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September - October 2003

Jim Plavecsky The Cutting Edge

It's All in the Framing 
When It Comes to Selling the Ultimate in Thermal Performance
by Jim Plavecsky

When it comes to improving the thermal performance of a window, the use of Pareto’s Principle is helpful. According to the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, 80 percent of the improvement comes from addressing 20 percent of the issues, and is commonly referred to as the 80-20 rule.
There are a few key design areas requiring attention and these will get you to the 80 percent of where you want to be. The area that will have the largest impact initially is the frame. 

Traditional Framing Choices
When it comes to framing, vinyl leads the way with a 45 percent market share followed closely by wood with 42 percent. Likewise, when it comes to insulating glass spacer usage, aluminum spacer is used in only 12 percent of all IG units. According to Ducker Research, “non-rigid” warm-edge products account for 29 percent of all residential insulating glass fabricated, and a significant and ever growing portion of this is non-metal. 

Indeed, many window manufacturers that have previously marketed aluminum windows exclusively, have since broadened their product line, adding vinyl window systems to appeal to this fastest growing segment of the market.

Now vinyl may dominate, but it is not without limitations. The biggest factor holding it back seems to be the limited structural capabilities based upon the design limitations associated with “thermoplastic” materials. The term “thermoplastic” refers to polymeric materials that can be melted and reprocessed repeatedly and are used to make many different commercial products such as milk jugs, grocery bags and siding for homes. In contrast to this, “thermoset” plastics are polymers that are cross-linked or “cured” and cannot be reprocessed as such. In terms of performance, this translates to a much broader degree of temperature resistance, greatly increased structural capabilities and better weather-resistance. An example of the successful use of this technology is the growing success of warm-edge spacers based upon thermoset technology. This imparts the degree of structural integrity necessary to allow the complete removal of metal from the edge seal system, resulting in a high degree of thermal performance without sacrificing the structural integrity of the system.

Alternate Framing Materials
There is also a growing trend toward the use of a new class of materials known as “wood-plastic composites.” This term refers to any composites that contain both wood, of any form, and either thermosets or thermoplastics. 

Wood-thermoplastic composites, which are most often referred to as D&W Windows is using WPC technology in the sunrooms it manufactures. “wood-plastic-composites” or WPCs, evolved from the interfacing of two industries that have historically known very little about each other. Having very different types of expertise and perspectives, the plastics industry and the forest products industry were, in a sense, worlds apart. It was the window industry that brought these two areas together, as wood window manufacturers began integrating PVC windows into their product lines. Out of this union came the birth of the WPC industry.

WPC technology is now making its move into sunrooms. One example is D&W Windows & Enclosures of Davison, Mich. D&W, looking to establish an innovative, leading position in the marketplace, has entered the patio sunroom market with a unique design based upon the use of WPC framing. It has concentrated on removing all aluminum framing from its designs, replacing it where absolutely necessary with galvanized steel, which has lower thermal conductivity than aluminum. 

When it comes to selling innovative fenestration products, potential customers will always respond to designs with enhanced thermal performance. Recent developments in our industry have brought the industry to a whole new level in terms of thermal performance. The use of advanced non-metal components is perhaps the final frontier. 

Jim Plavecsky is the owner of Windowtech Sales Inc., a sales and consulting firm specializing in the window and door industry, which is based in Columbus, Ohio. 

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