• Demand for greater durability is a driver for the wood window coatings business.
• Councils are asking for life cycle assessments of products.
• High-performance woodstains can offer maintenance savings.
• The trend towards opaque products is growing.

“Everything needs maintenance,” says Sikkens business development manager Geoff Taylor. And he’s right: when it comes to timber windows, there’s no such thing as maintenance-free.

Wood or plastic, aluminium or composite, all windows need looking after – leave one in situ for 15 years without maintenance, and it will need some work to restore its performance levels to original levels.

But the performance of wood windows against the elements has improved hugely, partly due to manufacturing innovations, but also because of developments within the coatings arena.

“Because we’re in the top end of the market, it’s simply not good enough to sell a tin with a coating in it – you have to sell the things around it,” said Mr Taylor. “Coatings perform differently in different settings and we need to make sure there is appropriate guidance for the end user. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach.”

High-performance products

The drive for greater durability is having a dramatic effect on the coatings market for timber windows. A push for more sustainable practices, and a growing number of specifiers actively seeking products with a lower environmental impact, is resulting in a shift towards water-based, high-performance products.

“Whereas, historically, water-based woodstains didn’t offer the same levels of durability as their solvent-based counterparts, this is no longer the case,” said Dawn Bailey, marketing manager for Dulux Trade, which now offers high-performance water-based alternatives across all product categories.

“These water-based products continue to grow in popularity,” said Ms Bailey. “Dulux Trade Weathershield Aquatech Woodstain, for example, is a high-performance water-based product that can protect exterior wood for up to six years.”

This durability in itself is a key point, particularly when it comes to cost and sustainability. If redecoration isn’t required as frequently, the carbon footprint over the life of the building is greatly reduced – both from a product and an application perspective.

By decorating every five years instead of every three, for example, elements such as embodied carbon in the product, the environmental impact of decoration (vans, travel etc) and left over paint and waste packaging are significantly reduced over time.

“Specifiers are therefore looking to products such as Weathershield Aquatech Woodstain as not only is it a water-based product,” explained Ms Bailey, “but the superior durability of the coating can extend maintenance cycles – meeting duties of care in terms of best value and environmental impact.”

Water-borne factory finishing

Geoff Taylor agrees that in recent years there has been a trend towards water-borne products in factory finishing.

“Certain councils are now asking for life cycle assessments as people want informed guidance about a product,” he explained. “This is only available from technical information produced by an independent source: in that way you can trace from concept to the end of life of a product.

“People want more and more information about the product. It’s no longer good enough to take the phrase ‘it’s water-borne so it must be greener’ at face value; you have to look into it in greater detail.”

Retailers like The Green Shop are enjoying a bounty period as customers look for more eco-friendly alternatives. The Bisley-based retailer provides a range of sustainable and ecological products. “People who have chemical sensitivities may not want to have any solvents involved at all, whereas someone who wants to have a breathable product that provides a good finish may go for something like an OSMO product,” explained Bryan Roe, who looks after the paints and wood finishes parts of the business.

When it comes to durability, The Green Shop recommends the Holkham range of linseed paints for external finishes, although, said Mr Roe, they need to be applied to bare wood which isn’t always the case for many customers who want to paint on top of an existing coating.

Made from 100% pure linseed oil, the Holkham paints are derived from renewable and sustainable resources. They contain natural pigments and have no added solvents.

“A large part of our customer base is looking for more eco-friendly alternatives,” said Mr Roe. “They’ve either wised up to not wanting the toxins involved in ordinary paint or recognised the fact that some of the old technologies, like the Holkham range, actually marry efficacy and ecology.”

Durable coatings

Clearly, using highly durable coatings is key. Exterior decoration can be a major undertaking for any individual or business. It’s labour intensive and additional costs, such as scaffolding, can soon add up – particularly if work is disrupted by changeable weather.

“It’s therefore extremely important that any coatings applied are as durable as possible, so an organisation is saved from this major disruption and expense for as long as possible,” said Ms Bailey.

High-performing woodstains offer particularly impressive Labour Theory of Value figures. Specialist exterior products offer exceptional durability, allowing an organisation to extend its maintenance cycles. “The long-term cost savings of being able to extend maintenance cycles from, say, four to six years is considerable,” said Ms Bailey. “Labour is the largest cost element of any redecoration programme – if over a 30-year period you employ contractors five, rather than seven times, the savings really add up.”

Dulux Trade’s own calculations estimate that, by specifying a performance woodstain over a standard woodstain, and thus extending maintenance cycles from four to six years, an organisation will achieve cost savings of around 28%. A comparison between using a standard gloss paint versus a performance woodstain shows a huge 56% cost saving.

“This is, in the most part, down to the properties of a woodstain,” said Bailey. “Woodstains are more flexible than standard paints and expand and contract with any natural movement in the wood, meaning they are more resistant to peeling, flaking and blistering. This ability to move with the wood also protects the substrate from water ingress, via a chipped or blistered coating.”

These inherent properties mean that, when it comes to the next decoration cycle, there will be less preparation required than if the substrate has previously been coated with a gloss paint.

“Often, the woodstain will require just a gentle rub down before re-coating, whereas it is more likely that partial removal will be required with any standard gloss coating, increasing the preparation time and, of course, the associated labour and access costs,” said Ms Bailey.

Whole life costs

South Shropshire Housing Association, for example, is using Weathershield Aquatech Opaque across its housing stock. It estimates that, once this first cycle is complete, it will save more than 25% a year in labour costs from not having to strip down again.

Meanwhile, Sikkens has opted for a partnering approach with its maintenance programmes. “We’ve developed a planned maintenance approach, which means that the specifier or window manufacturer will agree to undertake a system specified by us,” explained Mr Taylor. “They, in turn, would pass on to their clients a maintenance programme which requires us to look up the windows after a set period of time, based on exposure, aspects and elevation.

“We would rather take a partnering approach with a joinery or window manufacturer to produce a coating system that fits their customers’ requirements. This has meant a different way of selling over the last couple of years, because rather than sell a product, we are selling a service.”

Mr Roe said light greys and greens are proving popular at the moment, although the bulk of people are still looking for standard white and magnolia.

“There is a greater trend towards opaque products away from translucent woodstains. It’s not dramatic but it’s been a growing trend in the last few years. People don’t look at wood windows in a woodstain colour; they look at wood windows with a paint on. This may be consistent in the decrease of the PVCu market, as people want wood windows with a white paint on as a substitute.”