 30 years in many instances, which is a testament to the long life of aluminium.

Back in the 1980’s home owners were considered to be ahead of the ‘Jones’s’ by having an aluminium patio door installed into their existing home, indeed new houses at the time were virtually all being built with the new aluminium sliding patio door installed.

So what has changed in today’s market? I would suggest three changes now affect consumer decision for replacing windows; a more educated consumer, especially in terms of home insulation, several new types of products now becoming available and third, and possibly most importantly, the choice of materials.

PVC still remains dominant in the home improvement sector as the material is ideally suited to typical window and door sizes found in dwellings. It offers both high insulation and low maintenance and has of late become available in a range of standard colours and affordable woodgrain finishes. During the 1980’s and 1990’s PVC could have been considered a premium product for home improvement, but today other materials could claim that crown.

On a recent visit to the major European window exhibition, at Fensterbau, Nuremberg, PVC was still very much in evidence, but most PVC frame manufacturers were also displaying products which were also totally clad on the outside in either anodised or powder coated aluminium. It reminded me of the old adages of ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ and ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’! Timber and aluminium frames, together with composites of the two materials were also much in evidence at the exhibition.

Today consumers are very much more aware of saving energy in order to reduce the spiralling costs of heating and powering our homes. The Window Energy Rating scheme pioneered by the BFRC have given homeowners a simple to understand rating for a window, similar to an electrical appliance to show its efficiency. Together with TV advertising and press coverage,

consumers investment in property today is always associated energy consumption and sustainability of the products installed. A lot has changed since we just used a double glazed unit as evidence of an improved insulation value!

Products today have also become more appealing to consumers and are far better designed. Hardware technology has moved on a great deal and become more affordable, more durable and more secure. One of the biggest breakthroughs in residential design of late is the sliding folding door arrangement. These configurations were difficult to produce in the past with the hardware available, but with new designs of hardware and weatherseals today, these products have become a reality, boasting real performance. In the 1980’s consumers aspired to the patio door, today its a large sliding folding door opening up a residential space onto the garden.

Getting back to the choice of materials, its not that long ago when consumers visited a home improvement showroom, they would be faced with just PVC doors, windows and conservatories. Today we can see a broader range of materials on offer which include aluminium, timber and the composite profile of aluminium and timber. These options have come about for two main reasons.

Consumers have seen high rise apartments in town living become  realistic in the last 10 years. These properties predominantly use either aluminium or timber aluminium composite windows to differentiate their designs from the massive PVC window installations taken place in our high rise flats in the 1990’s. Secondly, home improvement companies are eager to look for a ‘hook’ to sell windows and doors in a PVC dominated market, which has been accelerated of late due to the difficult climate. The initial product that home improvement companies found that brought people into the showrooms was the aluminium window. It is well documented that home owners prefer the clean lines of aluminium over PVC - if they can afford the premium. When a consumer is at that decision stage, they are already deciding which material to choose with the company offering the aluminium alternative.

Aluminium timber composites also offer homeowners a real choice of a premium product with high insulation, exceptional long life expectancy and the excellent weathering properties that only aluminium can offer. This is an area which will continue to grow in popularity with consumers and currently could take the ‘crown’ for being the premium product on offer.

And what about the home improvement company, the fabricator and their investment in new production machinery? Both aluminium and aluminium timber composite systems can easily be made with minimal investment as they are hand made as opposed to semi automated process of fabricating PVC windows. Hand made products incur higher cost, but with higher costs comes a premium product and usually a premium mark-up for the home improvement company, resulting in an aluminium or aluminium timber window sale, a lucrative sale.

Whilst PVC remains a cost effective and high performance product, there is evidence that other materials are continuing to gain ground as consumers exercise their choice. Add material choice, the new product offerings which include sliding folding doors and more recently the large lift and slide doors which are available for residential use and we can see why the shift in material choice will continue.

And to the future, what does that hold for new materials? One of the latest premium products to become available on the window market is glass fibre ‘pultrusion’. Recent technological development has enabled this profile to be self coloured and with an almost perfectly smooth exterior finish. More importantly, the profile can be powder coated the same as aluminium profile in a wide range of colours. I am confident that these product will offer further choice for consumers and it’s going to be an interesting future.

Senior Architectural Systems are the largest British independent fenestration company offering a broad family of products in various materials to suit both commercial and residential applications. Specialising in aluminium systems, aluminium timber systems, known as ‘Hybrid’ all systems can be used in both commercial and residential applications.

More recently Senior Architectural Systems have pioneered the use of glass fibre pultrusion for profile design, known as Senior Fibre Systems.

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