Outside, Looking In… Through A Canadian Window
Published in Window + Door (November 4, 2020)
by Terry Adamson
Outside, looking in… through a Canadian window
Westeck manufactured what it says is the first and only swing solid wood casement Passive House certified window in North America. The company could not reach the final values with solid wood, but found cork to be the “silver bullet.” The author says cork is an excellent insulator and was readily available in the compressed shapes needed and, once laid into the frame and sash, allowed Westeck to achieve Passive House numbers.
Editor’s Note: While the Passive House conversation is largely relegated to European countries, the energy efficiency movement keeps pushing the building envelope toward higher performance on a global level. Looking to the Canadian province of British Columbia’s recent and aggressive energy code regulations and how Canadian manufacturers are responding can serve North American fabricators in likewise answering to the increasing consumer awareness of energy efficiency in the products they purchase for their homes.
Canadian window manufacturers are often seen scratching their collective heads these days. Especially old boomers like me who have been around since non-thermally broken aluminum windows were the norm. Those were the days, hey folks? Screwing together a few sticks of metal, tape in a sealed unit (if you were high-performance) and send it out the door. How things have changed.
Of course, change is inevitable. Most of us can agree that fenestration is a critical component in the move toward better buildings. Part of the challenge in Canada is that most Canadian manufacturers have had a fairly easy ride when it comes to performance improvements. There has been very little regulation on thermal performance; the last significant industry-driven improvement goes back 30 or 40 years, when the PVC frame window entered the residential market in British Columbia.
PVC has proven to be a major improvement in the thermal performance of products compared to the 1980s thermally broken residential aluminum systems. But, since its inception, there have been relatively few enhancements to performance. We have seen new spacers and glass coatings enter the market, but the PVC window itself hasn’t changed much since the early ’90s—Westeck, for example, has been building the same PVC slider and casement systems since 1995 with almost no change to the frame designs.
Meanwhile, British Columbia made numerous changes to its codes and regulations over the past decade, with many changes focused on thermal performance. In 2009, the province adopted the BC Energy Efficiency Act that resulted in laws laying out specific thermal performance for windows sold in B.C. Although it has struggled with enforcement, today, it is illegal to purchase and install a window in a single-family home in B.C. that does not meet a 1.80 metric U-value (.317 imperial). This is forecast to drop to 1.61 (.28) by 2022, which, in B.C., presents little challenge compared to other regulation.
This very aggressive stance on thermal performance of buildings, in turn, is creating a high-performance product wave with local fenestration manufacturers. I fully expect B.C. manufacturers to face Step 5 levels by the mid-2020s. As such, many manufacturers that serve this market have launched, or are in development of, new systems specifically aimed at these approaching performance targets.
A couple years ago, the province’s CleanBC program launched Innovative Clean Energy, a funding program for B.C. manufacturers. This program offered B.C. manufacturers development funding to develop and certify either Passive House or Energy Star Most Efficient systems. This program is what launched Westeck’s path to developing two PH window systems. Following are insights for manufacturers and their suppliers that are considering journeying on their own path to Passive House or high-performance systems.