Last week we went to Nuremberg, Germany, for the 2016 edition of FensterBau, one of the most important expos worldwide for window production. Target of the fair is the entire sector of windows and openings. The event is organized alongside the Holz-Handwerk expo, addressing wood carpentry in the broadest sense.
Since windows play such an important role in the thermal envelope of highly efficient buildings and passive houses, this year we visited FensterBau for the first time. Our intention was to gather an overview of the state of the market for windows and openings in general, worldwide.
Another reason for our visit was to meet in person a few professionals of the industry from the US.
We'd like to point out that the products pictured in this article are used to show the general state of the fair: it is not our intention to promote these as state of the art products (which in some cases, they are definitely not).
FensterBau abounds with producers of machinery and tools for the production of wooden windows.
The most recent technology for the production of wooden windows shows great potential for automation of the entire process.
From the point of view of the window per se, the market offers a variety of mechanical connections as an alternative to the more traditional tenon and mortise corner connection.
This is however no news in the market of wooden windows, at least in Europe.
Most of companies producing the tools to profile the wood, also offer pre-designed window profiles to window manufacturers.
The consequence of this is that the R&D in wooden windows is often carried out by the tool-producing companies instead of the actual window manufacturers. In our mind, this causes the whole sector to advance very slowly, instead of pushing for very innovative products - with the exception of some small local manufacturers.
Another example of non-innovation in wooden frame windows is represented by companies offering pre-insulated profiles (also, very expensive), to be attached to old-style wooden frames, without modifying these.
Coming to the chapter of PVC windows, the innovations we found at the fair were just as scarce.
Leaving the the environmental impact of PVC aside, in our mind the biggest defect of these profiles is that they are in fact frames of galvanized steel, disguised by a PVC dress. This has of course a very substantial repercussion on their thermal performance: we're going to cover this with an article in the future.
In the PVC world, the R&D is carried out by the companies that extrude the profiles. The job of the window manufacturers is just to cut them and assemble the windows.
A PVC window requires galvanized steel profiles for structural stability. We've only seen one example (on paper), of a PVC window using a steel profile with thermal break.
We did not see as many aluminum windows as we did for wood and PVC. This may be a sign that this type of product is struggling to keep up with the performance and the cost/benefit value of wooden and PVC windows.
Aside from the tool-producing companies for wooden windows, and extrusion companies for the PVC ones, the other player in the development of window technology is represented by the companies producing the hardware for them.
At the moment, the focus of the European hardware producer seems to be the air tightness of lift and slide doors, which is currently not as good as the tilt and turn elements.
PRODUCTS FOR INTALLATION
Besides the window per se, the expo also groups companies that create the products used in the installation and fitting.
In the first place, several companies offer products to make the fitting tight against air leaks, driving rain, wind and so on.
As far as installation thermal bridge, some companies were offering some solutions for masonry buildings with external insulation, to allow the fitting of the insulation layer and minimize the installation PSI value.
Some products addressed the issue of the blind frame (also called "buck", in the US), with some solutions using high-density insulation.
Several window manufacturers have started to integrate mechanical ventilation units in their windows. The range of products is already quite broad, in terms of cost, efficiency and aesthetic result.
Being an international expo, some of the products shown last week were definitely obsolete for the European market, as in the case of the PVC windows below.
Keeping in mind our goals for passive houses, net zero buildings, comfort and energy efficiency, some of the products shows did not make any sense. Our favorite one was the hatch door for the cat (also available with magnets!), that would void any attempt to make the thermal envelope airtight, increasing energy bills and discomfort.
In the era of internet, fairs and expos have lost their role of presenting new products to the market. Today, the public and the professionals are overloaded with information via a variety of media. The result is that these messages contain very few pieces of news.
Just like our visit to the Klimahouse fair in Bolzano, in January, our intent at FensterBau was to meet certain people in person.
From the point of view of the products shown, it was interesting to get a broad overview of the state of the international market of windows and wood carpentry. As far as actual innovation, this is probably not the scene to look for it.
Professional fairs need to evolve in the near future, or they are doomed to collapse under their high cost and environmental impact in terms of mobility and consumed resources.