Vinyl framing goes commercial

May 1, 2007
COMMERCIAL : WINDOWS

Green building pushes material forward in some North American markets

The face of commercial window frames in North America could change as architects look to improve building efficiency even more. The answer for a growing number of architects: reinforced vinyl systems.

Aluminum framing systems still capture the large majority of the commercial market. But, “there is a push for vinyl in the green movement. … It saves the forests, it’s recyclable and requires little maintenance,” says Steve Dillon, marketing director for Veka Inc., with North American headquarters in Fombell, Pa.

According to The Vinyl Institute of Arlington, Va., vinyl windows also reduce the heating and cooling costs for a structure. Many suppliers offer frames that have received designation through the Energy Star program, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For more information from The Vinyl Institute, click here.

Vinyl captured 4 percent of the nonresidential market in 1999, and slightly more in 2005, according to the AAMA/WDMA U.S. Industry Market Size Reports, released in 2000 and 2006, respectively, by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association of Schaumburg, Ill., and the Window & Door Manufacturers Association of Des Plaines, Ill.

The recent push for green has made the use of vinyl in such applications even more common, Dillon says, following European builders that have been using the product for nonresidential structures for more than a decade.

“The acceptance of vinyl was much quicker in Europe,” Dillon says. “I don’t think the U.S. market has been as willing to accept vinyl as a viable commercial product. … The need to diversify has changed, and there has been a greater acceptance on the part of architects to look at different materials. As a result, this has been a great emerging market for us.”

Jeff Baker, president of WestLab Canada in West London, Ontario, says he has seen vinyl pick up steam for nonresidential applications in specific North American markets. “It is a trend I see happening in certain jurisdictions—markets such as Vancouver, or Seattle where they enforce some commercial energy requirements,” Baker says.

However, Baker points out that vinyl systems have to be reinforced for use in nonresidential applications. The steel or aluminum generally used to strengthen the vinyl systems degrades the energy performance, he says.

Charlie Gould, engineer for Starline Windows of Langley, British Columbia, agrees. “The energy picture is not as pretty when you take into account the steel reinforcements,” he says.

To achieve the best performance of a building, Gould emphasizes that architects must look to improve the whole building envelope, rather than just changing one product.

“Most of the vinyl window designs are not properly thought out for the way people are trying to use them in North America,” Gould says. “Very few people sit down and use materials to their best advantage in the building envelope package, taking into account ventilation and thermal performance.”

Several companies will display their nonresidential vinyl products at the AIA Convention May 3-5 in San Antonio, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects of Washington, D.C.

For a list of other window companies exhibiting at the AIA show, click here.

See next week’s issue of e-glass weekly for coverage of the AIA convention, and read daily updates from the expo on our blog.

—By Katy Devlin, e-newsletter Editor, e-glass weekly