European Systems Gain Traction

Manufacturers and suppliers see new opportunities for tilt/turn and other imported styles

They tilt and turn, they lift and slide, and they represent a growing market opportunity for North American window and door companies, according to many. After finding only limited acceptance for decades, European-style window and door systems have seen growing demand in the past several years. That growth, in turn, is encouraging more companies to focus their efforts on these products.

Wood tilt/turn products have been around longer in the U.S. longer than vinyl systems, enjoying success in high-end homes, says Tony Pauly, vice president and general manager, Ventana USA. He sees a growing opportunity for vinyl tilt/turn and other European products now. The Pacific Northwest and California are leading the way in the use of the vinyl tilt/turns, although the East Coast and the Gulf Coast states are seeing increased demand, he reports.

PVC’s resistance to corrosion in coastal environments, combined with the strength of tilt/turn products shown in impact test requirements, have made these products successful in the Southeast and Caribbean markets, reports Jay Madha, president of Tiltco, a Canadian manufacturer of vinyl tilt/turn windows. Growing popularity in the Northwest, notably in high-rise applications, has helped accelerate demand in recent years, he adds.

Greg Koch of Rehau Construction LLC agrees. The sustainable building codes in the Northwest and California are driving growth in those regions, while strict wind and hurricane performance requirements are driving growth in the Southeast, the vinyl extruder reports.

Many still see strong prospects for growth in wood tilt/turn windows in the residential side too. Kevin O’Connor, national sales manager for G-U Hardware Inc., says in cities such as Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and New York demand is growing for these products in luxury homes. 

One driver of growth has been a change in North American design, says Robert Renner, president of Functional Fenestration Inc., a supplier of European hardware. “Despite repeated claims from some naysayers that Americans won’t accept in-swing windows, architecture is changing and becoming more global in style, so that the old rules about what will be accepted are going out the window,” he says.

“Many of our clientele are world travelers. They have seen these products in other parts of the world and are looking for it here domestically,” says Mike Windemuller, president of Konnen GlasHaus Inc., a Colorado based manufacturer of wood tilt/turn and other European style products. “They have seen these products in other parts of the world and are looking for it here domestically.”

Windemuller’s business focuses on the high-end residential market, because of the added costs of these products, but he also reports success with owners of boutique hotels and restaurants. “These customers are realizing that these products are more like a piece of furniture. They are not just keeping the weather out,” he states.

European products do excel at doing just that, however, suppliers and manufacturers report. Tilt/turn systems offer “excellent structural and air/water ratings, and a very high level of security,” says Dan Gray, director of business development and product marketing at Roto Frank of America Inc. “These types of windows offer excellent performance ratings when compared against the North American products,” Koch adds. “The structural, thermal and security ratings usually are significantly better than a similar size hung, sliding or casement window. The same is true for swinging and sliding door products.”

Another notable benefit of the systems is design freedom, Windemuller says. “If they can draw it, we can make it.” More custom designs, such as round-top windows, are available with tilt/turn. Larger window designs can also be accommodated, notes Axel Husen, president and CEO of Interlock USA, emphasizing how tilt/turn hardware can supports heavier sash weights, allowing for larger sash sizes.

Tilt and turn windows and doors offer large glass surfaces for unrestricted views and daylighting, agrees Ventana’s Pauly. “The tilt function allows for ventilation, and still maintains absolute security and safety, unlike traditional products,” he states Pauly. The products also offer high thermal insulation values. “Values of up to R5 are achievable, depending on glazing,” he says.

Energy savings is becoming increasingly important for fenestration products, and tilt/turn systems deliver on that front, Husen agrees. “With an increasing need for energy savings and as energy codes get more stringent, higher performance ratings become more important, so products that support green building are increasingly popular in the market.”

Commercial demand
Demand for vinyl tilt/turn systems in commercial systems has picked up in the United States in the last year, in large part due to energy codes and standards, reports Kevin A. Seiling, corporate director of engineering/strategic sales for Veka Inc. The Department of Energy has kicked off a program to promote R-5 windows, and those types of performance demands will likely be extended into commercial applications, the vinyl supplier predicts. ASHRAE also recently lowered its U-value requirement, affecting nonresidential. “As soon as you start going to triple glaze, you’ve got weight problems,” he says. The European window systems “typically can handle 1.5-inch IGUs, and triple glazing.”

As demand for energy efficiency increases, more vinyl extruders and fabricators are looking at viny tilt/turn windows to compete with aluminum windows, reports G-U’s O’Connor. “And they seem to be gaining traction,” he adds.

European vinyl windows are compatible with a variety of curtain wall systems, and the strength of these products, thanks to reinforced steel and sash members, and multi-locking hardware, makes them applicable even for buildings with large design loads. “Tilt and turns [are] excellent for commercial applications such as high-rises up to 50 stories high,” Seiling says. “Tilt and turn windows can also be easily mulled together for use in storefronts and ribbon windows.” Additionally, these systems can meet the demands of high velocity wind zones where impact resistance is required, and even bomb blast resistance, he reports.

Entering the Segment
While most companies still consider European windows and doors a niche market in the United States, many agree it is one worth exploring. Price points are higher, and profit margins can be larger. In the residential end of the business, the slowdown in the economy has encouraged some wood window and door companies to consider this new market, reports Greg Godbout, owner of Rangate, a supplier of cutting tools.“In the last three years there has been more chatter, more interest,” he says. “Most producers—especially small or medium sized—are looking for niche markets that they can take advantage of. They are starting to look at tilt/turn because it offers a wider customer base, and is more profitable.”

“Tilt/turn is a relatively easy value-added new product offering,” adds Kathleen Howlett, Functional Fenestration’s marketing/communications manager. “The engineering and production methods have been very well-developed over the years in Europe, therefore it can become a new profit center without having to invent the wheel.”

For producers seeking education about the production process, partnerships with experienced supplier companies can be very beneficial—and partners are out there, Functional Fenestration’s Renner adds. “In Europe, practical collaborations are forged between the companies who supply tilt turn products to window manufacturers, especially providers of tooling, hardware, gasketing. They work together to provide turn-key recommendations to manufacturers who want to make tilt turn. The same model is now being employed in America, which will make it easier for more manufacturers to produce tilt turn.”

Those involved in the vinyl segment also emphasize the support that is available. “This is an inexpensive way to add a product line, if you already have the welders and cleaners,” which most vinyl window fabricators do, Seiling says. Veka and other extruders offer training, and most hardware suppliers do the same, he notes. “It’s a pretty quick transition. Once you learn to put hardware on one window, you can put it on any system. It’s all the same basic concept,” he says.

European hardware suppliers will work with manufacturers on such products, Roto’s Gray reports, but he emphasizes that potential fabricators of such products should look to single-source suppliers. Product flexibility, and custom options are important with the European styles.

Ventana is getting into the business of European products specifically to assist other fabricators, emphasizes Pauly. Just as it has offered round-top and other specialty vinyl units to window manufacturers for years, it is now offering European products to vinyl window manufacturers to help them fill in their product lines.

While opportunities for tilt/turn windows are just starting to gain steam in the commercial market, Veka’s Seiling recommends companies get involved sooner rather than later. “Companies still have the high-end [residential] market to sell into. They can get experience and gain understanding of how the products work, rather than just waiting for the [commercial] market,” he says.

“The future of European window and door products in North America looks very promising,” Rehau’ Koch concludes. Innotech Windows, a British Columbia-based manufacturer that has been involved in Euorpean style products—both in residential and commercial applications—since the 1990s, agrees. The tilt/turn is “still very much a niche product,” reports George Nickel, the company’s business development manager, “Acceptance is growing strongly in those markets where we can focus our attention,” he notes, however as well. “Is it possible to do this across the entire continent? Does a system like this have a future in North America? Time will tell. We believe there is a lot of potential still to be realized.”

Katy Devlin is an editor with Glass Magazine, Window & Door's sister publication, also published by the National Glass Association.