Performance and Aesthetics: A Critical Balance

By Eric Thompson
July 25, 2017
THE TALK... | Design & Performance
There was a time not too long ago when chasing after energy-efficiency goals was a big source of anxiety among window and door manufacturers. Think back: the now-embattled Energy Star program was moving quickly, with stated thermal efficiency goals rising to new, more stringent heights with each revision to the program.
 
Different code bodies, including the International Energy Conservation Code, were adopting those Energy Star performance targets. Required U factors plummeted. Continuous thermal improvement was the industry imperative.
 
Among all of this, vinyl extruders and window designers sought to get ahead of the curve. Customers demanded it; playing catch-up wasn’t an attractive option. Around this same time, to overcome limitations in glazing packages, vinyl extruders also began to develop new window products with more internal chambers to increase the thermal efficiency in windows. Sometimes, this resulted in big, bulky window designs at the expense of some aesthetic benefits.
 
Sales and new product adoption reflected that compromise in aesthetic value. The increased cost associated with the increase in frame and sash material, coupled with the increase in sightlines, created a reluctance for many manufacturers to pull the trigger on adding new products.
The lesson learned throughout all thisthat is, sacrificing aesthetics for higher performance is a losing proposition—is worth revisiting in today’s different market landscape.
 
Perhaps sensing that Energy Star improvements couldn’t possibly continue at such a pace, many window manufacturers dialed back how aggressively they should pursue lower thermal targets. Now, with the entire Energy Star program at risk under President Trump’s administration, it’s tempting to say some who hedged on efficiency were right to do so.
 
I don’t think the answer is so clear cut. As I wrote a few months ago, vinyl window and door systems dominate the market for a variety of reasons, including price and visual versatility. And Energy Star’s future doesn’t erase thermal efficiency from buyers’ minds, either. The program’s legacy is such that performance is weighted similarly to looks and price. I don’t see that going away, especially among a younger generation of window and door buyers.
 
The bottom line is this: it’s incumbent upon design and engineering teams throughout the fenestration industry to understand how to put together a higher thermally performing product without drastically increasing sight lines and bulk. It helps keep price down, it offers more attractive windows, and it delivers on our promise to keep homes comfortable with high quality products. It’s a balance, and it’s key to our success.

Eric Thompson is a national account manager for Quanex Building Products. Email him at eric.thompson@quanex.com