We’re proud of the products we install in our industry in this country, and why not. They look good (they didn’t always), they’re much more energy efficient than in previous generations, there’s far more choice in the marketplace now and the range of colours and woodgrains is beyond what we thought it could be just a few short years ago. Things have really progressed here. But lets take a rain check. On the European stage, we’re massively behind. Some say at least two decades behind countries like Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. But why? We often compare our wares to those on the continent.

Price first, fabric second

There are two main reasons why our own fenestration sector is lagging way behind in the European race. Firstly it is the general attitude to building products that make up the fabric of anything we build. I have spoken with other industry people who make regular trips to Germany, Austria and Scandinavia and they comment that the way they go about building means the quality of their structures are miles more advanced than ours are. One commented that their sheds were better built than our houses!

And therein lies the issue with everything we build in large numbers. We are so preoccupied on getting what we want for the cheapest possible price that the quality of what we use to actually build the things is sacrificed and corners are often cut. You’ll never see the UK’s major house builders sit down and start talking about using the better quality window systems out there or start using something better than plaster boards and three by two timbers to make the internal walls.

Whilst that culture and way of thinking remains, it will naturally inhibit any major advancement in the product that go into our buildings, like the windows and doors. If however builders, both private and public started to shift towards quality over price, we might find the demand to develop our products even further start to rise. Catch up with Germany maybe? I’m not counting on it.

The British mentality for a bargain

I hate to say it, but one of the reasons why our window and industry is so far behind certain other European countries is our resistance to pay more for better quality, and our passion for a bargain.

The saying “you get what you pay for” is a very true statement in our industry. You buy cheap you get cheap. And that cheap mentality has been instilled in so many parts of our industry for so long, it has inhibited any chance for our industry to really unleash it’s creativity and move forward with the pace other countries have. Add to that the British attitude of trying to get everything for as cheap as possible, then you have a toxic mix which is going to hold our progression back.

It’s not a total block mind you. We have companies in the timber alternative market proving to be a good example of how PVC products should really be done. And when you look at how far our mass PVC market has come along in the last few years, things aren’t as bad as they once were. But compare the European materials to ours, anyone who has been to Fensterbau will confirm that we have so much catching up to do.

And when we do want to sell the really high-end stuff, what do we do? Import it in from Europe! There are quite a few northern European companies selling quite a lot of their products into the UK market, presumably because there aren’t many UK companies out there to do the same products.

As an industry is what we do bad? No, certainly not. On the world stage our own industry is leaps and bounds ahead of most other developed countries. However when benchmarking our industry against other countries it’s never against the USA, China or India. No, it’s always compared to the Germans, Austrians or those in the frozen north. So what I’m saying is, if we’re going to continue to compare ourselves to our European neighbours, and look over their fence at how much better their stuff is than ours, we only have ourselves to blame. If we had the same culture and forward thinking approach to modern mass building then maybe the products we put in our buildings would be more developed too.

Oh, and the climate argument is an invalid one. Just because it snows a bit more in those countries doesn’t mean we should be incapable of changing our attitude to construction.

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