There are a number of manufacturers that continue to label and/or advertise their products with incorrect information....
Once upon a time in a land not so far away the fenestration industry did as they pleased. A time when window and door manufacturers had little concern for how they built their products; the objective was to be the most competitive in the marketplace. The product availability was limited and the designs were quite typical from supplier to supplier. It was only a few decades ago a thin metal framed window with single glazing was not unusual to see in a new Canadian home. Heating your home was cheap, reducing emissions was a rare term, a footprint was something you left in the sand, high performance products were limited, home designs were much simpler, and dad told you to put on a sweater if you were cold. The competitiveness may not have changed, but the product has.
Through the late 70’s and early 80’s the industry began to evolve with the wider availability of insulated dual pane sealed units, the introduction of the thermal break in the aluminum window frame, change was in the air. Window manufacturers started to see the need to provide improvements and performance. This was driven largely by the consumer, company marketing, and some government intervention. Even with these improvements fenestration was still not a great thermal performer. During these 20 years building codes arrived with BC adopting the National Building Code in 1973 and the BC Building Code in 1981, the window manufacturer was faced with improving their designs to meet air infiltration, water ingress and structural performance.
The 90s arrived, along with them came the growth of the green movement. We were being told and shown almost daily that we were not taking care of our planet. The consumer became much more aware and began to ask for improved products that would reduce energy costs, reduce their footprint, provide more comfort, add curb appeal, and last longer. The window and door manufacturer needed to evolve, all while keeping product costs in check.
The industry responded, glass suppliers brought low emissive coatings to residential glass, warm edge sealed unit spacer systems using plastics, silicone foam, stainless steel and butyls were everywhere, thermal break was standard for aluminum frames, and of course, the north American uPVC (vinyl) window frame became a common offering. I remember it well, “you can’t build windows out of plastic!!!”. The fact is they have been doing it in Europe for well over 50 years, and very successfully I would add.
In the last twenty years there have been numerous improvements. There are many new frame designs, foam filled frame cavities, insulated fiberglass door slabs, fiberglass window frames, composite window and door frame materials, thermally improved spacers, glazing cavity gas filling, triple and quad glazing, suspended glazing films, and improved glass coatings including recent advancements with interior fourth surface Low E coatings. There are many window and glazing designs today that can push U-values well into, and below, the 1.0 range (W/(m2*k)), or a 5.5 R value. Although this is still the largest thermal hole in the home, it is significantly improved from thirty years ago when a typical product would be around a 4.5 U-value (1.25 R-value).
Many companies offer a variety of higher performing products, but the challenge is always the cost. Providing an accurate return on investment is difficult, as there are many factors beyond just the window or door. The amount of glazing, type of glazing, building orientation, building design, product installation, and of course the quality of the product, all have a large impact on the performance.
There are groups working to provide direction on what can and must be used in a project. For example in British Columbia we have Energy Star as well as the BC Energy Efficiency Act.
Energy Star is a voluntary national program that provides a comparison of products and their performance via thermal testing and computer simulations. There are government funded rebate programs that come and go, such as livesmart and eco-energy, offering incentives that require Energy Star rated products for the renovation market. Although helpful, these programs tend to create an erratic volume of business for those in the renovation market as they start and stop.
The BC EEA is a provincial law that stipulates what thermal performance levels fenestration products must meet to be used in any project in BC. Although the required performance is not as good as the lowest Energy Star zone, it does specify better thermal performing products than we saw only a few years ago.
Both of these programs have helped to improve the thermal performance of windows and doors among the companies that follow the rules. The difficulty is these programs work with limited funding creating challenges policing and enforcing their own policies. Unfortunately there are a number of manufacturers that continue to label and/or advertise their products with incorrect information, as well as some that simply ignore the requirements of both programs. This leads to confused consumers and challenges manufacturers that are spending the dollars to play by the rules, all the while losing jobs to those that do not.
It is imperative the consumer does their research. The variety of offerings is endless, as is the performance one should expect. A good manufacturer will spend the time to explain the options and what the specific project needs to achieve the desired results. A triple glazed high thermal performing window with low water ingress ratings is likely not the most cost effective choice in Vancouver, while it might be the very best choice in Prince George.
There are many reputable manufacturers making very efficient products today that will provide exceptional performance. The key is to understand your particular project needs, and use quality products capable of delivering the desired results. Do that and you will live happily ever after.
Terry Adamson has worked in the window and door industry since 1985, an avid industry supporter, and member of multiple associations. Employed with Westeck Windows in Chilliwack BC, and director with WDMA-BC for past 8 years, serving as Association president for the last two years. His particular interest is the challenges facing manufacturers by codes, laws, regulations and their inconsistent compliance and enforcement between jurisdictions.