Thermal efficiency has been the name of the game in the residential window and door industry for a while now. Homeowners want it, codes increasingly necessitate it, and performance targets are only growing more stringent. As such, window and door manufacturers must constantly be looking for cost-effective ways to improve the thermal performance of their products.
One strategy that has emerged recently is the application of “skinny-” or “thin-” glass triple-paned insulating glass (IG) units, which utilize ultrathin center lites, typically between 0.7 mm and 1.3 mm thick. Filled with krypton, these units can deliver outstanding thermal performance comparable with traditional triples—and specifically may help window and door companies meet performance targets outlined in California’s new energy code for new construction without completely rethinking their window designs.
Adoption has, so far, been slow, but that could change soon. With some new incentives in place that make skinny triples more attractive, and as finding ways to hit California’s thermal targets becomes mandatory, there’s a ripe opportunity for window and door manufacturers to take advantage of the technology. Here are three reasons why:
1. They’re increasingly cost-effective.
One of the biggest hurdles to adoption of skinny triples so far has been an obvious one: They’re expensive.
But new incentives in California for the use of high-performance fenestration in new construction and existing buildings could help builders overcome the price point. For example, the California Advanced Home Program, is incentivizing the use of skinny triples with some attractive cash bonuses for builders; $400 per home can be had by utilizing program-approved thin-glass, triple-paned windows that can fit into a typical double-pane window frame and meet a U-factor of <0.22.
If builders take advantage of these incentives, we could see a snowball effect. Greater demand for skinny triples could spur more manufacturers to make and offer them at more cost-competitive pricing. I’ll be keeping my eyes on this potential trend.
2. They can create manufacturing and installation efficiencies.
One reason conventional triples have never truly taken off in the American marketplace is that they require changes in the design of the window itself. Most American window and door manufacturers have instead taken advantage of warm-edge spacers, low-E coatings and other means to hit desired thermal efficiency targets. What’s more, conventional triples are heavy, and require special considerations from the architectural perspective to ensure structural soundness. Skinny triples, meanwhile, are effectively a direct swap for double-paned glass, requiring no fundamental change to window design or special architectural considerations.
Newer techniques can further help window and door companies achieve manufacturing efficiencies with skinny triples. Some skinny triples currently in the marketplace utilize two spacers in their construction, one between each piece of glass. This technique, however, introduces additional points of failure versus the utilization of a single spacer in a double-paned unit. Instead, manufacturers can seek out higher-performance warm-edge technology that can effectively seal skinny triples with just one spacer applied to the unit. This way, manufacturers can continue using existing production processes and eliminate those additional, potential failure points.
3. They’re versatile.
Skinny triples are suitable for a wide range of buildings, including residential single-family and multifamily, low- and high-rise structures, and nonresidential buildings. They’re also an attractive option for new construction and retrofit applications, since they can replace a double-paned IG unit or sash in existing windows without requiring replacement of the frame. It’s easy to imagine them gaining traction anywhere high-performance fenestration is desired.
They offer more than just thermal performance, too. They can contribute to greater sound suppression versus traditional double-paned windows, especially when paired with the right framing technology. Comprehensive occupancy comfort is increasingly desired these days, and skinny triples can make an impact.