Sunday, February 14, 2016

Window Shopping in Canada

When it gets this cold you need great windows. 

Fact: A normal insulated wall has five times the insulating value (R value) of the best window.
Lately we have been spending a lot of time window shopping. The very purpose of windows—to let light into a structure and afford a view out—can be diametrically opposed to energy efficiency. When chosen wisely, however, windows are integral to a passive solar designed house such as ours, taking advantage of the siting of the house in relation to the position of the sun in winter and filling the need for ambient light year round, to say nothing of contributing to the aesthetics.

After extensive research we decided on a field trip—to Canada—to meet with two window manufacturers (Inline Fiberglass and Fibertec) in a country that is known for cold, snowy winters. Our 1,300-mile round trip also allowed us to visit with a flooring manufacturer in Montreal (more later) and family in London, Ontario. Being conscious of our energy footprint, we nixed the idea of traveling to yet another excellent manufacturer (Accurate DorWin) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which would have added 2,500 miles to the auto trip.

Steve from Fibertec explaining window technology.
(All photos by author.)

Brick molding on a custom window.

Here are some of the characteristics to consider:

Glass—We had some initial pricing and were hoping triple-pane glass windows would be possible in budget. In North American, all window manufacturers buy raw materials for energy-efficient, insulating glass from just two sources: Cardinal and Pilkington, who have dozens of manufacturing plants in the United States. Both companies have developed coatings that reflect heat (measured in solar heat gain coefficient or SHGC rating) yet let the visible spectrum of light to easily pass through, giving the glass high visible transmission (VT rating). The space between the panes of glass is filled with argon or krypton, both “noble” or inert gases.
Fiberglass window frame production.

Frame—The high-tech glass sandwich gets placed in a fiberglass channel filled with silicone caulking or neoprene gaskets. The expansion and contraction properties of fiberglass are almost identical to glass and make it behave as a single, integral unit once manufactured. In contrast, aluminum, wood, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) shrink
or expand at a different rate than glass, potentially causing leaks and heat loss.

Opening Mechanism—A permanently fixed window offers the best insulating properties. Casement and awnings come next and close by compression, tightening the seal. Single and double hung or sliding windows are the least energy-efficient opening mechanism as they cannot achieve a tight seal or they would not be able to slide open.

When we first took the fenestration schedule out to bid we thought double-pane American-made windows the top contenders. (Marvin Integrity looked very good.) Now, with the favorable exchange rate ($.70 Canadian to the American dollar) and our positive impression of the quality, Canadian-manufactured triple-pane fiberglass casement windows from Fibertec win the window tourney on Tug Mountain. Good job, Steven! Welcome to team Tug.

Specs: The windows we have chosen will satisfy at least the ENERGY STAR rating requirement of a U value of .28 or better (R-3.6). The lower the U-factor, the better the window insulates.