Why would a social housing provider choose timber windows and doors over other materials? What are challenges and best practice solutions? Robert Panou, Development Director at Bron Afon Community Housing, talks about their approach for new developments in Wales.
The development team have acknowledged the environmental, performance and aesthetic benefits of timber windows for a while, but have always faced resistance from repairs and asset colleagues – who feared the return of the rotten soft-wood windows of the 1980s. We were lucky enough to be involved with Pentan Architects on a development of 14 units who came up with a novel timber slatted balcony system that provided privacy to upper floor flats, yet reduced the costs with having to heat and clean closed communal spaces.
My repairs and asset colleagues therefore had no choice to review the challenges and benefits of working with time. Wood Knowledge Wales provided expert advice to allay any maintenance fears they had regarding wood products. They were so keen afterwards, they asked me what else we could use so I naturally said windows.
At first I was nervous, but it was actually quite easy. We operate design and build contracts for our new builds so choosing the suppliers is often left to the contractor. To ensure bidding contractors priced the right product and were not put-off from bidding by having to find their own suppliers I worked with Wood Knowledge Wales to identify suitable suppliers and draft an appropriate specification. They were able to put me in touch with a wood specialist who drafted a specification that dove-tailed our standard suite of contract documents. Wood Knoweldge Wales helped arrange a meet-the-suppliers event. These suppliers were then named in the tender document and tendering contractors were encouraged to contact them. As the suppliers were expecting to be contacted there were no additional or complicated delays to pricing the works.
The main challenge was winning the hearts and minds of my repairs colleagues. Everytime I mentioned timber windows or balconies they practically lynched me. They were worried that they would have to spend the next 20 years sanding, filling and painting them. Others were worried that they would need replacing in 5 years. They had become fearful of the softwood windows of the 1980s and conditioned to think plastic is best. I was determined to change their minds and experts, accessed through Wood Knowledge Wales, were able to beat down every misconception. More importantly we were able to do it face-to-face so instead of me relaying the message, my colleagues were able to meet with Wood Knowledge Wales directly.
Naturally they will be more environmentally friendly and deliver excellent thermal performance to reduce tenant fuel bills. Most importantly for me though is the aesthetics. Why should social housing tenants have to live in pattern-book houses, with out-of-the catalogue plastic windows.
Timber windows will provide a better feel and look and ensure the houses don’t look like ‘council houses’ but well designed and though-out homes. Interestingly, it wasn’t until after Wood Knowledge Wales met with my repair colleagues – but for them, they’re easier to repair, particularly from malicious damage so there will be a cost saving to us too!
Don’t give up. I people say no, find out why they saying no and then challenge their opinions with expert facts – preferably face to face in a room.