Do Europeans Really Make the Best Windows?

John G. Swanson
August 9, 2010
THE TALK... | Design & Performance

Survey Results as of 08/16/2010:

Do Europeans Really Make the Best Windows?

Yes

  

 

52%

No

  

 

48%

I must admit to being surprised by this week's poll results.  I certainly know many industry executives who would say European windows and doors are better, but I think I expected a little more patriotic bias in the voting. 

I will share comments from two people I heard from who have experience with both European and North American products.  Europeans "build windows that are going into homes that will have 100 year mortgages," states Jerry Hartman of Ohio-based Gilkey Windows, which sells Unilux  Windows made in Germany, along with its own products and other U.S.-made lines. "They apprentice young people for two years before they are allowed to step on the factory floor. The amount of wood they use and the fact that the aluminum cladding never touches the wood and the sturdiness of the hardware is impressive," he reports, adding that he believes they will last 100 years.

Hartman does point to some limitations of European products.  While tilt/turns have advantages when it comes to manufacturing, they do not appeal to many North Americans.  "Europeans lag behind us in glass," he also suggests, adding that based on what he's learned in trips to Germany, "they have only started offering triple glass and the advanced low-E products that I have sold for 15 years."

Hartman is glad he sells European products, however, noting that every customer that comes into a Gilkey showroom gets to see the European-made Unilux windows, as well as the Veka European style products the company manufactures itself.  "Selling double hung windows is easy when the customer knows that you have advanced beyond the competition," Hartman notes. "They may not want dual action windows but they can appreciate the quality and it separates us as the true window experts." 

I also heard from a European who has been involved with the window and door industry on both sides of the Atlantic for many years.  Like Hartman, he points to the different mindset of window customers as one of the major differentiators in the market.  "The U.S. market is used to a low-cost window because we think short term," he notes.  "We typically do not own a house longer than 7 to 10 years, at that point the window becomes somebody else’s problem."  He also notes that on the energy efficiency front, U.S. window producers offer windows that meet the today's needs.

As far as the question is concerned, he offers the following answer: "Build a window that is the best solution for the situation."  If only European windows and door products were available here, he explains, starter homes would become less affordable to many.

Affordability is certainly an important criteria. A Mercedes Benz or BMW may be the "best" car in the minds of many, but those cars aren't much use to those who can't afford them.  I would note some other considerations.  I would also say North American manufacturers do pretty well on the energy efficiency front.   Low-E and warm edge got their start here.  We've developed a wide variety of products well suited to the wide variety of climates in North America.  We even developed impact resistant products that can stand up to hurricanes.  And while some may argue that the European tilt/turn design is superior, the familiarity and ease of use of double-hungs and casements in the eyes of many of our customers should not be discounted either.  

Am I  biased?  Maybe.  Far be it from me to say the majority of you are wrong, but I'm not ready to concede Europeans make the "best" windows. 

 

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