(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the construction industry
In the early and mid 1990s, many people left the construction industry because there just wasn't enough work to go around. Other businesses failed. The main problems faced by the industry were caused by:
- a weak economy - people spend less money on things like home improvements when they feel that they are not well off
- a slow housing market - fewer house purchases and new homes built mean fewer opportunities for window installers
Conditions improved during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The middle of the 2000s saw very strong demand for all types of building services, as people with plenty of money but not much time spent large amounts on building, extending, renovating and generally improving their houses. The only problem was finding enough skilled people to do the work - an influx of eastern European migrants helped, although some trades-people complained that they undercut established businesses.
Unfortunately, the housing market boom came to an abrupt end in 2008 as the economy weakened. This caused an inevitable downturn in demand for building services like window installation and conservatories. Conditions remained difficult for many during the early 2010s. Although there was still work available for good quality reputable installers, they had to make more effort than ever to make sure that potential new customers chose their business. The economy and the housing market started to pick up during the second part of 2013 and the recovery continued strongly through 2014 and into the first half of 2015 because of wages going up, low interest rates, falling oil prices and people's confidence in their employment prospects.
The recovery slowed in the second half of 2015 and the slowdown continued into 2016. The Brexit vote in June of that year, followed by the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations, led to economic growth weakening further towards the end of the year and throughout 2017. As forecast, the economic slowdown continued in 2018 and no change is expected in 2019 or 2020. The construction industry saw little growth from 2016 onwards. New private industrial orders fell and any growth was dependent on an increase in infrastructure activity and private housebuilding offsetting a sharp fall in the commercial and industrial sectors. This pattern is expected to continue into 2019.
Growth in the door and window sector in 2017 was down on the previous year, in line with slowing growth rates for the construction market as a whole. It is forecast that for 2018 onwards price pressure and strong competition will mean that what little growth there is will be dependent on improving housing and construction markets. In such a competitive market it is very important for window fitters to run their businesses professionally and efficiently - and to offer customers excellent service and value for money.
Materials prices saw some sharp rises during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Fuel prices also increased rapidly, making it more and more costly for installers to run their business vehicles. The mid 2010s saw fuel prices and general inflation fall back but prices rose again following the Brexit vote due to the fall in the value of the pound. As a result, Inflation rose and the cost of imports increased.
Alternatives to wood
Not so very long ago, wood was the standard material for making almost all exterior fixtures such as doors and windows, fascias, decorative trims and so on. Steel and aluminium windows have also been popular in the past. However, plastic (PVC-u) is now a very popular low maintenance domestic alternative. Modern styles, including 'heritage' ranges and a range of colours and effects achieved using laminated foils, have made plastic windows an attractive option for many householders who might previously have opted for wood on aesthetic grounds. While PVC-u is an excellent alternative to wood, its long lifespan has led to longer replacement cycles for many items.
Although plastic double glazed windows are seen by many as a 'green' option because of their insulating and energy saving properties, PVC itself is not an environmentally friendly material. In an effort to improve its image, the PVC-u industry has made efforts to recycle more of its products.
Energy efficiency and sustainable construction
The last decade or so has seen growing concern about the environment, climate change and energy efficiency. More and more householders and businesses are opting for energy saving and renewable technologies. Building techniques have also been affected, with 'sustainable construction' becoming increasingly important. More and more designers and architects are adopting quite a radical new approach to building and requiring new structures to be 'zero carbon' in terms of energy use and emissions. Of course, well designed windows and doors play a key part in all this.
Sharp rises in energy prices during the late 2000s and the 2010s boosted demand for high-performance energy-efficient windows in both new build and retro-fit applications as people made investments to save money over the long term.
New rules introduced in 2015 require domestic landlords to upgrade the overall energy efficiency of their properties to at least band E by 2018 in order to be able to accept new tenants or renew an existing tenancy. This is likely to benefit the replacement window industry, as fitting energy-efficient windows is often one of the easiest and most cost effective methods of upgrading energy performance.
Building Regulations and quality standards
Since April 2002, both new and replacement installations of windows and doors have been subject to the requirements of Building Regulations. Among other things, these specify that the insulation performance of the new units must meet certain minimum standards. The required standards have been tightened up several times since 2002. Installers have a choice of gaining building control approval for every installation or becoming a member of a self-certification organisation like FENSA or Certass. Fitters must be able to provide evidence of a window's energy performance - either its 'U value' or it's A+ to G window energy rating.
For many years, the construction industry as a whole has been plagued by unqualified 'cowboys'. Much has been done in recent years to rid the industry of these cowboys and improve standards. For example, the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) enables workers from many different areas of the industry to demonstrate to would-be clients and employers that they have relevant training and qualifications. The government-backed TrustMark scheme, which covers many areas of the construction industry including the glazing sector, was launched in June 2005 as a means of helping consumers to find reliable and trustworthy tradespeople.
2007 saw the introduction of compulsory energy performance certificates for house sellers, and the requirement was later extended to residential landlords. Items covered by the certificate include properly fitted and certified double glazing.
In 2010 the voluntary Double Glazing and Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme (DGCOS) was launched to provide consumers with peace of mind and an effective mediation service. You can find out more on the DGCOS website.
Minimum technical competencies
In 2012 the government introduced a new requirement that window businesses operating under a competent person certification scheme must demonstrate that their installers and surveyors have the necessary knowledge, skills and experience - referred to as 'minimal technical competencies' (MTCs) - to do their job properly. A number of card-based assessment schemes have been set up to enable installers to demonstrate MTC compliance.
Consumer protection regulations
In June 2014 some important changes were made to consumer protection rules to improve consumer rights and give people better protection against unscrupulous sellers. Some of the key changes included new rules on providing pre-contract information to customers, a doubling of the cooling-off period for off-premises contracts (meaning those agreed at a customer's home or workplace) from seven to 14 days, and new rules covering additional charges made to customers.
Consumer protection legislation was updated again in October 2015.
Keeping up with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with the latest developments in your industry. The main association serving the glazing industry in the UK is the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF). You can contact the GGF through their website. The Guild of Master Craftsmen represents tradespeople in a number of different construction sectors, including window fitters.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another excellent way of keeping abreast of developments in the window and glazing business. For example, Windows Active is published monthly and includes industry news and features of interest to fabricators and installers.