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GAZING AT PLASTIC GLAZING

Boulton & Pauls announcement last year that it was

to move into the manufacture of plastic windows

signified an important development for the company.

It also illustrates that changes are afoot in the house

building industry, as David Taylor reports

THE NAME Boulton & Paul is so closely

associated with joinery it is the British market leader in timber window frames that if it starts making plastic windows that must mean that house builders are changing their habits.

The traditional way of building a British house involves building the walls up to window sill height, putting the window frame on top (with a scaffold plank leaning against it to keep it steady) and then building the rest of the brickwork around the timber frame.

And because most builders choose the traditional route when selecting windows and doors, this means that something like 75 per cent of new houses have softwood window frames.

Those who fondly imagine that timber is the first choice because house buyers want a traditional feel, with the natural warmth and texture of wood, are wide of the mark. Given the choice, a great many house buyers would go for plastic every time, a fact illustrated by the market in replacement windows.

At least 60 per cent of replacement windows bought in Britain are plastic, chosen for their ease of installation, good thermal and noise insulation properties and low-maintenance requirements. As a rule, spec builders are interested in up-front costs and do not let the question of long-term maintenance interfere with their calculations. They are also influenced by the British practice of building the masonry wall around the timber window frame and fitting the glass last of all.

Because of this, plastic has never appealed very much to the house builder. A factory-

finished, fully glazed PVC-u window cannot very well withstand the rigours of the average building site, but is designed to be fitted into a finished opening.

But there are signs of change.

People are demanding more plastic windows, and the attitude of the window companies is: if you want a window, well sell you whatever you want, says Mike Haines, buyer with New Age Homes of Berkhamsted. And he says Boulton & Paul is not the only company to have awakened to the demand for plastic windows in new build.

Most of the joinery companies are now offering PVC windows theyre either making them, or marketing them as their own. And its all happened in about the past year, says Mr Haines.

David Chenery, chief executive of Boulton & Paul, says: People have been talking about plastic windows in new build for years. There is a feeling now that the level of demand makes it worthwhile for us to go into production.

Boulton & Paul began production of its new Sovereign range of plastic windows last September.

The products are made at

the companys

factory at Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, from PVC-u extrusions supplied by Deceunincks Wiltshire factory.

At Melton Mowbray, the extrusions are cut to size and mitre-sawn before being welded and glazed according to the production schedule.

The window was developed with help from Deceuninck and uses many of the design principles of the extruders own Deeplas 1800 casement window. The plants capacity is about 1,000 units a week and Mr Chenery says he expects the factory to be working to full capacity by the summer.

Mr Chenery admits that Boulton & Paul should have considered producing PVC windows earlier. Instead, he says, the company watched as others penetrated the new build market. Soon Boulton & Paul realised it had a choice. Do we continue to sell timber against PVC? We could do it if we had wanted to. But PVC is there in the market, so rather than let our share diminish, we decided we had to get into it, he says.

The rise of PVC-u in new build has been driven to a large degree by the requirements of housing associations. As these command an increasing share of the housing market, their needs must be catered for.

Housing associations are looking for more quality than the average spec builder, who will usually try to get away with the cheapest he can, says Mr Haines. The company he works for, New Age Homes, specialises in housing association work, and he has noticed a trend developing.

In our market, specifications are changing to PVC windows. Were just building 45 units in Luton, and they will

all have plastic windows.

The attraction of plastic windows for a housing association is clear: maintenance will be very cheap and easy. But Mr Haines cannot foresee a time when plastic will replace wood across the board.

Private buyers are a different market. Kerb appeal is very important here and with PVC youve got a limited choice of colours and profiles, says Mr Haines.

In his opinion, natural wood even when painted always looks more attractive than most PVC profiles.

At my previous company, we tried building a maintenance-free house: all the windows, sills, soffits, fascias and so on were made of plastic. It was maintenance-free all right; trouble is, it didnt look like much.

Boulton & Paul certainly has no plans to replace its timber windows with plastic ones. In fact, Mr Chenery suspects that the shift in favour of plastic windows will also stimulate demand for modern factory-glazed timber products.

From the marketing point of view, we didnt help ourselves by not promoting factory-

finished timber windows in the past.

But ironically, now we have PVC-u windows, it will be

easier to promote factory-

finished timber ones.

The benefits of these include a reduction of site work, guaranteed consistent quality and a faster building time. But they share the vulnerability to rough handling and general abuse that has always kept PVC-u away from new build.

Mr Haines says: The key to making PVC suit the new build market was to find a method of creating the window aperture and then fitting the window in after the wall has been com-

pleted.

The same can be said to apply to factory-finished timber windows. Builders might still prefer the old unglazed softwood type, if only because a finished window is heavy and cumbersome in comparison.

But if the shell of the house can be finished before the windows even arrive on site, then the choice between plastic and wood is not so clear- cut.

Meanwhile, Mr Chenery is confident about the future for Boulton & Pauls plastic window range reasoning that while other companies might specialise in PVC-u, Boulton & Paul has strength in its position in the market.

Some of the biggest builders buy all their windows from us and have done for years. So if they start buying less timber and more plastic, where are they going to look for their PVC ones?

There is a feeling now that the demand for plastic windows makes it worthwhile for us to go into production

David Chenery