Fenestration Evolution Brings New Challenges to Replacement

Jim Snyder
August 15, 2013
COLUMN : From the Field | Methods & Techniques

Fenestration technology has advanced dramatically in recent years―mostly to the consumer’s benefit―in the form of thermal, structural and sound-deadening performance, and aesthetic improvements. Revised new construction installation practices have been developed and adopted as well.

All of these are welcome advances, but this fenestration evolution also presents challenges to the replacement industry.

Prior to the 1970s, window replacement was mostly a “when it’s broken” kind of thing. In fact, windows were more likely to be repaired than replaced. And if a window was replaced, it was with a full frame product installed by an allpurpose carpenter.

“Replacement windows” didn’t exist back then. Storm windows and energy panels, both add-ons, were adequate for that time because there was not much focus on energy savings. Simply put, window replacement, as an investment by itself, didn’t hold much incentive for consumers.

But then, prompted by skyrocketing energy costs, replacing windows became enticing and justifiable to homeowners. “Replacement products” were created and sold based on their energy efficiency and ease of installation. The “pocket insert,” followed years later by the “sash kit” and the “flush fin,” became best friends of the industry. Full frame replacements still had their place, but were now becoming a part of this specialty market.

This new demand for replacement products created a demand for specialty replacement installers as well. As a result, the replacement installer—and really the entire replacement industry—was born.

I can’t speak firsthand about the early years of the replacement industry, but I have reached out to a few industry veterans who transitioned through those energy crisis days. From what I’m told, there was initially a steep learning curve in replacement products and processes. Over the years, the industry made adjustments, and today we have a variety of excellent replacement products and processes.

Looking ahead, the evolution of fenestration products in recent years will create new replacement challenges in the near future. Replacement is dependent on the existing in-place product, structure and original installation process. If these change, so do the replacement options.

When you consider we are still mostly replacing existing windows made of traditional materials like wood, all-aluminum or steel—in homes built during the last century― with conventional veneers like brick, siding or stucco—not much has changed for replacement. We just aren’t facing many new replacement challenges…yet. That will change. Like most technology, fenestration advancement is exponential.

Fenestration has evolved more in the past two decades than the entire century before it. In the last 20 years, nail-fin frame products made of vinyl, clad-wood and fiberglass― surrounded by new technology veneers and new weather barrier installation techniques―have become more popular in new construction. These all affect initial installation, and thus, replacement adaptability. So, how will today’s new construction products and processes affect the replacement products and processes of tomorrow? Will new generation products even be candidates for replacement? Will our current replacement products still be adaptable? Will “replacement” as we know it change completely?

I’ll give you my take, next time.

Backed by two decades of extensive hands-on experience, Jim Snyder is a technical writer, trainer and project/product consultant for the fenestration industry. Always seeking best practices, he has journaled and cataloged many years of fenestration-related activities and is an active member of AAMA, FMA and WDDA. His weekly blog at windowjim.com ties field-related topics to the rest of the industry. Write him at jim@windowjim.com.