ASSESSMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL, HEALTH, SAFETY & DESIGN IMPACT OF uPVC USE IN NEW & REPLACEMENT WINDOWS & OTHER BUILDING COMPONENTS (All about PVC in buildings) ADVANCING AGENDA 21: MAY 1998
INTRODUCTION This assessment of the use of uPVC on the Irish building stock is made through an application of the principles of sustainable development set out and agreed internationally at the 1992 UN Rio Earth Summit. The Irish Government has confirmed its adoption of these principles, known as AGENDA 21. It has further issued guidelines in June 19951, to local authorities requiring their lead implementation of sustainable development principles, known as LOCAL AGENDA 21. Despite this practical implementation has been little evident. Far too much of what we do in our use of consumer goods and transport, in our structures for planning & development, in the way we manage our environment, both built & natural, is based on short-term concerns of comfort and short-term economics and without any real understanding of long-term effect. The adoption of the principles of sustainable development ensure that all actions of the present are properly informed with an understanding of their long-term social, environmental and economic implications. Such principles applied, for instance, to the built environment will analyse the value of existing building stock under a whole series of criteria, such as embodied energy. New buildings must be assessed under a whole series of headings, long-term effect on society and environment, energy consumed in production and transportation of building materials, performance life of buildings and individual elements of buildings, flexibility to potential future needs etc. This submission assesses the particular issue of the use of uPVC in Irish buildings for windows, doors, downpipes and soffits and internal cabling and ducting. As an im- Mediate recommendation it proposes a total phasing out of uPVC based on an audit of its environmental and economic sustainability and performance in fire conditions. It further proposes a national initiative to contain and reverse the economically unsustainable and environmentally damaging use of uPVC and uPVC coated aluminium windows on the national historic building stock, which is rampant even in the so called Bord Failte designated. "Heritage Towns". There has been a welcome move in recent years (though sadly belated) towards the conservation of historic buildings in Ireland. This has, however, focused in general more on overall appearance than on design and material details. Much work is undertaken with the minimum of research into the history of the building, and in an alarming number of these projects there is a discernible lack of empathy for the existing building components. The insertion of the products of new technology into old buildings must be carried out under the careful eye of a sympathetic architect or engineer, preceded by impartial research into the suitability of the product.2 The building materials of previous centuries - stone, brick, slate, timber, wrought iron and glass, were not hard edged or machined, but bore the visual marks of the processes and crafts of the day. The buildings formed out of these materials were assembled with an eye to proportion, perspective and the plumb-line. The results differ dramatically from modern constructions and pre-fabricated, standardised products - each era rightly bears the marks of its own technology. WIDER CONTEXT The use of uPVC must be seen in the wider context of a range of other synthetic materials which are being increasingly used in buildings such as aluminium and Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF). Hundreds of tons of a whole range of industrial products are now used without any proper assessment of their environmental sustainability or long term economic performance. Apart from the environmental concern over their manufacturing process, queries have been raised on the health issues of both aluminium and and MDF as well as uPVC, for those involved in their manufacturing, fabrication and end product fitting or alteration. THE LESSON FROM ASBESTOS The introduction of asbestos into buildings in the 1950s is, like DDT as a pesticide, now recognised as one of the Century's very bad ideas. Asbestos was introduced without any proper assessment of its long term performance or safe disposal. Yet despite this lesson exactly the same has occurred with the rampant use of uPVC. QUALITY OF CONTEMPORARY BUILDING. Contemporary building practice is dominated by the quick build quick fix solution, exemplified by the dominant use of uPVC windows and soffits. While some very fine architects are producing a good range of buildings, the majority of new construction is dominated by the concerns of time driven speculation and maximum prefabrication of building elements. The rampant suburbanisation of the countryside with uPVC windowed ribbon housing must be recognised as a national catastrophe. Local Authorities such as Dublin Corporation are massive users of crude uPVC windows in "refurbishing" flats complexes many of which had elegant original steel windows in good condition dating from the 1930s. STATE OF OLDER BUILDING STOCK The most welcome development of the last decade to affect the national building stock is the increasing theoretical recognition of the value and quality of older buildings. Apart from particular categories, like rural housing, and particular areas, like within the urban renewal boundaries, there is a general appreciation of the value of maintaining and upgrading the existing building stock. Unfortunately this appreciation is not matched either by any active Government policy or the informed knowledge of good economic and environmental practice needed in considering appropriate methods of repair and alteration. Indeed in many cases Government buildings such as Courthouses and Garda Stations set the worst example, matched by the widespread use of uPVC in 19th. century Town Halls around the country such as Clonmel. The major banks have also set the lead in abusive alterations to the fine collection of mainly 19th. century banks in towns around the country. DAMAGE TO IRELAND'S GREEN TOURIST IMAGE Some of the country's most historic hotels such as the Great Southern in Killarney and Galway, Actons in Kinsale, Imperial in Cork and Westenra Arms in Monaghan have been blighted by uPVC windows. All over the country ugly plasticised houses offer Bord Failte Approved accommodation. Critical international press coverage on the plasticisation of Ireland is becoming more obvious with a recent report in a leading British Sunday newspaper, in an article on the general issue of uPVC window replacement, singling out Ireland for particular critcism: "For a graphic and depressing example of (PVC window replacement) try driving coast to coast, as I did recently, along country roads in the Republic of Ireland; you will see how much the character of period farmhouses and cottages, and their surroundings have been changed along with their windows."3 Yet it is endless photo images of the traditional buildings of Ireland, whether in cities, towns or country, which Bord Failte endlessly uses, to promote the country. At the same time Bord Failte itself, although a Prescribed Body under the Planning Acts, is taking absolutely no initiative to combat the uPVC problem. NATIONAL LOSS OF HISTORIC CHARACTER AND IDENTITY Limerick presents the worst national example in the extent and quality of major Classical terraces of the late 18th. and early 19th. centuries infested with uPVC. However Kilkenny and Kinsale have nothing to be proud of either and are quite unjustified in making any claim to good conservation management. All over the country literally thousands of valuable and attractive buildings are losing their architectural character in the name of ill-considered alteration. This includes the replacement of slate roofs with artificial finishes, the decapitation of chimneys, the damage of brick and stone through inappropriate cement pointing, the destruction of lime plastered interior finishes and joinery, and, most important and pervasive of all, the unnecessary replacement of original timber and window joinery in inappropriate designs or materials. In the case of windows, the majority of replacement is in uPVC OR uPVC coated aluminium which is dominating the appearance of whole streets in cities and towns. Another recent British press report referred to the "millions of sash windows under threat in Ireland".4 ASSESSMENT OF uPVC WINDOWS HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Before the Restoration of Charles II in the 1660s the windows of most Irish buildings were small, for reasons of defence. (There were occasional exceptions in Elizabethan and Jacobean buildings). Large windows had stone mullions, with transoms running across to divide the window into manageable sizes for iron-framed leaded lights. Windows consisted of fixed lights, having one or two side-hung casement sashes. Small panes of glass were set in a lead lattice, usually in a diamond pattern. Neither the small opening nor the poor quality of the glass allowed for much light to enter. The sliding sash-window, an invention of the 1660s, quickly became popular in England, Ireland, The Netherlands, Northern Spain, Portugal, Ireland and North America. The sash-window was the most significant architectural development of its day. Early windows were single hung, that is that only one sash was moveable, but in the early 18th-century a start was made on hanging both sashes using a sophisticated system of pulleys and weights. Until the mid-18th-century most sashes had quite small panes of glass (of eight to fifteen inches tall; they were almost always vertical in orientation), held with wide, heavy glazing bars. From the mid-18th-century architects started specifying more slender sashes, in either timber or metal, which are the type still seen in most Georgian houses of the late 18th and 19th centuries. Single- and two-pane sash-windows became popular in the later 19th century. Variations on sash and casement windows became more common towards the end of the 19th century, with margin lights, hopper top lights, and other mixes of styles. The long-lasting sliding sash was the overwhelming choice of window until the 1950s, when modernist-inspired alternatives found their niche. Early 20th century buildings influenced by the Modern Movement used steel windows in a manufacturing system which was spearheaded by Crittal, the leading manufacturing company. Of great importance in the development of sash-windows was the type of glass used. When first produced in London in the 1680s this was called crown glass. This glass allowed larger, clearer panes than before. In the 1830s improved cylinder sheet glass was developed, which enabled sashes to be made with two or just one pane of glass. Plate glass was widely used in the 19th-century, seen in windows and shopfronts with large areas of glass. At the start of this century mechanisation took over the glass-making process, resulting in enormous panes of glass becoming possible. The invention of float glass in 1959, which is completely free from flaws, rendered all other types of glass obsolete. The problem of inappropriate replacement of sashes began at the beginning of the 20th century on a small scale when casement windows began to be introduced. From the 1930s superbly detailed steel windows were fixture of major buildings but older house remained unaffected by what would have been unsuitable replacement. Most buildings particularly houses continued to use wooden windows, but the high moisture content softwood widely used in the 1960s gave timber windows generally an unfair performance reputation. The window replacement problem on older buildings really only began in the 1970s when teak became highly fashionable and old sashes were ripped out, generally for crudely designed, top hung, outward opening hinged frames. The use of aluminium and bronzed or anodised aluminium became pervasive in the late 1970s. The ill-advised Department of the Environment housing grants in the early 1980s fuelled a rash of unnecessary window replacement with no design policy. However, compared to that era, the current rate of window replacement is increasing at an exponential rate, fuelled by the increasingly wide scale availability and popularity of uPVC. Apart from larger companies, smaller uPVC workshops and operating companies may be found all over the country with dramatically different standards of execution. PROBLEMS OF uPVC WINDOW USE AND DESIGN These comments apply in their entirety to the use of uPVC and to older buildings. However the majority are also relevant to new buildings and also the use of uPVC or other types of coated aluminium. The unsustainable use of tropical hardwoods for top hung outward opening windows may also be as bad in design and fire safety terms as many of the worst uPVC window types. Any imported timber used in Ireland must come from sustainability managed resources with good environmental practice. CULTURAL AND ARTISTIC 1. Visual Damage of uPVC Windows. uPVC window replacement, and indeed, other inappropriately designed window replacement destroys the original design of the fenestration of the building, along with the original timber and glass. uPVC windows have a dead flat appearance, which completely fails to reproduce the visual effect of overhanging sash windows and timber frames with sparkling glass set in putty recessed frames. Attempts to design a uPVC sash system have been equally unsuccessful since the frames lack the depth and modelling of traditional timber sashes. uPVC windows are more than offensive enough in their closed position because of their flat dead appearance, compounded by the doll's house like effect of the mock Georgian glazing strips, which characterise most of their designs. The effect is even worse when the windows are open creating awkward, outward opening, angular windows breaking the plane of the building, and having a visually disastrous appearance on individual houses and older terraces as a whole. It has often been said that windows are the eyes of a building. They show the character of the place, the life in the glass being the twinkle in its eye. Elizabeth Bowen wrote of her ancestral home: "All this expanse of glass, with its different reflections, does much to give Bowen's Court character. When the sun is low, in the early mornings or evenings, the house seems, from the outside, to be riddled with light." George Moore also appreciated the character of this most unique material though the quotation seems slightly ambiguous; he thought that small-paned windows had "eyes in them like grease spots on soup" and regretted the insertion of plate glass windows. Maurice Craig, the noted architectural historian, wrote very eloquently of the windows of the Library at Trinity College. "Only when, on a winters day, seen from the top of a tram in Dawson Street across the Fellows Garden, every pane of the old crown glass suddenly flashes with orange fire - only at such moments does this huge building seem to relax its customary expression of measured reticence." 2. Loss of Cultural Legacy on older buildings. The post Mediaeval national historic building stock comprises the backbone of the centres of our cities, towns and villages, as well as our older rural housing, both large and small. The character of our older building stock is defined by a number of elements, of which sliding timber sashes is among the most important. If we continue to lose this element in our older buildings at the current rate, then our national building stock will completely lose its historic integrity and the nation will have lost an irreplaceable cultural asset. 3. Destruction of Irreplaceable Craftsmanship. Older windows, and particularly windows of the 18th and 19th centuries, are works of high quality, skilled craftsmanship. Timber windows, particularly those accompanied by internal shutters and architraves, represent the pivot of the joiner's art of the period. The typical 6 over 6 pane window sash of circa 1800, with internal shutters and an architrave is made out of around six hundred pieces of individually cut timber. Very often a new uPVC window replacement it is not just the windows but the entire interior architrave and shutter casing, which is also lost. Old window glass has an irreplaceable quality. 18th and early 19th century Crown Glass is hand-blown then spun to giving it an irreplaceable sparkling effect.. Later from the early to mid 19th century, into the early 20th century, Sheet Glass was made through a poured process giving crinkles and distortions. The textured reflection of light on crinkled crown or sheet glass is an irreplaceable feature which gives life and depth to a building. uPVC, or indeed any, window replacement destroys this irreplaceable quality. "New windows seldom complement or harmonise with older buildings; instead they contribute to the homogenising of our architectural environment. Until recently a window was considered to be an integral part of a building, treated more like a structural member than a disposable product."5 The form of traditional windows and doors has been determined as much by craft ingenuity as by changes in taste and fashion.6 Old window glass of the 18th and 19th centuries is irreplaceable as each pane is cut from a unique, hand-blown crown or cylinder. This gives them distinctive concentric curved effects and irregular rippled distortions respectively. Glass from the early 20th century was 'drawn', having what are called music lines - wavy parallel lines. 4. Crude Design Quality. Unlike 1930s steel windows on which the opening hinged sections were integrated with the frame, in a uPVC window, the opening section forms an inner frame within the main frame. This results in a disastrously incongruous disproportion between the glazing areas of the fixed section of the window and the opening sections, rendered particularly absurd when the attempt is made to create a "Georgian " window. Profiles: The design standards of modern replacement features in historic buildings are generally disappointing, especially windows. Common design deficiencies with replacement windows: … use of the casement opening in many shapes and forms, typically with numerous variations on the same terrace; There is a proliferation of types: in- and outward opening hinged sections, in large or small sizes, with no regard for fire safety. Varieties of hoppers, pivots, tilt-and turn, and the ubiquitous top hung light are popular, and inappropriate. … There is a notion that the opening is only a rough guide: the dimensions of many window openings are altered to fit off-the-shelf fittings;7 unsuitably sized windows are fitted, with the "extra" space covered with flat panning; Windows originally with curved heads now have flat headed replacements with plastic or aluminium filling in for the once graceful head. … proportions of the framing material vary immensely with replacements, due to the methods of construction; Extruded metal is far thinner than timber, so aluminium products are thin in appearance. They take up far less of the reveal, and need either plastering over the removed box frame, or timber lathes affixed to hide retained pulley stiles. Plastic replacements are made in clumsily detailed frames which are too thick in all respects.8 … arbitrary location of bars or opening sections; many manufacturers sell those which have the window divided in half under 'heritage' type names; … double glazing, either single pane (with spacer bars) or six pane sashes show 'double-vision' reflection and visible black edges; thick bars are needed to accommodate the panes; of six-pane sash types; … false glazing bars, usually giving panes of arbitrary proportions either on the outside or between sheets of double glazing; … stick-on lead strips which fall off after a few years; … insertion of any replacements in the original sash frame - this is not only clumsy, necessitating alterations, but exposes the fallacy of non-painting; The appearance of windows and doors in plastic and metal is primarily governed by the needs for interconnections and weather-tightness rather than by aesthetics. "The real problem stems from firms that honestly believe that they already have products that match the originals.9 "The majority of 'look-a-like' sash windows in alternative materials are visually unsatisfactory and bear little resemblance to the original either in form or construction".10 The initial cost of an off-the-shelf timber unit may appear economically competitive, but account should be taken of quality of timber, seasoning, preservatives, detailing, paint quality and fittings of the original. "Low first cost (the cost of buying and installing the unit) is nearly always offset by an ever-increasing subsequent cost of maintaining, repairing, and ultimately replacing the replacement. ... If a unit is poorly designed, built, or installed, any anticipated energy savings will quickly evaporate."11 5. Loss of Longer Term Economic Value. The older building stock represents a progressively diminishing total and proportion of the national building stock. Older houses with original features, both external and internal are acquiring a progressive rarity. The value of older buildings is increasingly seen to be that of living antiques, with higher value attaching to those buildings which retain original features. On the antique market, paintings, furniture, etc., which have been poorly altered or treated have a much lower value than those retaining their integrity. The same will, in time, increasingly apply to the valuation of buildings where the loss of the original sashes and the replacement with inappropriate uPVC or other window types would be seen as a major minus factor. "There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey."12 English Heritage have found that "replacing old windows with unsympathetic plastic, metal or wooden products or substituting crude and historical 'slipped fanlight' products for original front doors, not only dilutes the historic character of the building, but may also reduce the financial value of what is no longer a truly 'period' home."13 Estate agents in other countries suggest that using poor facsimiles of historic features, or windows made from newer materials, can actually reduce the value of old houses.14 The economic arguments for installing uPVC or other replacement windows do not stand up, as has been found in comparative surveys.15 Also the resale value of a property rarely reflects the investment made in replacement windows, especially if the designs are ugly or unsuitable.16 ENVIRONMENTAL AND MANUFACTURING 6. Environmentally Unsustainable Manufacturing Process. uPVC, unplasticised Polyvinyl Chloride, is a product of the petrochemical industry. Current economic and environmental policy should be seeking to remove dependence on petrochemical imports which have a heavy industrilal manufacturing process and are dependent on diminishing fossil fuel resources. The Swedish Parliament made a commitment in November 1995 to a total phase-out of soft PVC and rigid PVC with harmful additives. "The question is not whether to phase-out PVC but how PVC should be phased out." SIAB, a major Swedish construction company's environmental director Eva Mensson: "I don't think anyone in the construction business today believes there is a future for PVC."17 Countries phasing out or restricting PVC use, either by legislation or in local authorities include England, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Austria, Denmark and Norway. World toxic build-up is growing hugely, especially in developing countries because of global industrial economy transferring plants to cheaper workforces, in countries with a lower standard of environmental protection. What will change the doomsday scenario is product pricing that reflects the full environmental cost of production. "When companies are made to internalise costs, market forces will begin to penalise harmful practices and reward benign ones."18 The primary chemical constituent of PVC is organochlorine, derived from chlorine. The manufacture of chlorine gas is highly toxic19, but some manufacturers (one in the UK) still use mercury in this process; this method of creating chlorine releases dioxins and is highly energy intensive; its production creates thousands of tonnes of highly toxic, tarry wastes, contaminated with dioxin and other toxins; more gases are released in conversion to vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), which is in turn converted to polyvinyl chloride, PVC.20 The process sometimes takes place in the same location, but often this toxic and explosive gas is carted around the world, prior to conversion. VCM must be liquefied, and compressed, but any leak can lead to explosions.21 The US Environmental Protection Agency maintain that there is no margin of safety regarding dioxins; the Plastic industry acknowledges that the production of PVC is inextricably linked to the creation of dioxin. Dioxins do not break down for decades, they are spread widely over the earth, and enter the food chain.22 7. Dioxin Creation in Fire Conditions. In the event of the building being affected by fire, once sufficient temperature is reached uPVC is subject to melting. In many modern buildings such as shopping centres huge areas of glazing are made with uPVC frames. Meltdown releases dioxin fumes which can contaminate an entire building. quite apart from any effect on occupants and fire-fighters. A major decontamination procedure may be necessary before the repair work necessary to bring a fire damaged building back to use can be carried out. Products such as PVC cladding and windows in particular have traditionally contained stabilisers in the form of heavy metals such as cadmium. As well as posing problems during manufacture, "these heavy metals may be released into the environment if the product is incinerated, burnt in an accidental fire or buried in a landfill."23 This is especially dangerous in the case of cadmium.24 On the strength of research (concerning dioxin and furin emissions in fires) presented to the British Fire Brigades Union by Greenpeace, the Union has endorsed the proposal by Greenpeace to ban PVC use in buildings.25 The German Federal Office of the Environment has concluded that "the high chlorine content of PVC products may give rise to major hydrogen chloride emissions. Hydrogen chloride ... may cause burns in affected persons and considerable material damage through corrosion of buildings and installations ... Damage caused by hydrochloric acid may necessitate extensive repair work which would not be required after fires without PVC involvement."26 Other experts state that "the hydrogen chloride given off during a fire also reacts with the many additives present in PVC, creating even greater volumes of toxic fumes."27 "Because PVC contains chloride, incineration may result in harmful emissions of, for example, HCL, dioxin and polychlorobiphenyl (PCB)."28 New types of PVC appear daily, so that behaviour cannot be generalised (some burn quite easily, some not many are used in composite) - it is difficult to predict safety and not always possible to know if a product has been treated with fire retardant.29 uPVC is not alone in presenting a hazard as "all combustion processes involving chlorine result in the formation of dioxins.." However, other processes in uPVC window production may release toxic fumes.30 Only limited success is noted in research to develop a fire-resistant uPVC. "Unlike a timber window frame, there are many voids in the uPVC equivalent. Profiles are hollow and contain drainage slots and sometimes pressure equalisation slots. In a fire under test conditions, these allow the circulation of extremely hot gases which lead to deformation of transoms, mullions, casements and frames."31 Danger to persons is not the only consideration; damage to property can also be financially devastating to the occupier. "In a minor fire where other windows may survive with glass and smoke damage, plastics windows may require total renewal."32 8. Potential Fire Exit Difficulty. The design of uPVC and other replacement windows varies greatly with some frames designed to be entirely hinged inwards for maintenance. However, many have opening top hung sections by which the top section of the window only opens with the bottom half or three quarters forming a fixed frame. In a fire evacuation situation it is extremely difficult to break a uPVC or timber double glazed window frame, either from the inside or from the outside. A rescuer working from a ladder to gain access to a first floor room or even at ground floor level would have extreme difficulty in breaking a frame to gain entry. Equally, somebody inside a room, even at ground floor level seeking escape would have enormous difficulty without heavy tools to get out through a uPVC window. While an ordinary chair rammed against it would be sufficient to break a traditional sash frame if it could not be opened, the breaking of a uPVC frame to a sufficient extent to gain egress is extremely difficult. Press reports on a fire in a Dublin Corporation flat in October 1997 in which two people died have raised this issue Breaking sealed double-glazed units is difficult even with a chair, because of the cushioning effect of the air gap between the leaves of glass. Greater attention now being paid to the size of opening casements. "Because maximum sash widths are limited by their weight, the opening is rarely adequate for the average adult to pass through with ease, in an emergency."33 9. Sick Building Creation. High internal heating levels in a building combined with the maintenance of sealed double glazing and general lack of other ventilation, can break down its environment, causing dampness, overheating, condensation, etc., setting off a spiral of long-term damaging effects for the fabric of the building. It may also generate conditions favouring dust mites which are a major contributing factor to asthmatic complaints. In older buildings it is becoming increasingly prevalent to insert uPVC double glazing and with alternative heating systems, to block up the ventilation provided by old chimney flues. On older buildings the combination of original windows, fitted with modern draft strips and using old internal timber shutters can provide an acceptable level of heat and sound insulation. The Building Research Establishment (England) is careful to stress that draught-proofing can be overdone, causing inadequate ventilation which leads to poor indoor air quality and problems from increased condensation.34 'Sick Building Syndrome' is now a generally accepted phenomenon that is probably linked to indoor air quality, amongst other causes - the type and efficiency of ventilation is crucial.35 "The trend to increase energy efficiency led, at first, to our homes becoming increasingly airtight and sealed off from the outside without adequate ventilation. This allowed high and often toxic concentrations of indoor air pollutants to build up. ... Be aware of this hazard in older homes that have been retrofitted and "super-insulated" to make them more energy-efficient."36 In a properly ventilated building air should be exchanged one to three times per hour - in order to satisfy this requirement, the majority of building materials have to be capable of 'breathing', which uPVC is not. Lack of proper air flow causes continuous desiccation and condensation and introduces the risk of sick building syndrome from air conditioning.37 10. General Unresearched Health Risks. It took many years for the effect of products such as asbestos in buildings and DDT in pesticides to become recognised. Increasing concern is arising at the failure to research the long effect of the use of uPVC, particularly on workers involved in its manufacture or fabrication. Many windows are fitted extremely crudely using large quantities of silicon from gun tubes around the edge to fit them. In condensation conditions, where the inside of the building is much warmer than the outside, the long term effect of this has not been researched. A double glazed room with no other ventilation has no effective air circulation. In areas of higher than average radon emissions, this is a potential health risk. Houses with a combination of double glazing, poor ventilation and high levels of heating present an ideal climate for the germination of dust mites, linked to respiratory and Asthmatic Complaints. Additives in PVC may be implicated in environmental and health problems as so many extra toxic chemicals must be added to give the basic material different qualities - plasticisers, fire-resistors, optical brighteners, pigments, stabilisers, biocides, fillers and foaming agents. The total can make up over 50% of the volume of the final product.38 There are very many compound chemical products in everyday use which are under-researched. Chlorinated organic compounds found in building materials and household products may cause transgenerational effects - that is, capable of interfering with the development of foetus sustenance.39 Recent medical research supports the hypothesis that chlorinated organic compounds are linked to an increasing incidence of breast cancer and many other endocrine problems.40 "In most instances, up to now, we have discovered the dangerous effects of the substances on people afterwards."41 As regards unknown emissions of fumes from PVC in the environment, the US Environmental Protection Agency allows no margin of safety regarding dioxins which do not break down for decades, spread wide, and enter the food chain.42 11. Non-Renewable Resource. Whereas traditional buildings are constructed of renewable or organic materials, uPVC windows are a non-renewable resource based on fossil fuels. Major world-wide energy consumption is necessary to manufacture building products.43 In the case of those which duplicate reparable building components such as windows this use of energy is questionable. Ethical energy use is minimal energy use, with a concentration on the broader picture - the processes of production which deplete the earth's irreplaceable fossil fuels and tropical forestry.44 There is a considerable energy demand on these resources stimulated by ever more frequent renovations, leading to a far greater material input over the life-cycle of buildings.45 The potential for recycling of uPVC windows is limited, due to the wide range of additives added in production, which are necessary to produce high quality uPVC such as that in windows. "In practice, PVC varies in structure (due to quantities and additives) and the mixing that occurs in recycling results in a decrease in quality."46 Traces of PVC adhering to steel and other metals can also create pollution problems during the recycling of these metals.47 British Standards for uPVC window permit the use of up to 10% regrind - recycled plastic. However, this allowance of regrind does not automatically mean that it will be included and users of uPVC products are very reluctant to encourage it. In other words, the industry is loathe to introduce recycling, for fear of losing market share. "Anyone with reservations on the subject will find that a large number of systems suppliers did not, and do not intend to, take up the option."48 12. Toxic Waste Disposal Problem. Given the increasingly recognised short-term life of uPVC windows and indeed uPVC pre fabricated products generally, the majority of frames currently being inserted in Irish buildings both old and new, will be removed and will require disposal in this generation. uPVC dumped in landfill conditions raises the same long-term disintegration and toxic breakdown and leeching issues as plastic. If uPVC were to be mixed with incinerated domestic or building waste, major dioxin emission problems are created. Concern is mounting internationally at the level of uPVC waste burned in hospital incinerators around the world, including an American group of physicians who argue that hospital incinerators are "poisoning communities".49 uPVC most often ends up in municipal dumps, where its constituent chemicals including the heavy metals used as stabilisers are susceptible to leaching into and contaminating the water table.50 Toxic build-up is not the only problem in disposal. The ethics and practicality of disposing of vast amounts of needlessly discarded windows have not been addressed at an official level. Ignored, also, have been other, non-uPVC materials - aluminium, mild steel ironmongery, iron sash pulleys and weights, catches, hooks, hinges, brass fixings - which will not decay into harmless constituent ingredients. Landfill, which is a contentious issue, is almost universally used in Ireland to dispose of building components. A Landfill Tax chargeable on environmentally destructive materials would, more than concern for green issues, would force a rethink on current policies.51 PRACTICAL SHORTCOMINGS 13. Inflexibility of Repair. uPVC windows are made out of a single glazing and support frame, which is prefabricated in the workshop and fitted on site. In many designs the frame is an entire unit, which cannot be dismantled. If an accident were to occur, for example, a scaffolding bar were to hit a section of the window and crack it, the problem could only be resolved by removing and replacing the entire frame. By contrast, traditional sash windows have an ease and adaptability in that frames can be individually detached from their sliding grooves and cords and reglazed or repaired on site. "Can extruded aluminium, vinyl or fibreglass be adjusted, planed down, or touched up? Perhaps, as some manufacturers claim, new windows will never need adjusting; perhaps the new buildings they are installed in will not move or settle."52 "A major advantage of timber window frames is their ability to be repaired. Specialist labour is not, in many instances, essential. This is not so for uPVC. The sophistication of uPVC window frame construction is matched by the techniques which are necessary for repair.53 "When investigating a uPVC system for approval, questions area rarely asked about repairs. Kits are supposedly available but few details area known."54 Timber is a relatively easily worked material and permits fine adjustments on site "where other materials may necessitate a return trip to the factory. Also curtain tracks, blinds etc., are much easier installed should an occupant so wish."55 14. Inflexibility of Fault Response. Most uPVC windows are of top hung, hinged type. Problems associated with hinge faults are widely prevalent. As hinge systems used by different operators constantly change, it may be extremely difficult to find suitable parts of a window only a few years old, when a problem arises, particularly if the window was fitted by a company or operator no longer trading. Very often in the event of a hinge failure situation, the only option is complete replacement of the entire window and frame. By contrast, faults arising on sash windows, for example the jamming of the pulley wheel, can be easily repaired or remedied on site. Control over the lifespan of the ironmongery is called into question by all authorities in relation to replacement windows. Because there is a plethora of types and models on the market, often produced by companies with a limited duration, using proprietary products, the availability of replacement ironmongery might be doubtful. It is suggested that when purchasing new plastic or aluminium windows the purchaser also get a stock of replacement ironmongery in case of later difficulties. This adds to costs and headaches.56 Galvanised steel hinge mechanisms are used in preference to stainless steel due to economy. Hinges are open to the elements, the long-term effect of which in Ireland's damp climate is unresearched.57 Because these windows are factory-made with snap-fit parts, a whole range of sophisticated peripherals including gaskets, mastics, and beads are needed to hold things together in a composite component. These are combined with internally silvered double-glazing with spacer frames, cover beads, and other auxiliary items, giving a large total of potentially short-life ingredients. External gasket seals, or weather-stripping, made from Ethylene-Propylene-Dien Rubber (EPDM) are liable to degradation from exposure to ultra-violet light.58 Sealants may also have a shorter life-expectancy than the other components of the uPVC or aluminium window.59 The inflexibility of fault response and repair of the components may lead to wholesale and otherwise unnecessary replacement of ironmongery by owners of large housing stocks; "it may prove cost-effective to replace a number of components after fifteen years or so, regardless of remaining life, thereby making the best use of the labour."60 15. Access Difficulty for Cleaning. While some uPVC windows are designed to open entirely inwards for maintenance, the majority of top hung, outward opening uPVC frames used on older buildings and indeed timber frames also cannot be effectively cleaned from the inside. Exterior ladder access is required contributing to a significant proportion of serious home accidents. By contrast, a typical 6 over 6 pane sash may be cleaned safely from the inside, without having to get up on a ladder or get out on a window sill by overlapping the sashes in different positions or by taking the lower sash in. Frames which are too small to allow egress in an emergency are often also too narrow to allow cleaning the outside of the window. In Scotland the issue of safe cleaning of sash-windows has long been solved, with a patented system, 'Simplex', in which the lower sash can be attached to hinges and simply swung inwards.61 note: regulations, 1990, not 1985. (In Historic Scotland Advice Note) 16. Spurious Claims for Long-Term Life. The majority of individuals replacing timber windows with uPVC are motivated by sales argument for low maintenance and longevity. Despite this, no uPVC fitting company operating in Ireland is offering a guarantee longer than 10 years. Preliminary investigations are that the life of uPVC frames may extend from no more than 15 to 25 years . In the Irish climate, they are particularly vulnerable to water penetration of the joints and degradation of the surface through ultra violet radiation. Ironically, in the light of information on the poor and dangerous degradability of uPVC, the prospect for longevity in the finished window is not great. An approximate life of 30-40 years was given in a 1985 survey, but this life includes repolishing after 15-20 years.62 The long-term durability of the uPVC compounds currently in use is still largely assess from accelerated tests which are, at best, only an indication of performance."63 The ultimate durability of plastics has to be seriously questioned.64 Plastic fatigue is another known phenomenon, caused by differential movement between two structures - in the case of windows, between the plastic and masonry or original timber frame.65 Neither does aluminium provide a long-life window-frame material (60 years maximum) compared to the proven longevity of well-seasoned, quality timber.66 Aluminium windows should be provided with a skin of anodised oxide to improve protection, but this only offers a life "in excess" of 15 years.67 The economic arguments for installing uPVC or other replacement windows do not stand up, as has been found in comparative surveys.68 "Low first cost (the cost of buying and installing the unit) is nearly always offset by an ever-increasing subsequent cost of maintaining, repairing, and ultimately replacing the replacement ... If a unit is poorly designed, built, or installed, any anticipated energy savings will quickly evaporate."69 The life of the product will also be considerably shorter than the maximum. Another drawback for the unsuspecting purchaser is that "..at the lower end of the marker, imported systems from Eastern Europe will proliferate, their purpose being to attract hard foreign currency ... the private buyer is the target for these products."70 The double-glazed units commonly used in replacement windows are not infallible - they are normally guaranteed for ten years, which indicates the industry's confidence in this lifespan and no longer. "Little research has been carried out to find the life expectancy of such units. Today's double glazed window replacement programmes may lead to a further maintenance commitment in fifteen or twenty years' time, as the units fail."71 17. Discolouration and Difficulty in Cleaning. Purchasers are attracted by the bright shiny appearance of uPVC and its effect in achieving an instant new look image to the house in which it's being fitted. This white shiny look is only a short-term one and is subject to progressive discolouration, whether it be in busy city streets with heavy traffic or in rural areas. The problem is particularly bad in areas with high exposure to wind and rain or with exposure to heavy traffic fumes. uPVC is extremely difficult to clean and many people are driven to use scouring pads. This simply accentuates the process by scratching and increasing the surface area of the uPVC and therefore accelerating its long-term disintegration. "Only a few years ago, uPVC windows were offered as being maintenance-free. Broader understanding of the issues has now shown that claim to be, at best, unrealistic." THE GREEN FUTURE? The international petro-chemical industry is highly sensitive to environmental criticism about the production process, short term performance life and disposal problems of plastic. Like the automobile industry, it is now very much working to amending its products to achieve a more green tinge. In the same way as petroleum companies are now actively looking at biomass energy and other options. However the petro-chemical industry's motivation for seeking these alternatives is primarily based on its own recognition that the current exponentially progressive increase in fossil fuel consumption cannot be sustained. In particular, research and development is being carried out for plastic products or variants which are more environmentally friendly in manufacture, have a better performance life, are more fire retardant, are more easily recyclable and lower in dioxin content. However, the fundamental criticism of plastic as a mass marketed material, designed to engender consumer dependency remains. At the forefront of this industry based R&D is the prospect of a plastic type material made from soya oil, which could be used, not only as a substitute for plastics, but could even become a substitute for metals, including the entire motor car chassis. "Soya bean car that will make rust a thing of the past."121 If this seems like a green dream for the future, then the reality must be analysed. If soya oil were to be used to any significant extent as a substitute for metals and plastics for consumer disposables, such as motor cars, the area of arable land required for its cultivation would be enormous. It would establish a total conflict with the recognition of our need to ensure better global management of what is the relatively small proportion of the earth's surface capable of cultivation for our own future nutritional needs.
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