Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Breathing deeply: trash the plastic!

(click to enlarge)

Following on from yesterday's news about the English Heritage circular regarding buildings regs Part L, I have had it suggested to me that the problem is, although it sounds as though leeway will be given for more than only listed and conservation area buildings, and it is indeed welcome news that there is recognition that traditional buildings other than listed also need to be allowed the 'breathe', there is room for further confusion and demands for a loss of character by over-zealous Building Control Officers. Not all of those seem to have the ability to think outside the tick list. Overworked Conservation Officers (and many local authorities don't actually employ one) will find it difficult to argue even where listed buildings are concerned, if it's left up to individuals to interpret as they see fit.

There. I have ranted in private and no doubt will return to the subject in future alongside more damning photographs. Suffice to say, the supposed 'eco-friendliness' of ripping out perfectly good timber windows in traditional buildings and replacing them with, in too many cases, hideously ugly, bright white and with flat glass uPVC double glazing remains in doubt. As for uPVC doors - what can I say? I wonder who designs these things? A computer set in 'kitsch' mode?

However, I hear many cry, there are now available nice slimline double glazing units which can be fitted into timber sashes and 'look just like the originals'. Indeed, these were even spouted about on Channels 4's Grand Designs (for which more see posts below...) when it was claimed (see the Bath Grade II Listed barn 'conversion' episode) that these were now being fitted to listed buildings in Edinburgh, as though it was a routine matter to rip out historic windows and glass and chuck in new. Of course, there are those who wish it was so, but thankfully it isn't.

Given also that the seals in double glazed units are prone to fail unless buried into rebates in the timber, I also wonder how long the replica windows with thin astragals will actually last. If windows have to be replaced every couple of decades instead of centuries, then it's not really green, cash or energy saving, is it? Modern timber tends not to last like historic stuff either.

Historic windows are items to be treasured, alongside the historic glass. Once they are gone there's no way they can be replaced. Defacing a period building, no matter how humble, with plastic or even slightly more tasteful modern timber when the originals are repairable simply because of claims of eco friendliness, is a little like taking an electric sander to an antique table then slapping a coat of polyurethane varnish on, on the grounds it makes it so much easier to maintain and will protect the wood.

In Scotland, Historic Scotland is taking a lead in researching the realities of the claimed heat losses through historic windows (in reality I suspect nothing like as much as is claimed, many period buildings have tiny windows):

Q. S3W-19118 Alasdair Morgan: To ask the Scottish Executive whether it plans to review the planning guidelines and Scottish Planning Policies relating to listed buildings to clarify the situation regarding replacement of single-glazed windows by windows with improved heat-retention properties. (SP 17/12/08)

A. Answered by Linda Fabiani (14/01/09): The Scottish Planning Policy for the Historic Environment and the Scottish Historic Environment Policy (SHEP) were both published in revised form, after public consultation, on 28 October 2008; the SHEP included revised ministerial policy on listed building consent. Neither document makes specific mention of the issue of glazing options as this is an operational matter; however, the SHEP sets out the general approach and principles. Historic Scotland is undertaking research on the energy performance of older buildings, and this will inform revised guidance on windows for applicants and local authorities, to be published in spring 2009, to replace the guidance in the Memorandum of Guidance on Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas. Applications relating to windows are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Wider research is being carried out, some of it in partnership with other bodies such as Edinburgh World Heritage:

The thermal performance of traditional windows publication is here:
This report summarises the results of research on the thermal performance of traditional windows and methods of reducing heat loss carried out by the Centre for Research on Indoor Climate & Health, Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) on behalf of Historic Scotland.

HS has also published this informative guide to windows:

and glass:

timber doors:

That little gem is in Bowness on Solway, snapped January 2006. I hope the plastic salespeople have not yet reached it.

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Jayne said...

How I wish the previous owners hadn't butchered my house with plastic windows! One day when I've saved up enough I plan to restore it with proper wood and glass.

Garden Beet said...

oh dear i am to return to my home in australia with its original windows and face this very problem-- the windows do not function properly however i can not stand the look of the replacements - perhaps its time to develop a window that says I am 2010 - I look good- i respond to today's needs and I am not trying to look like i was built in the 1850's or 1990's

Nemesis said...

Repair, draughtproof, secondary glaze... Edinburgh World Heritage and Historic Scotland have a great deal of information, as has English Heritage and SPAB.