In the UK and Ireland they are known as uPVC windows; in the USA and Canada they are known as vinyl windows or rigid vinyl windows. Both appellations refer to windows whose frames are made from unplasticized polyvinyl chloride. It is a strong plastic. The windows normally have double glazing and are the industry standard in North America, the UK and Ireland because of the superior insulation they provide. But are uPVC windows really environmentally friendly?
Pros of uPVC windows
There are several advantages of using uPVC windows as opposed to other types of windows such as wooden frame windows or aluminum windows.
1) uPVC, rigid vinyl or vinyl windows greatly improve the insulation in a room. In the summer they prevent a room heating up and in the winter they trap heat in a room. This is due mostly to the layer of air between the two panes of glass in double glazing. A small insulation benefit is also found in the plastic which is a poor conductor and tends not to transfer much heat or cold between inside and out.
2) Wooden frame windows need yearly maintenance. The wind and rain damages the wood. Too much humidity and the wood swells and too little and the wood cracks. The paint peels also and needs touching up. In contrast uPVC is impervious to any type of weather. They are virtually maintenance free for their lifespan of 25 years. Aluminum tarnishes but doesn’t rust. The problem with aluminum frames is that the metal provides very little insulation. They also tend to bend out of shape easily.
3) Wooden frame windows obviously involve chopping down trees to make. They could thus be considered to be non-environmentally friendly.
4) uPVC windows usually come with sophisticated locking systems that provide much better security for a home than wooden or aluminum frame windows.
5) Finally, uPVC windows come nowadays in all colors and specifications to fit the look of any home.
Cons of uPVC windows
1) The main problem with uPVC windows is the production and disposal of uPVC. Factories that make uPVC products emit dioxins that have been connected to serious illnesses such as cancer for the people living near these factories. uPVC has been traditionally very hard to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way. They usually end up in land fill sites where they slowly leech chemicals into the soil.
2) uPVC is a petro-chemical product. This means that uPVC production is reliant on gasoline supplies. In other words, uPVC is not a sustainable resource.
3) uPVC windows could give off toxic fumes in the event of a fire.
These are the major objections with uPVC windows. These are serious objections that have led to some municipalities in Germany and elsewhere in Europe banning uPVC from the construction of new public buildings.
The argument has slightly moved in favor of uPVC windows thanks to advances in technology. The Japanese have developed the Vinyloop system and the Europeans have invented a similar Texiloop system to safely recycle unwanted uPVC. These are closed systems that reduce the uPVC to materials that can be disposed of without harming the environment.
The German company Veka has gone one step better. They have built a factory in Thuringia in Eastern Germany that can recycle uPVC products and use the recycled material to make new uPVC windows. They now sell uPVC windows with a promise to collect them at the end of their lifespan for recycling. This is a major breakthrough and is just another example of how Germany leads the world in many ways when it comes to environmental issues.