Vinyl Windows: John was Right and I was Wrong. I Think.


We are very civilized here at TreeHugger and rarely criticize other writers when we disagree with their posts, and never fight in the comments. (unlike at Grist where you can see Dave Roberts and Jason Scorse go at it hammer and tongs over mercury in CFLs, Go Dave!). However I have always strongly disagreed with a post John Laumer wrote two years ago about vinyl windows. John was perfectly clear about the problems in the manufacture and disposal of PVC (vinyl) windows, but suggested that they last so long, save so much energy, and are such a small percentage of the material in a house that even though vinyl has problems, the advantages rule. "Millions of people with low incomes live with inefficient, uncomfortable windows. Vinyl replacement windows are the most common and easily installed technology for upgrading energy performance affordably."

Being discreet and civilized, I waited a year to counterattack, couched it in "much has changed in a year" and went on to say "it becomes apparent that this seemingly innocuous plastic is one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced." and "PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) is the worst plastic from an environmental health perspective, posing unique and major hazards in its manufacture, product life and disposal." Take that, Laumer!

Exactly another year has passed, and over at the United States Green Building Council, (USGBC), the people who run LEED, a committee has been looking at PVC for a while. They have been under pressure to give credits for the elimination of PVC from buildings, and just came out with their report. They agree that vinyl is evil- but no more so than aluminum or fiberglass or any other material that windows are made from. The LEED people, in the end, could not find justification to credit points for the elimination of vinyl. Many are shocked and disagree, and point out that in the comparison to aluminum they calculated its degree of evil on the basis of virgin aluminum production where almost all aluminum is recycled, but in the end it is hard to argue with the USGBC unless you are Bill McDonough and I am not.

It is hard to swallow this, and it was a two year battle, but in the end I must admit that John was dead on in his assessment and that nothing has changed since except that now we know that the United States Green Building Council agrees with him. I am uncomfortable and unconvinced personally but at this time, I, for one, welcome our new overlord. ::Architectural Record Summary or the 121 page report Assessment of Technical Basis for a PVC-Related Materials Credit ... which crashed my FireFox.

NOTE: this is NOT a blanket release of vinyl from the evil materials department, it is still full of phthalates and should not be in kids mouths and used any more than necessary. The single issue here is windows, which people do not tend to eat, and for which the alternative are far more expensive. We still are on the case with Sam Suds. Even John says "An analysis of pro verus con on the signficant hazards is best done if vinyl products are put into two categories: those with a long design life such as a window or drain pipe and those made to be usd briefly and tossed in the trash such as a plastic wrap or a child's toy. My defense of vinyl is on the former category only. All throw away polymer products are fundamentally unsustainable in my view."