“We used to view ourselves as a window and door company,” says Benjy Simmons, “but we understand now that we’re actually a building performance company.”
When Teulo last sat down with Benjy in 2021, Stärke Windows & Doors was busy innovating to meet the updated H1/AS1 regulations around thermal performance. There has been no such thing as business as usual since, he says. “We’ve seen huge change in the industry over the last couple of years, and we’ve been proud to lead that change. Back in 2021, most of the discussion was around shifting from aluminium to thermally broken aluminium, but we’ve bucked that trend and established ourselves as the go-to suppliers of high-performance uPVC windows in New Zealand.”
uPVC is a high-performance plastic window frame material that Stärke has rolled out in a new product range called Stärke Ambiance, Benjy says. “Performance-wise, our base uPVC product, with its R-value of .74, is around 50% better than most thermally broken windows produced in New Zealand, which offer R-values of around R-0.5. That difference equates to an exponential improvement in heat retained. For builders who are trying to comply with the updated H1/AS1 regulations, that improvement can make a massive difference in the thermal performance of the whole build, and prevent the need for costly upgrades elsewhere through elements like roof insulation.”
From an occupant perspective, Benjy says that uPVC retains heat better, prevents draughts and eliminates condensation. “Even with thermally broken windows, you will still typically find them cold to the touch, and sometimes damp or draughty due to air leakages.” uPVC sits somewhere between thermally broken aluminium and timber on both performance and price, Benjy says. “There are comprehensive international studies about these three materials and most agree that, overall, timber performs the best, particularly from a sustainability perspective. But it’s still prohibitively expensive for many use cases. uPVC performs extremely well, but can also be produced in a cost-effective way. It was historically viewed as a high-end option for wealthy homeowners and passive houses but, with the benefit of scale, we’re now able to implement it in projects like townhouse developments for first-home buyers.”
Most recently, Stärke has been able to implement its uPVC Ambience range in Mountain Vista Estate and Sullivan terrace houses, both in Māngere. “With both of these projects, we’ve been able to make a difference for first-home buyers who might not normally be able to afford a luxury home. We’ve also watched with interest as Kāinga Ora has recently implemented uPVC windows in their Bader Ventura Passive House Pilot. From my perspective, it’s been fantastic to see. The more industry alignment, the better for all of us who are working hard to educate Kiwis about the benefit of these products.”
Stärke has recently opened a new factory capable of producing 2,000 windows per month, and Benjy says the team is working quickly to get their manufacturing capacity up to that volume. “At peak operation, we’re looking at producing enough windows for 2,000 Kiwi families a year. We’re ramping up to that now; from there we’ll be looking to get to 4,000. There’s a big market out there where uVPC still has only a small market share; we need to get these products into Kiwi homes.”
Benjy says he is passionate about changing perceptions of what New Zealand’s housing stock can be. “All the rooms in your house should be able to be warm all the time without costing the earth; for many Kiwis, that still seems like an impossible dream. Over 50% of our heat is lost through windows and doors, with nearly 90% of heat gained the same way. Of all the building elements, windows and doors are the problem, and therefore the opportunity... We chose the name Ambiance as a counterpoint to the traditional idea of selling windows and doors on their aesthetics alone. Our priority is about how it feels to be inside the space. There’s no point in being cold to the bone while you’re enjoying the view.
“We’ve experienced a big shift in thinking at Stärke as we have reimagined ourselves as a building performance company. We realised that the products we’re supplying are literally controlling how occupants experience those spaces; if they’re cold or mouldy or kids are getting sick. What we’re supplying is either creating or solving those problems. And we can’t keep letting New Zealand families get poor performance, bad health and high energy costs locked into their homes.”
After a busy couple of years innovating and laying the groundwork, Benjy says that Stärke is now ready to provide Ambiance at a significant scale. “This product is perfect for group-home builders, retirement villages and off-site manufacturers. We want to see more volume builders capitalising on the 2,000 windows a month we can produce in our new Auckland factory, and we’re eagerly inviting people to come here and learn more. We have an experience centre with educational content and product samples that sits alongside our existing aluminium factory and our new Ambiance production facility next door. It’s the largest and most sophisticated uPVC manufacturing plant in Australasia: fully automated and beautiful to watch.”
Stärke will continue to explore ways to improve building performance in the years ahead, Benjy says, even if those explorations push the limits of their core business. “I hope that we’ll be talking about affordable, sustainable timber windows and doors when I sit down with Teulo again in 2 years. In 5-10 years, I know we’ll also be looking at other areas of the market where we can improve building performance, even if that takes us somewhere totally new. We know that windows and doors are currently the biggest building performance issue. When we’ve solved that, we’ll look for the next biggest issue on the list.”
To learn more and connect with Benjy, visit starke.co.nz, schedule a uPVC Ambience presentation by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 09 279 8617 to schedule a visit at a Stärke experience centre (currently available in Auckland, rolling out nationwide through the second half of 2023).