Steel windows’ split personality

Darren Lloyd of the Steel Window Association looks ahead at how the separate properties inherent to steel windows help them take key new roles beyond the pandemic

The terms ‘heritage,’ ‘high performance’ or even ‘futuristic’ are all applicable to the products on offer from members of the Steel Window Association (SWA). This helps explain the diversity of the project types they are involved in undertaking, and the relatively positive position in which the organisation finds itself as a challenging year draws to an end.

The SWA is unusual amongst construction industry trade bodies in that members work together in a truly collaborative way, not just lobbying legislators, but on continued testing and joint new product development, while also ensuring the robustness of what is an international supply chain. Furthermore, with varying skillsets, areas of speciality and regional spread, the companies ensure the entire UK and all of the sectors are covered.

Despite numbers of their staff having been furloughed during the early months of the pandemic, when much of the construction industry was forced to cease work, all SWA member companies are now back to something approaching their pre-Covid level of activity, and are managing to keep lead times on orders at an operable level.

This project-friendly state of affairs is partly due to the fact that sub-contractors, like the galvanisers and powder coating specialists, have continued operations serving a wider client base. Also, there have been no serious interruptions to the supply of hot-rolled steel profiles from the manufacturers.

While there have been widely reported shifts within the UK economy – most notably in terms of retail and the proportion of employees continuing to work from home – the consequential effects actually present fresh opportunities for steel window and door manufacturers.

Estate agents have noted a definite desire amongst many purchasers wanting to relocate to larger homes in rural locations, including those seeking to move from apartment blocks to houses with their own garden.

Although steel windows have not been the fenestration solution of choice for the volume developers since the mid-20th century, they are widely found in period properties which also tend to benefit from larger outside space than estate houses. Older stock is therefore likely to continue providing SWA members with a steady stream of refurbishment work, especially where conservation rules or listed status dictates like-for-like replacement: generally involving use of the traditional SMW profiles or upgrading to W30 profiles for improved thermal efficiency. And where owners are carrying out alterations or extending buildings, there is often a demand for new doors or windows which closely match the existing. For example, many Victorian and Edwardian homes have had their kitchen or living spaces opened up through the installation of steel framed screens incorporating double doorsets.

Alternatively, several members are able to carry out detailed restoration work, often involving the insitu repair of even the earliest metal windows, including wrought iron frames and those containing leaded lights. Aiding them in this work is a manufacturer which produces a comprehensive selection of architectural ironmongery and brassware in both traditional and contemporary finishes – such as ‘oil-rubbed’ brass.

A further work stream is expected to come through the repurposing of old high street stores or office buildings, where conversion to residential use – without sacrificing their architectural integrity – is likely to require an upgrade from W20 or earlier Universal Suite windows to W30 or W40 units – delivering far better thermal efficiency. Significantly, the selection of systems available through the SWA enables consultants and their clients to bring the energy performance of refurbishment or remodelling work within the requirements of Part L of the Building Regulations.

Another of the Approved Documents, Part B which covers fire performance, was revised two years ago, changing the way in which internal doorsets of all types are tested, so that now under BS476 Part 22 (1987) Clause 8 they must be subjected to fire on both sides. Unfortunately, this has caused a backlog of work for the UK’s accredited laboratories; and although the SWA has successfully concluded indicative testing on window elements, along with their beading, full certification for such internal applications is not expected until next year.

Of course, one of the key reasons why both specifiers and building occupants are very keen on steel fenestration is its robustness and heightened security; which is why in commercial and retail applications, where high value contents must be protected, steel is the primary option for fabricating ‘bandit resistant’ screens. Extending this benefit still further across the market, SWA is well advanced with development work to make multipoint locking available for inclusion within all the suites of profiles, enhancing resistance to both jemmying and ‘hard body impacts.’

Finally, it is anticipated that the continuing development work being conducted on the W50 TB suite – where the dual section profiles are physically split by a high-performance thermal break, providing far better energy performance and a striking personality of their own – will lead to increased use on apartment complexes and commercial buildings.

Looking ahead, with the expectation that the economy will follow the 2021-22 growth profile projected by the IMF, the SWA intends to continue being proactive in its dealings with the market. Across its membership, there remains sufficient capacity to deliver projects for clients in all construction sectors.

Darren Lloyd is the president of the Steel Window Association