A New View
Product Advances Bring Moveable Glass Wall
Systems into New Spaces
by Ellen Rogers
Flip your remote to any home improvement TV channel and
you’ll soon enough hear a certain catch phrase: outdoor living. It’s been
a trend for years. By now, consumers have embraced the available resources
to enhance the outdoor area of their homes. Lucky for the fenestration
industry, these enhancements can include the all-glass look, made possible
with operable glass door and systems.
An Evolving Market
These products, which include systems such as lift-and-slides and folding
doors, were once deemed solely for the uber-rich. But manufacturers say
this is changing, thanks in part to product innovations and advances.
Still, as with any other product, there’s a lot to think about and plan
for to ensure the demands for their systems continue to escalate.
Operable glass wall systems have come a long way over the past few decades.
Not surprising, many of these changes tie into the increasingly stringent
demands for energy performance.
As Cooper Buranen with Las Vegas-based Panda Windows and Doors points
out, much of these technology/engineering advances are in the door assembly/aluminum
“We use thermally broken frames, which offer a good thermal barrier,”
Buranen says. “A lot has been done in the last few years and has helped
grow [the market] in colder climates.” He adds that there has also been
a tremendous amount of advancement on the glass side.
“The technology is amazing in glass nowadays,” he says.
According to Matt Thomas, marketing manager for Nanawall in Mill Valley,
Calif., much of the growth around the product segment ties into performance
and creating a greater range of usage. This includes weather resistance,
energy, and durability. He says, in fact, these products can reach R-values
of triple-glazed products, even in the upper territories of Canada.
Derek Lukala, senior technical sales with Tiltco, in Newmarket, Ontario,
Canada, points out, “We’re seeing the consumers becoming more educated
and aware of the energy efficiency of windows. That’s pushing us to stay
up-to-date on glass technologies.”
Energy advances aside, potential customers in, let’s say, the upper Midwest
or the Northern territories of Canada, may still be leery of such a product.
After all, they may think that massive glass walls just aren’t conducive
to cold climates.
Wrong, the experts say. Thanks to technological advances, such as thermal
breaks and high-performance glass, these systems can and are being used
in every climate range, from the most temperate to the coldest.
LaCantina Doors in Vista, Calif., is a manufacturer of folding doors that
started in Australia about 15 years ago and has operated in the United
States for about eight years. Lee Maughan, general manager, says they
do much of their work in Southern California, and are starting to expand
into other regions.
“[You see these systems on] every corner in Australia. There are no geographic
constraints,” he says pointing out how common they are, even in typically
cold areas, such as Melbourne, Victoria, in the southern part of the country.
“I think we could see the same here one day.”
Lukala says there’s been a misLukala says there’s been a misconception
that having a large glass area can be detrimental to the performance of
the home. He says there is glass technology available, though, that can
perform as well as a triple glazing in a dual-glazed unit.
“Of course, much still has to do with the placement of the window and
the orientation of the house,” Lukala adds. “Everyone desires a view,
but you don’t want to be cold. These systems can offer minimal sitelines
as well as condensation resistance and energy performance.”
Likewise, it’s not just energy performance these products can offer. They
can also meet other performance requirements. Thomas says, for example,
his company has seen significant growth in northern markets.
“This is due to our continual refinement of the product to adapt to colder
climates, giving those homeowners the same warm-weather benefits/capabilities
that the southern climate homeowners have year-round,” he says. And speaking
of other performance features, he adds, “It continues to be a surprise
to me where these products show up. After Hurricane Irene hit the Northeast
a lot of homeowners there said repeatedly how well their systems held
up from the storm.” However, Thomas is quick to point out that while there
is an increased demand in the Northeast the mainstay for these products
remains warmer climates, particularly Southern California.
Moveable glass wall systems historically have been used most often in
high-end, luxury homes, as well as some high-rise condos and some commercial
applications, such as storefronts. The high-end market has continued to
be a key focus for suppliers
“Most of the projects are the $3 million-plus custom homes, but we also
do high-rise condos,” says Buranen.
Maughan says historically his company’s customer base has been high-end
clientele, but they are starting to see that going more toward the mass
“But awareness is the first thing. Many still do not know what folding
doors are. As the awareness grows the products will become more competitive
and the prices will start to come down,” he says “I can see it veering
away from just the high-end customer, as we want to see [it possible]
for everyone to [have such a system]. It’s a fun product, a lifestyle
product … it opens spaces and changes lives.”
This, some say, is starting to happen.
Operable glass wall systems may never be sold at a price on par with the
traditional French doors, but manufacturers say they are starting to see
a shift in the market. These products gradually are making their way into
more moderately priced homes—at least moderately priced compared to the
multi-million dollar homes in which they started.
Tiltco, for example, recently added a sliding door system that’s a mid-range
price point. “It has movable panels, up to five on each slide,” says Lukala.
“So it’s an evolution of the operable wall system and gives a mid-price
He explains that his company did not previously offer a typical slider
system that could be used most anywhere; this new system, he says, allows
them to offer a more cost-effective product.
“Our focus was not to take away from the high end, but provide another
choice … [the new product] is coherent with our current product line so
we’re here to give the full package,” says Lukala. “We’re not looking
to re-define our product line [we saw a need for a mid-range product]
… if you want to provide everything in house you have to have products
to meet all price ranges—no matter the budget.”
When it comes to getting their products installed, manufacturers agree
that their first move is to reach the architects, as they want to be specified
on the project. But it’s also important to maintain close relationships
with dealers and distributors, as well as their own salespeople, to help
“We work with our dealers very closely,” Buranen says, explaining that
dealers help keep them informed on the manufacturing end what customers
are looking for and asking about.
Likewise, many manufacturers also maintain showrooms, another helpful
“These allow us to show the quality of the products,” says Buranen. “The
benefits of a showroom are that at any time someone can see, touch and
play with the product; they can experience the difference in [this type
of product compared to others] especially when they are looking at other
options. It’s a way for the product to sell itself,” adds Buranen.
As with any other segment of the residential construction market, suppliers
of these systems say they, too, have seen the downturn in the market—though
perhaps not to the same extent as mainstream America.
“We’ve been affected, but the people with money still have money,” says
Buranen. “Those who are buying from us held onto their purse strings for
a while, but now sales are starting to increase so we’re seeing more comfort
in spending either on an existing home or new building again.”
Thomas says that while the commercial segment has been up, residential
has been down, but now is seeing a comeback.
“Residential absolutely took a hit,” he says. “But it’s evolved from new
construction to retrofits and renovations; little is happening as far
as new homes. Homeowners are staying put and putting money into what they
Recognizing this, Thomas says his company underwent a marketing change
from 2008-2009. In addition to seeing the increase in renovations he says
his company also saw another trend among smaller homes. “[Those homeowners]
are updating what they already have to better utilize the space,” he says.
“We’re seeing a trend toward a better utilization of space … [creating
an] all around usable space.”
desires a view, but you don’t want to be cold.
These systems can offer minimal sitelines as well as condensation resistance
and energy performance."
—Derek Lukala, Tiltco
Maughan agrees that this market segment has likely been
less affected compared to traditional building products, though they’re
still not doing much in the way of new construction.
“We’ve seen a shift from new construction into the remodeling market,
which has still been high-end homes,” he says.
Lukala agrees that while the economy has been slow, his company has chosen
to focus efforts on different markets.
“Last year started slow, though the level of business was typical. However,
we ended strong and are now busy as we’ve found other markets and we’re
able to subsidize lost business.” Some of these markets include Toronto,
Georgian Bay, Vancouver and Calgary, which Lukala says were unchartered
territories. He adds that high-end residential work in Seattle and Oregon
has also provided opportunities.
Even with a down economy, these experts agree that the competition among
those manufacturing and supplying these systems has been increasing.
“And we’re seeing more and more manufacturers introducing new lines,”
says Maughan, whose company only makes folding doors. “Our company manufacturers
a specific product so we’re able to be more competitive price-wise,” he
says, adding that having a strong brand is helpful in spreading awareness.
Maughan explains that as more and more companies get involved in this
market segment it should in turn help the products as it will increase
According to Buranen one of the challenges he’s seen has been the emerging
presence of window manufacturers within this market segment. Buranen says
he’s seen manufacturers taking a door system that they already offer and
modifying the hardware to create a bi-fold door.
“This is challenging because we’re already having a hard time getting
the clients to understand [these products],” he says. “[We] put a ton
of time into research and development so that our systems are built for
a specific application range; we’re not just re-adapting an existing product.”
What’s in Store?
Manufacturers agree there are definitely future opportunities in store
for this market segment. And energy awareness is leading much of what
will go into new designs.
Maughan says he sees the market evolving more in terms of performance.
“Everything is performance based,” he says.
“Performance will continue to be an issue,” says Thomas. “I see us expanding
that further It’s about growing the capabilities of the existing product
line and making it better.”
Looking toward the future, Buranen says energy codes will continue to
be important, so National Fenestration Rating Council ratings, for example,
will be critical.
“Also, the development of thermally broken systems will have to continue
to [improve and develop new products]. It can be a huge challenge to reach
the numbers [codes will require], given the overall size of the systems,
[so as codes become more and more stringent] meeting those may be a challenge.”
Though the future may indeed hold both opportunities and challenges for
moveable glass wall systems, manufacturers are ready for what the future
may offer. Products will advance and homeowners, builders and architects
will find more new ways to enhance those indoor-outdoor living spaces.
Ellen Rogers is an assistant editor for DWM magazine.
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