Study: Which facade and window materials are really sustainable?

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There are only minor differences in the overall performance of the different materials for use in commercial buildings.

The materials also exhibit only slight differences in overall performance when used in residential buildings.

No holistic studies are available with regard to the sustainability of different facades and window materials. To achieve transparency for clients and investors, Drees & Sommer teamed with PE International to undertake a comprehensive study to assess the sustainability of aluminum, wood and PVC.

The various materials were analyzed in terms of ecological, economic, functional and social criteria. The key finding: No material offers the best sustainability performance across all criteria, and the materials rank almost equal when taking an overall view. The view that wood is the most sustainable facade and window material is widely held. To establish whether this assumption is confirmed when taking all key sustainability factors into account, Drees & Sommer and PE International undertook a holistic study for Europe. The goal of the extensive study was to compare the sustainability performance of the materials commonly used in facade and window construction – aluminum, wood and PVC – based on recognized, practical criteria. Ecological, economic, functional and social criteria are applied on the basis of typical sustainability certification systems for commercial and residential buildings. The experts determined and compared factors including environmental audits, life cycle costs, comfort calculations, and the separability of materials. Reference data for both northern and southern Europe were used to preclude climate-specific influences. The overall findings resulted in an assessment matrix based both on EN 15643/1, the standard for sustainability of buildings, and on the major certification systems.


One of the key findings of the study is that no material consistently offers the best sustainability performance across all criteria. Overall performance varied only some ten percentage points from the average, with all materials performing similarly well. The study also showed that resource requirements and life-cycle costs during the operation phase are of considerable importance. A summary of the study is available for download here:

http://www.dreso.com/uploads/tx_templavoila/Drees___Sommer_Fassadenstudie_2015.pdf

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