Cast your minds back over the last couple of decades. What has been the biggest innovation in the PVCu space? For me, it’s flush casements. Prior to flush, you had bevelled or ovolo profiles, and before that, you had square profiles from when PVCu first exploded onto the scene.
Flush casements have PVCu as a breath of fresh air. Something new for installers to market to homeowners. Something new for homeowners to get excited about. And within the flush space, you also had the advent of timber alternative windows from the likes of Evolution and Residence Collection.
That innovation was over a decade ago. Since then a lot has changed. A pandemic. A recession. A change in buying habits and the very rapid rise of residential aluminium. But there has been nothing as significant as the advent of the flush window since.
Is PVCu in need of a rebrand?
Losing the narrative
When you observe the market from a distance, you’ll see that the majority of innovation and new products are coming via the aluminium space within the sector.
Internal doors, flat skylights, lanterns, roof vents in lanterns, entrance doors, pivot doors, and slimline profiles are all examples of where I have seen new products introduced over the last year or so. I cannot recall anywhere near the amount in the world of PVCu.
We know there is a huge amount of momentum behind residential aluminium at the moment. Driven by both homeowners wanting something more contemporary as well as installers and fabricators who are looking to find new ways to open up revenue streams. Many PVCu-only fabricators have added aluminium options in an attempt to mop up the extra potential business from their installers.
The last real innovation in the PVCu space was the flush casement and the timber alternative window. But that was over a decade ago and there hasn’t been anything much new to match the game-changing effects those new products had. As a result, aluminium windows and doors have arrested the narrative within the sector away from PVCu and this is now where you see the most prestige and excitement both within our sector and with homeowners too.
A valuable place
I can already feel the backs stiffening and rage building in the PVCu-only people, so let’s spend a few minutes reemphasising that PVCu still very much has a place.
Remember that PVCu is a remarkable building material. It’s versatile, cheaper to produce than aluminium and as we now know via investigations from Eurocell, it can be recycled up to ten times. Thus giving the PVCu already in circulation a potential lifespan of 300-350 years, depending on when frames are replaced.
Whilst aluminium is easily one of the most recyclable and green building materials, we cannot allow PVCu to be ignored for its own sustainability credentials. This is where perhaps our sector needs to do a better job of revitalising the sustainability message around PVCu. We do it in fits and starts, but not with any consistency. The message to homeowners and specifiers isn’t strong enough.
PVCu is also a cheaper alternative to aluminium. Which, given the era of strained personal finances we are now in, becomes useful. That’s not to say PVCu remains an easy sell to homeowners at the moment because it’s not. Speaking from my own experience the demographic that traditionally buys PVCu is also the demographic that is being pounded by higher interest rates, higher mortgages and the cost of living crisis. This cohort of people has become rather hesitant. Still, if it means being able to get a sale over the line, PVCu remains a very valuable option to homeowners.
It’s worth saying also that in the world of new-build construction with the likes of Avant, Persimmon and others, PVCu is almost guaranteed to remain top of the pile in product choice. These types of companies squeeze every penny out of every plot they can sell, so they are not going to look at aluminium, even the cheaper options, any time soon.
When it comes to self-builders and larger-scale renovation projects, it’s almost always aluminium in my experience. The types of people who embark on these projects tend to have more money to spend and therefore opt for the higher-end building products.
New product lure
One of the reasons residential aluminium has exploded in popularity once again is the range of products it provides.
Slim sightlines for windows and patio sliders. Luxury entrance doors, including pivot doors. Huge flat skylights and lantern roofs. These are all sexy, alluring products which differ massively from PVCu in quality and aesthetics. It is much easier for end users to get excited about something if they like what they are looking at.
This is where aluminium holds a major advantage, and more products and innovations keep coming to the market to keep homeowners interested.
Where PVCu has become stagnant is new product innovation. Other than flush casements, there has not been another game-changing option since. Flush remains very popular, which is great, and we sell a lot of it at our place. But we don’t have the plethora of options and alternatives that the aluminium world provides.
PVCu needs a facelift
In the face of the intense popularity and market coverage of aluminium, I believe PVCu is in need of a facelift in order to shoot some energy back into the sector.
A good place to start would be in the timber alternative space. This is already popular with homeowners and has helped to change the perception of PVCu over the last decade. There are obvious USPs to build on from this space. Flush frames, getting away from protruding casements. Timber-look joints add authenticity to frames. This product is suitable for all housing types, but especially period and traditional homes.
From there you can build a platform where we can reinforce and shout loudly about the other USPs we already know. Low maintenance, long-lasting, energy-efficient, recyclable etc. Things we and the public already know, but are being drowned out by other parts of the market making more noise.
I believe it is important for the PVCu market to re-energise its efforts to put forth the benefits of PVCu because at the moment aluminium has all the momentum and can potentially do some damage to the market share that PVCu has.
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