Sustainable Options for Window Fabrication - February 2012

This article appeared in GGP, February 2012

With a global desire to improve sustainability and the anticipated tightening of Building Regulations, Julian Wiseman, Aluminium Sales Director for Titon, takes a look at how using the right materials in window design is essential.

It was probably the late Sixties and early Seventies that saw the birth of the “green” movement. It was the age of flower power and hippies. But those long haired idealists could not have foreseen how, forty years on, their concern for the world around them would translate into practical and global environmental change.

Today the green movement has pushed the developed world to embrace a new buzzword – sustainability. Its full meaning is far more complex than previous movements and emerges from a variety of different sectors including government, commerce, design and natural resources. In the building and construction industry, the extraction of natural resources - in particular metals - has become a hot topic. And one high profile element is taking centre stage - aluminium.

Buildings primarily constructed of aluminium are not only lighter and require less groundwork, but they also need less energy to transport and erect on site. Such methods were first seen in the post war ‘pre-fabs’ of the 1950s and despite being designed for a three to five years life span, many are still standing today. Nowadays, the building and construction sector accounts for 25% of aluminium use each year, and is the second largest industry in Europe utilising the metal. The reason for this metal’s meteoric rise is because it’s lightweight, strong, durable and best of all, endlessly recyclable.

One sector of building and construction that has long embraced aluminium is window fabrication, but making the most of its durability has not always been a strong point. All too often aluminium windows and hardware are scrapped ahead of their time, when they could potentially have years of life left in them. The reason for this often lies at the point of specification. To the untrained eye, window and hardware profiles might look the same but there is a plethora of different designs available. So, when there is a problem with the hardware there is not always a suitable replacement, either because the design is too complex to replace or it was manufactured as a “one-off” and is simply obsolete. In such circumstances, the only viable option is to remove the complete window and replace it, wasting money and more importantly, perfectly useable materials.

Of course the preferred option would be to replace the hardware without having to dispose of the window, which would not only give it greater longevity, but would also be a sustainable and cost effective approach. So in practice, how easy is this to on future projects? Well, firstly specifiers need to consider at the hardware being installed now, and ensure the design is future-proofed. Hardware ranges that are based around a consistent design, such as the Chrono open-in range from Titon, have been manufactured to a standardised set of grooves in the profiles, ensuring that should the hardware need replacing in many years’ time, there will be a system that can easily be fitted straight onto the window – further extending the life span. And because the Chrono range is not a “one-off” design, it’s also likely to be suitable as a replacement for hardware sold up to 30 years ago!

Another factor affecting window fabrication is the type of glazing used. Stricter Building Regulations for thermal performance and air tightness, as well as more and more developments being built on brownfield and urban sites, has meant house builders are making properties more thermally and acoustically efficient. Consequently there are now two new kids on the fabrication block; triple glazing and acoustic glass. However, both products are considerably heavier than their counterparts, putting additional pressure on the hinges, so their quality and strength is more important than ever before. Until now, hinges have commonly been designed to withstand a load of 130kg, but with a move towards increased weights, some hinges are simply not going to be suitable or for that matter, safe. With this in mind, suppliers such as Titon are introducing hinge designs that can accommodate weights up to 170kg, making it easier to choose the most suitable glazing for the project.

So what does the future hold for window and hardware design and is a sustainable approach possible? Well here at Titon we’re always looking to the future. Whether it’s designing hardware that can be standardised across the industry or looking at the potential changes to building design, we’re working with specifiers to make sure they have the best quality window hardware, without compromising life span. Utilising aluminium and its inherent properties is vital to this, and if manufacturers and the construction industry take their commitment seriously, we believe that not only will the sector become more sustainable, but business will benefit too.

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