This new breed of energy efficient windows are touted as being better for your home and better for the environment. Designed to keep homeowner’s heating bills down, keeping the cold out and the heat in, the carbon footprint of anyone’s home is meant to be reduced. But does it? Are energy efficient windows really that environmentally friendly?

Early impact

The problem with energy efficient windows isn’t the product itself, but what it takes to make it in the first place. Take PVCu windows for example. It all starts off at the systems company when they take delivery of PVC pellets, created from a whole mix of chemicals, of which contains big by-products of oil, something which has to be drilled and pumped out of the ground from big rigs all over the oceans.

Those chemicals have to be created in what is probably a very energy-intensive method, then packaged and sent to the sysco for it to be then extruded into raw profile. From there it goes to a fabricator to be cut down and turned into windows and doors to be delivered to installers. The process isn’t too dissimilar for aluminium windows, other than the alumina having to be mined from Bauxite, found mainly in the tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. Quite an expensive and energy-intensive process.

For timber it’s a little different. No mining, no major chemical process to make the raw material. Just timber, hopefully sourced locally and from sustainable forests. Yes there’s transport and manufacture, but there is far less reliance on Earth’s finite resources.

Speaking plainly, the problem with many new windows and doors is that they produce a huge carbon footprint just to make them. I’m not sure whether anyone has worked out how much CO2 is created during the full production process, but I’m guessing it’s rather a lot.

Cost to make vs costs saved

The key point here is working out how much CO2 is created making the window, offsetting that against energy saved during the lifespan of the window.

As this new breed of energy efficient windows hasn’t yet reached it’s full lifespan, we don’t really know yet. There are many predictions that a quality energy efficient window should last a good 35 years. So, those of you who are good at maths might be able to work out what the average window should save on energy.

But would it actually offset the carbon created to make it? At first guess I’d say not. It’s a very energy intensive process to make not just the frames of the window, but the glass, hardware and all other materials related to production and installation. So are we really selling windows and doors that are good for the environment? No, we’re not.

Recycling the future

It’s not sexy, but recycling has to be the way forward when it comes to windows and doors. The materials we use now to make virgin product won’t be around forever. But before it runs out, it will become too expensive to use. Virgin product therefore won’t be viable forever.

A much more energised and expanded post-consumer waste industry needs to be created in order to facilitate the production of more recycled windows and doors. The good news is that timber, aluminium and PVCu can all be recycled time after time. Hugely lengthening the lifespan of the original product.

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