Whole life costing: Windows

Peter Mayer

There are lot of variables to consider when
specifying windows.
Peter Mayer of Building LifePlans tots up the numbers
for different options.


Assessing whole-life costs and performance of window assemblies is because of the many variables, such as materials, components and finishes, involved.

The European Standard EN 14351–1:2006, due to be implemented in 2008, sets out performance characteristics applicable to windows independent of material. This standard includes clauses that should enable comparison of alternatives based on durability. Key standards and durability criteria -but by no means all- are considered in this article.



Specify factory assembled softwood or hardwood windows to BS 644:2003 or the British Woodworking Federation accreditation scheme. Timber with low natural durability should be preservative-treated to BS 8417. Typical manufacturers’ guarantees against decay are for 30 years. Where the paint or stain integrity is maintained, the service life of the frame should be much longer; (see BS EN 927).


Plastics uPVC

uPVC windows to BS 7412:2002 have an expected life of 40 years. Most have third-party certification based on a variety of standards. Predicted service lives are in excess of 25 years.


Glass reinforced fibre

Pultruded glass fibres are reinforced with thermosetting resins. These are pulled through heated dies to produce highly engineered, strong and durable window framing sections. Service lives of 50 - 60 years are estimated with manufacturer’s guarantees of 20 – 35 years.



BS 4873:2004 defines the metal, minimum section thickness and decorative finishes. The period until the first maintenance depends on colour, location and orientation of the windows. The most durable option is anodizing aluminium, to BS 3987, followed by powder coating to BS 6496, then organic coating to BS 4842.



BS 6510 for steel-framed windows gives guidance on rust protection. Performance in practice will depend on maintaining the integrity of the surface paint finish as well as the thickness of corrosion protection and the environmental corrosivity. The thicker the galvanizing or corrosion protection layer, the longer the expected service life. A 60-micron polyester powder coating to EN 13438 should need maintenance after 10 – 20 years.



Options include aluminium or plastics-clad timber windows. Service life will be similar to equivalent materials mentioned above where the connection or adhesion between the different framing materials is sufficiently robust. Assurances should be sought from manufactures as this issue is not tested directly by standards.



Glazing, hardware and ancillary components

• Insulated glass units to EN 1279. Check for the Kitemark stamp in the spacer bars for additional assurance of performance. Service lives of 25 – 30 years are anticipated for drained and vented glazing systems. BRE publish guidance.

• Gaskets and weather stripping to EN 12365-1 should perform for 10 years at least, when suited to the window and exposure.

• Operational performance of hardware is confirmed by testing to BS 6375–2 and EN 12046-1.

• Mechanical durability is classified by EN 12400.

• Corrosion resistance of hardware to EN 1670. Specify class 3 or 4 for long performance.

• Specify to BS 7950 for enhanced security.



Other whole life cost issues

Suitability for exposure: The performance of the window assembly should be suited to the site. Selection is based on BS 6375 which classifies windows by watertightness, air permeability and resistance to wind.

Supply chain management: organisations with high volume demands for windows can make substantial capital costs savings with an effective supply chain partnering.

Energy: The lower the U–value calculated to BRE Report 433 the greater the energy savings for equal patterns of use.

Interface design: Adequate fixing and allowance for thermal movement. It is important to design out risk of moisture penetration and thermal bridges.



Specification options


  Capital cost
Net present value for 60 years
Service life
Softwood window to BS 644, preserative treated to BS 8417 for 30 years, adhesives to D4 to EN 204. Paint finish. 350 - 420 720 30 - 40
Softwood window as above with maintenance regime to ensure integrity of paint finish to avoid window frame replacement. 350 – 420 670 60 +
PVC–U tilt and turn window, Z275 galvanized steel reinforcement, factory glazed, with third party assurance 370 – 450 532 25 - 40
Steel window to BS 6510, galvanized to ISO 1461 minimum coating thickness 70 microns, polyester powder coated to EN 13438 340 – 420 640 30 - 40
Aluminium window to BS 4873 with polyester powder coating to BS 6496 340 – 410 650 30 - 50
Glass reinforced fibre pultruded window. 330 – 420 590 30 - 60
Aluminium clad softwood window. Aluminium polyester powder coated, softwood preservative treated to BS 8417 for 30 years protection. 330 – 400 650 30 - 50