A clear and present danger
April 16, 2010 By John Roper
Forget the recession, the U.K. window industry has suffered and
survived worse than the present market. The clear and present danger,
though it is not politically correct to say so, is from the
Forget the recession, the U.K. window industry has suffered and survived worse than the present market. The clear and present danger, though it is not politically correct to say so, is from the eco-crusaders.
There has been a strong move in Europe to lower the U-values of buildings.
Now there is a very good case to be made for lowering the energy consumption of buildings. The stuff is expensive; we can all, domestic and commercial consumers alike, do with cutting our costs. But listening to some of the protagonists over here you might think that windows can save the planet.
Now it has long been the case that, if you bring in a regulation, the British window industry will find a way around it and then use it as a marketing tool. We now have a system of energy rating windows authorized by The British Fenestration Ratings Council (BFRC). The window guys have taken window energy ratings on board and are competing to up their game – C rating as standard; better, I do B rated windows, and so on. Although the rating applies to the whole, finished window, even sealed unit and hardware manufacturers are getting into the claim-game.
BFRC sounds very official. It is in fact a commercial company, part of the GGF Group. GGF is the Glass & Glazing Federation, an industry trade association that, in the old days, was just that, non-profit making, representing the interests of its members. Nowadays it has a commercial eye on the industry.
For some time now, if you install a window in the U.K. it has to comply with building regulations document L. Document L specifies the energy performance of a building. This has been applied to windows retroactively, so, for the first time, you cannot replace like with like. At the same time the GGF set up a self-assessment operation called FENSA, membership of which allows window installers to issue building regulation certificates to customers to confirm that the installation conforms to the necessary building regulation. Spot checks are made on installations to make sure everything is above board. The generic term is “competent persons scheme” and these exist for electricians, heating and ventilating installers and so forth. FENSA is not the only one for the glazing industry; the competitor is called Certass and does exactly the same job.
So, if you are still with me after all that – and I have just given you the simple version – here’s the problem. Come October, document L changes and, if things go the way they look like they are going, the only way a window will comply with document L is if it is approved by BFRC. Even if it conforms technically to the requirements, it will be illegal if it does not have a BFRC rating and, therefore, is illegal to install.
You see my problem. A commercial for-profit company will be regulating the window industry in England and Wales. It will have, de facto, the power to stop a company from selling its windows if that company has not paid BFRC for test approval.
So far, I am watching the window industry rushing headlong into a situation that will escalate its costs and leave it under the control of a commercial monopoly. The sad thing is it seems to think regulating windows will save the planet. It would probably be more effective to get rid of a few of its BMWs.
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