Volume 50, Issue 9 - September 2015


No Commercial Breaks: Focusing on the Non-Residential Window Market

The nonresidential and multifamily construction sectors continue to gain—or at the very least maintain—momentum as 2015 rolls along. The uptrend has not been lost in commercial windows, a healthy market that is seeing steady demand in terms of numbers and developing technologies.

“The whole market has really heated up,” says Jim Eisenbeis, director of marketing and project management at Graham Architectural Products. Windows are Graham’s primary product, making up at least 75 percent of its sales.

“The highrise residential market is showing a lot of promise,” he says, adding that institutional and private work have also been strong. In terms of dollar volume, Graham is seeing more new construction than it used to, but it still has roughly a 60-40 split between retrofit and new construction, “especially in the window wall market.”

He says that while the AIA index is showing a slowdown in the East, “We’re not seeing that. It’s been strong all over.”

Steve Fronek, vice president of technical services for Wausau Window and Wall Systems, agrees, noting that the office building and high-rise condominium segments are particularly robust. In the high-end condominium market, there’s been an increase in implementation of operable folding or sliding panels to “bring the outside inside” in milder climates.

ADA-compliant products for operability have been a driver in the commercial window market, something Wausau Window and Wall Systems has addressed.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards have driven product development of windows and window hardware, which must meet the operating force and limited motion requirements of ICC/ANSI A117.1. According to the standard, the products must be operable with one hand using a force of five pounds or less and “shall not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist.”

Fronek says ADA-compliant products are being specified … with the focus of “helping ensure that fresh air and a connection with the outdoors are made accessible to people with limited physical ability or mobility.”

The most prominent trend that still dominates commercial windows, however, is thermal performance.

Fronek says the demand for European-benchmark thermal has been steadily increasing

The renovation market has heated up, and retrofit projects such as the 525@Vine building in Winston-Salem, N.C., have been prevalent for companies like Graham.

.However, the U.S. design aesthetic, which differs from its European counterpart in preference for flush frame profiles and narrow sightlines, is not being compromised in the selection of more energy-efficient products,” he says.

Trends in design and standards aren’t the only factors that pose unique challenges for the industry. The increased demand for products, both in volume and speed, has also forced the market to respond.

Eisenbeis says the market has been on the up since 2012, and with the “tremendous year” this year and positive prospects in the future, it is “putting a lot of pressure on the supply chain.”

He points to the much-discussed glass shortage that appears to be on the way. Part of that, he says, is a change in glass type, as Graham is seeing more laminated glass than in the past—a result of demand for acoustical and forced-entry and protective glazing, among other factors.

That’s why it’s important, he says, to keep a good line of communication with customers, particularly since lead-time expectations from customers are getting more and more competitive while lead times from suppliers are getting longer.

Challenges aside, the industry is moving in a positive direction.

According to the American Architectural Manufactures Association’s AAMA 2014/2015 U.S. Industry Statistical Review and Forecast, the nonresidential glazing market increased by 4.6 percent in 2014. The report also shows forecasted growth for 2015, with a projected increase of 5 percent, to be followed by an 8-percent increase in both 2016 and 2017.

Darrell Cherry, business development manager at JE Berkowitz and Renovate, says the upswing in construction has taken a bit longer to impact the retrofit market in terms of actual projects, though it has made for an increase in inquires.

“With increasing inquiries it seems inevitable that, as the retrofit market becomes more of a viable option, there will undoubtedly be more potential projects in the offing,” he says.

—Nick St. Denis

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