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Ask G: uPVC frames

Are uPVC window frames really better than wood?

I have been told to buy uPVC window frames due to them not ever requiring painting and also due to the tighter seal they have to keep the cold out compared to timber windows. I read a lot about PVC not being environmentally friendly and that PVC does off-gas for a long time.
I have tried to find information about the pros and cons of uPVC windows but can only find positive stuff. I am sure that I am not getting the whole picture about uPVC windows, or perhaps they really are a better option. Any ideas?
- Maria Casey, Newport, Vic

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Credit: sxc.hu

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I had a chat with the appropriately named Ian Frame, chief executive of the Building Products Innovation Council. He says it’s not as simple as timber versus uPVC and that there is huge variation in the quality and lifespan of uPVC windows available in Australia.

Aside from cost, there are four main things to consider with windows and their frames: pollution (during manufacture and indoor air pollution during use), how long they last, their thermal performance
and how they will be disposed of at the end of their life. ‘Rigid PVC’ or ‘uPVC’ is unplasticised polyvinyl chloride.

Even without plasticisers, PVC is controversial. In certain circumstances, its production, use and incineration
can release pollutants into the environment. This makes the production methods, standards and compliance particularly important.

UPVC frames are imported from Europe, USA and China. Although there may be cheaper ones on the market, Ian recommends buying those made in European countries, such as Germany, as the EU has a longer history
of requiring manufacturers to comply with stringent environmental and OH&S standards. Such products are
less likely to off-gas unacceptable levels of indoor air pollutants and are also typically longer lasting.

Ian also mentioned that timber frames can also be long-lasting and energy efficient – just make sure the timber comes from certified sustainable sources. Even aluminium frames with thermal breaks can be efficient and uPVC and aluminium frames are technically recyclable at the end of their lives. Use the Window Energy Rating scheme (www.wers.net) as a reliable guide to their thermal efficiency.