Volume 48, Issue 9- September 2013


Traditional Residential Window Companies Offer Commercial Options

Cary Bell says it was only natural that Kolbe Windows and Doors based in Wausau, Wis., would make the progression into more commercial work.

“We had always been viewed as a light-construction company – more of a traditional company,” says Bell, their national sales manager. “But the products we do tend to lend themselves naturally to [commercial work] as well. It’s been a gradual progression.”

Kolbe is just one of several companies, historically known for their residential work, that also offer a variety of commercial-grade products.

Pella Windows and Doors based in Pella, Iowa, is another company that’s traditionally thought of as a residential manufacturer when, in fact, it has been serving the commercial market for decades. According to Kathy Krafka Harkema, senior public relations manager, “In the 1960s when Pella introduced aluminum-clad wood double-hung windows they became a popular option for commercial applications where property owners sought a lower-maintenance option, compared with wood windows that required regular exterior painting,” she says.

For many companies the process of developing a new line for a new market begins with identifying the particular market opportunity they are seeking.

Whether serving the residential market, the historic renovation market or the commercial market, this is how we have always operated, listening to the market and satisfying those needs,” Bell says. “Through our research, we learned there is an immediate opportunity for us to provide additional product support for hospitality, multi-family and mixed-used projects.

According to Krafka Harkema, there are also a number of differences in developing a commercial product compared to a residential one. For example, performance requirements can vary with the size, scale and type of project.

“Because commercial projects often involve larger structures, energy efficiency, performance, cost and ease of maintenance can play larger roles in the choice of products specified for commercial construction,” she says. “To meet commercial codes, products may feature higher design pressure ratings, or other factors in terms of air, water and structural performance. Or products with impact-resistant glass may be specified in certain coastal applications.

In addition, she says commercial projects often involve different size or wall condition needs, as in the case of monumental sized double-hung windows to meet historic replacement needs in renovation projects.

“We consider a wide range of needs and factors as we develop products,” she says. “For example, as we’re developing a product for commercial or residential markets, we conduct research, assess market needs, consider innovations to implement, and take factors such as performance, code compliance, aesthetics and ease of maintenance into consideration.”

Bell adds, “For many years, Kolbe has provided its products to both residential and non-residential buildings. Our non-residential focus has grown from a concentration on historic replication and restoration, such as for schools and universities, to a more expansive product offering, such as for mixed-use properties, hotels and high rise residences.” He continues, “in addition to specific project requirements, the main differences are the volume of products and the number of people involved in the building project.

Testing is another critical component. According to Bell, there’s no standard formula, as each new product requires varying levels of vetting. When developing its new 4500 series, he says it was tested for air, water, structural, thermal, impact, blast resistance and acoustics.

Krafka Harkema adds, “AAMA 910 is essentially a use and abuse test that applies to commercial rather than residential testing. It’s designed to help simulate the type of use a commercial setting sees, as well as thermal cycling, and air, water, structural testing.”

“Commercial projects often involve huge expanses of glass, especially in curtainwall and storefront applications,” says Krafka Harkema. “Therefore, types of glass coatings, their energy efficiency and the product’s overall air, water and structural performance are considerations.”

She continues, “Durability is also important since commercial buildings often are expected to have longer life spans than residential structures,” she adds. “Factors such as types of wall conditions, climate conditions, aesthetics and design can all play roles in which products get specified for commercial projects. Structural and water resistance are also key considerations in choosing fenestration options for use in commercial properties. The sustainability of products can also play a part in which products are selected for commercial use, depending on the project.

Whether for a small office building or large-scale windows, window manufacturers today are equipped and ready to meet these ever-changing design needs.


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