A few weeks ago, I shared a 3d image from one of the passive houses we are currently working on and mentioned that we’re importing triple glazed windows.
Little did I realise that this would start a huge online discussion about the effects of importing on the Australian economy and that we should be using high quality local products rather than cheap and inferior products from overseas that would not even have a warranty…
And yes, I totally support this. Australian windows are of a high quality and where we can we recommend Australian manufacturers. But, this is not always feasible for the building of passive houses. Sometimes depending on budget clients need to choose between an energy efficient home verses supporting the Australian economy.
We would never import cheap products from overseas, just to save some money. Also, to clarify, we would never import any products ourselves. But some of our clients decide to import their own building products.
To emphasise this again. We are not importing cheap, crappy windows. For some of our projects the clients import high quality triple glazed windows produced in Europe. Meaning the products themselves are of the highest possible standard. And more importantly, the people in the factory are adults, no child labour. Normal working hours and decent salaries.
Also, we are not importing ourselves. There are several Australian resellers that import windows for a living. So, while the money paid for those windows does not support the Australian economy, at least the Australian reseller has a share.
This also means that the windows come with a warranty.
In an ideal world, if money was not an issue, I (and most of our clients) would happily buy beautiful Australian manufactured triple glazed windows for our passive homes. However, the reality is, due to the higher manufacturing and raw material costs, and the lower quantity produced in Australia, high quality local windows are quite expensive, especially compared to their European counterparts. These countries have been using this technology for quite a while so windows themselves are substantially cheaper. For instance, a triple glazed upvc window in Germany, 1.3 x 1.3m costs about 330 Euro, which equals about 550 AUD.
Wouldn’t we all only use triple glazing if the windows would cost the same in Australia?
Even though the windows themselves are cheaper, obviously you have to pay for the container, shipping, taxes and so on. Meaning if you just need a few windows it is not worth it. But the more windows you need, the more comparable it gets.
We are currently working on a 3 townhouse development, with two double storey and one single storey dwellings. To import triple glazing for all units is only $70,000. Not bad, right? Economy of scale.
The cost of the windows and doors depends largely on the type and number of openings. Luckily when you build a passive house, you don’t need that many openable windows anymore. One openable panel per room is enough.
Sliding doors are more expensive than hinged or French doors. For our own house we have one big glazed element 4.5 metres wide. Currently we have chosen a big sliding door with 2 panes, one fixed and one openable. This door alone will cost us almost $10,000. Whereas if we would change it to a French door or a single hinged door it would only cost around $4,500. In our case, this will be our main exit point to the garden. We have decided to keep the sliding door. Whereas in other areas of the house we have decided against sliding doors in order to save some money.
To simplify, obviously each project is very different and as mentioned above, the type of opening plays a huge role. But by using high quality triple glazing manufactured in Australia you can easily pay well over $100,000, just for the windows alone.
A lot of our clients have a build budget say between 450K and 650K. Meaning they just can’t afford to spend 20 or 25% just on the windows alone. In comparison, the European windows, even when putting the container cost and all other expenses on top, usually range between $40,000 and $70,000 depending on the number of windows and the opening types. I will explain this a bit more later.
If you can get the window cost down to about 10% of your overall build amount, things get much more realistic. But even then, when you have about 500K to build your house and your windows ‘only’ cost $50,000, it can be quite challenging to design and build a beautiful highly energy efficient home. Not everything can be a feature. You have to be mindful of using off the shelf products and standard colours and materials. Otherwise the budget can quickly blow out.
On the other hand, for sure, if you have a build budget of 1 Million or over, getting your beautiful Australian manufactured triple glazed windows for your passive house is not such a problem anymore ?
If it is more important for you to build a really sustainable home then it is preferable that all the products and materials are sourced locally. However this may mean that you can not afford the highest level of energy efficiency.
Others might choose the highest performing products and materials they can afford, even if it means those products are coming from overseas.
In the end there is no wrong or right, just personal preference.
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