Canada’s window and doors sector has always been framed by industry challenges and a push for innovation. Today is no exception as manufacturers pursue more sustainable products against a backdrop of pandemic-related obstacles.
We spoke with Terry Adamson, Technical Director with Fenestration Canada, a national organization representing the window and door manufacturing community, for a snapshot of the sector and where wood materials fit within it.
Is sustainability still a priority for the window and door manufacturing industry?
Absolutely. Energy performance is the absolute goal of virtually every window and door manufacturer across the country, albeit more on the window side. Thermal performance and thermal efficiency are also becoming significant driving forces behind product design.
That being said, the level of focus on sustainability varies throughout the country. For example, I live in BC, where we’re taking a proactive approach to thermal performance and buildings, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas reduction. The province brought in its Step Code Requirement in 2017, which gives jurisdictions across BC the ability to set target performance levels based on an escalating scale. Many jurisdictions are already in step three, which is a sizeable jump over base code requirements. So BC is definitely leading the charge when it comes to driving energy performance for window and door products.
How do wood materials contribute to that drive for sustainability?
There’s a lot of chatter now about embodied carbon. And I think you’re going to see more and more wood guys take advantage of that. PVC, aluminum, and fiberglass are fairly high-energy use materials for development. In contrast, the carbon-storing benefits of wood enable the industry to develop better-performing products and use the embodied carbon angle as a way to market their products.
Because wood offers these benefits, we see a huge shift towards wood construction for large and mid-rise buildings. At the same time, the industry is looking at using wood for passive house window and door systems.
Nevertheless, PVC remains the most common product for windows and doors?
Yes. Most of the product is PVC, but you see wood products used a lot in custom-home projects. That said, there is a pretty good market for metal-clad wood products and other clad wood products, particularly in BC, where our environment does not really lend itself well to unprotected wood products. That’s why we see a little more of the clad products in our part of the world and other wetter climates.
As for the types of wood being used, most wood window products and wood door products are made from Douglas Fir. There are other materials, like Accoya, Sapele, and certainly Oak, but Douglas Fir is the premium choice that’s out there right now. That being said, we see many softwoods like pine being used on the non-exposed surfaces of wood and clad-wood window systems and door systems.
What’s being done to bolster the performance of these wood alternatives?
The thing about Douglas Fir is that it’s not a great insulator. Because of this, we’re starting to see materials being added to enhance thermal performance.
For example, before joining Fenestration Canada, I worked for Westeck Windows that developed the first passive house-certified casement window in North America. We worked with the Passive House Institute to get the product to where we needed it in terms of thermal performance using just Douglas Fir, but we just couldn’t get it there. So we ended up rabbiting out channels in both the frame and in the sash and inserting a product called Thermacork to increase the frame’s thermal performance.
We’re continuing to see techniques like that today. Manufacturers are coming up with other components to insert into those frames and increase their performance.
Wood manufacturers are facing higher material prices and labour challenges. Do you see that among your window and door manufacturers?
Absolutely. The supply chain issues right now are extreme, and everybody feels that pinch, whether it’s to do with wood, glass, steel, fiberglass door slabs, or anything, really.
Staffing is a big problem across the country, and we hear a lot of discussions about how we can get people back into work. I could speculate on that all day long on why we’re facing these challenges and potential solutions. Still, the short answer is that the pandemic presented material and labour challenges for everyone.
That being said, there are always opportunities. The demand for greener, more sustainable construction is opening up lots of possibilities. I think that we’re going to see the window and door manufacturing community move quicker to seize on those opportunities with enhanced products, technologies, and material innovations, and I believe they’ll be successful in doing so.
Matt Bradford is a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge, publishers of Wood Industry e-digest and magazine. He has spent years reporting on the wood and construction industries and values the opportunity to provide insights into the secondary wood manufacturing community’s successes, challenges, and opportunities.