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There are several players in the window industry and it’s quite complicated depending on which part of the industry we are talking about.
For PVC-U and aluminium you have profile manufacturers. These are the people who make the lengths of PVC-U and aluminium profile that is used to make the windows. The majority of profile manufacturers don’t make windows themselves, other than making up some samples for testing and certification purposes. Instead, they supply the profile to window fabricators. You can therefore gather that there are a few profile manufactures each with many hundreds of window fabricating customers. The fabricators either install their own made-to-measure windows or supply them to preferred specialist installing companies. Some fabricators will do both. In addition, some of the fabricators will supply windows to retail outlets to be bought by the public and the private builder; some will supply to the trade only; some will specialise in supplying very large commercial orders for a new housing estate and yet others will supply windows to anybody who might want them!
As the customer wanting to purchase a window that is certificated to the security and performance standards you must bear in mind that it is the fabricator who must hold the certification in their company name; not the profile company. One of the reasons for this is that although the profile manufacturers encourage their fabricating customers to make windows to their system, some fabricators will want to use a different lock or perhaps different hinges. This may well affect the performance of the windows so they have to be tested again with the different hardware in place. Even if the fabricator sticks exactly to the profile company’s specification, the fabricator still has to submit samples for testing and certification to make sure that they are being made correctly and they are performing as well. In reality the fabricator only has to submit limited samples because the certification authority will accept quite a lot of the previous test results carried out on the profile company’s samples.
As you have already gleaned, installers take made-to-measure windows from their preferred supplier and install them into the building. If you are replacing the windows in your house you will often be dealing with an installer, rather than the actual fabricator of the windows. This is not a problem at all, providing you ensure that you get exactly what you have asked for, the installer provides you with the certification documents you need from the fabricator and they are installed in accordance with the specifications of the fabricator. Therefore an important question you need to ask is “who makes the windows?”
Timber windows are manufactured in joinery shops that make a variety of timber products, such as doors and staircases, but also in enormous factories specialising in the production of just doors and windows. By and large the smaller companies tend to supply the local markets and builders whilst the big ones supply the big contract jobs, like a complete housing estate. Once again, if you are getting your windows from an installing company then you will need to see the evidence that the product is certificated to the standards.
The steel window industry is a relatively small market these days and although they do make windows and doors for new buildings they manufacture a large number of windows for older, often listed buildings. They also take out and completely refurbish old windows and doors, especially if a building carries a grade 1 listing, such as some of the fine ‘art deco’ buildings of the 1920s and 30s. They will supply to all the markets including window installers.
The most recent innovations in windows include timber windows with aluminium cladding and windows made from fibreglass. Aluminium clad windows reduce the amount of maintenance required for the traditional timber window; although it has to be said that timber windows of today are considerably lower maintenance than they used to be. Fibreglass windows are the new boys on the block and the main supplier for these new windows offers a 20 year guarantee on a product that could last for up to 70 years! There is no doubt that sustainability is a key driver in the fenestration industry.
Trade associations for the window industry
If you would like to find out more about the window industry why not check out the websites of the various trade associations?
Operated by the Glass and Glazing Federation, the BFRC is responsible for Window Energy Ratings in the UK
The BPF Windows Group represents the interests of all those involved in the PVC windows industry, including raw material suppliers, additives suppliers, PVC windows suppliers, fabricators and installers
The British Woodworking Federation is the trade association for the woodworking and joinery manufacturing industry in the UK
Formed in 1994 CAB’s members include consultants, fabricators, installers, systems companies and many specialist product supply and manufacturing companies
The DHF represents the interests of manufacturers and installers of industrial, pedestrian and garage doors as well as manufacturers of locks and building hardware.
The Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) is a trade association representing companies who make, supply or fit glass and glass related products
The Steel Window Association (SWA) represents the great majority of UK steel window manufacturers, ranging in size from the smallest of craft-based companies through to large, multi-site companies.