Window Trends: Cleaner, Darker and Larger
authors Chuck Ross
Talk to window manufacturers today about industry trends, and what you’ll hear will sound a lot like what you might have heard a year or two ago, but more so. Those consumer preferences—for contemporary lines, dark colors and expansive sizing—that might have been thought to be passing fancies half a decade ago are now driving sales across all markets.
If anything, homeowners are pushing window designers to carry those trends further, to create looks that support the larger desire to blur divisions between inside and the great outdoors. At the same time, manufacturers are working to support contractors who continue to face the challenge of labor shortfalls.
Basic Energy Star Is Fine
Of course, beyond their aesthetic details, windows must meet performance requirements set by consumers and code officials. First and foremost, windows must protect against outdoor elements, even as they open themselves wider to more outside views. This is often a homeowner priority for replacement products because air infiltration is a frequent reason for that first contractor call or showroom visit. And because both local building codes and state-level utility efficiency rebates are now focused on energy performance, Energy Star ratings can be important to closing a sale.
However, most customers are content with products meeting Energy Star’s current minimum standards for heat loss and solar heat gain, manufacturers say. In most regions, these can be met with double-pane designs, possibly with the addition of argon gas between the panes. Glass coatings also are used on various surfaces of those panes to either retain warm air or reject solar heat gain, depending on a home’s region. Stepping up to higher performance levels can mean adding a third pane in the middle of the insulated unit and switching to krypton gas from argon.
“You’re seeing some movement where people are looking for Passive House certification, but it’s still very niche,” says Jeff Kibler, Weather Shield’s architectural and commercial manager. He’s referring to the high-performance PHIUS+ 2015 Passive Building Standard–North America, developed by the Passive House Institute U.S. “Homeowners are not demanding a lot more [than Energy Star]. There’s a balance between performance price—if it’s going to take 30 years to pay for it in savings, what’s the point?”
However, contractors might need to be considering higher-performance products in the not-too-distant future. In Energy Star’s Northern climate zone, current requirements call for products with a minimum U-Factor of .27, but that target might be shifting in the standard’s next update, scheduled for 2022, according to Josh Willard, MI Windows’ product director.
“It’s not official yet, but the word on the street is that it’s more than likely going to move to .25,” he says. While this goal is achievable with a dual-pane window, he adds, it would require an additional coating on the outer surface of the window’s outside pane.
Sound control is another potential code issue some remodelers might be facing soon, according to Melissa Berger, product manager with Pella. “The concept of sound pollution is starting to pop up in building codes,” she says, noting how window design can help address multiple homeowner pain points beyond simple thermal control. “It’s all about how do you create more comfort in the home?”
Contemporary—It’s the New Traditional
On the design front, the catchword “contemporary” continues to grow in importance, according to our experts. While traditional styles might still predominate, many homeowners are looking for ways to streamline their interiors. Additionally, Berger says, in this time of social media and its influencers, customers also are less focused on design silos and more interested in expressing a personal style that might span the traditional/contemporary spectrum.
“When you talk about the introduction of social media platforms, they have just really changed the game,” she says, noting that outlets like Pinterest and Houzz have taught homeowners new ways to develop their own personal brands. So manufacturers have to respond in ways that support this new emphasis on creativity. “It’s less about just one design trend, and some homeowners know exactly what they want. So how do we maintain flexibility of our designs so we can meet each of these unique visions?”
However, one constant across this move toward personalization is the popularity of darker colors, especially black, in both sash and frame design. “It seems as though black is the new white,” says Roger Finch, national marketing manager, retail/OEM channels, for glass-unit maker ODL. The company’s Blink Blinds + Glass division supplies most of the dual-pane glass units featuring internal blinds found in products sold by consumer-facing window makers. Similarly, for exteriors, he says, “If you look at Craftsman and modern farmhouse-style homes, a lot of those are using black with white trim or all black trim.”
Nick Pesl, product and market specialist with Kolbe Windows & Doors, confirms Finch’s observations, noting a parallel interest in warming earth tones. “We continue to see contemporary interior design trends that incorporate clean lines—these designs often utilize shades of black and gray,” he says. “For homeowners that seek a warm, organic feel, a selection of wood interiors is very important, along with an extensive color palette that provides an easy selection process.”
And, says Emily Finley, creative director at Marvin, many consumers today want to see less of their windows overall. “We hear a desire from homeowners for bigger, more extensive sightlines, regardless of home style or home type,” she says. Her colleague, Marvin senior product manager Brenda Brunk, agrees. “I think the approach is to blend the windows away, so they disappear into the façade of the building.
The desire for thinner trim lines parallels interest in more expansive areas of glass, notes Leslie Kinsman, senior sales director in Andersen’s Home Improvement, Residential and Commercial Pro Division. This is all in the interest of opening up broader views to the outside to, in some degree, minimize the division between interior and exterior spaces.
“Homeowners continue to ask for large, clear openings, accompanied by narrow sightlines,” she says. “At Andersen, the monumental window sizes we offer—and see homeowners installing—are often the size of some doors.”
Willard says he’s seeing homeowners replacing multiple-window bays with a single, fixed unit because many simply aren’t operating their windows as much as they used to. And, to Kingman’s point, Matt Widlowski, business development manager for Windsor Windows and Doors, says the larger formats can blur the difference between what’s a window and what’s a door.
“I would say that’s become an ongoing trend, with windows becoming as big as doors,” he says. “Now the doors are getting even bigger—we’ll see if windows catch up with doors, three to five years from now.”
Larger sizes pose multiple challenges for manufacturers, with weight often topping the list. “A lot of the glass technology says that once you go over a certain size, you have to increase the thickness of the glass,” Willard says. “We’re starting to see a lot of units that require 3/16-in. glass, and then you need to temper it. Once you add tempering, it’s extremely heavy.”
Kibler ticks off a list of the logistical hurdles caused by the need to handle windows that can reach monumental dimensions. “Safety in our plant, how do we get it to the jobsite and how do they handle it at the site,” he says. “Moving these things around can be a real problem—50 square feet used to be a big piece of glass, but now we have frequent requests for 70 square feet. Sourcing it can even be a problem.”
Meeting Contractor Needs
While the move to larger sizes is causing some headaches for manufacturers, these companies also recognize many remodeling firms face their own significant challenges when it comes to finding skilled labor. A number of them are offering new services to reduce the work that needs to be done at the jobsite.
“One of the things we’ve seen a surge in is factory finishing,” Kibler says. “We can do that in our factory in a controlled environment, so we get a nice, clean, cabinet-grade finish. Over 50 percent of our product is going out with a finish,” from priming on up to final top-coating.
Other companies are reconsidering how their windows are packed and shipped. For example, Willard says MI Windows has developed a time-saving continuous infill unit for multi-window-bay replacements that can fit three windows into a single frame for faster installation. And, according to Pesl, Kolbe’s new Forgent Series windows offer remodelers the option of three different installation methods—an integral nailing fin, installation clips and a screw-through-the-frame option—giving installers greater flexibility to address the range of existing conditions replacement projects can present.
For its part, Andersen has rethought the process of installing large window groupings, according to Kinsman. “The patented Easy Connect Joining System allows large window combinations to be split into smaller sub-group combinations,” she explains. “These are factory-assembled, have all the necessary joining components applied and arrive ready to install, directly into the rough opening.”
Marvin actually went out into the field to get help from installers in the design of its new Skycove. Looking a bit like a human-size greenhouse window with a built-in window seat, this product took home the prize for best indoor product at the 2020 International Builders’ Show.
“We got some interesting feedback about having the forklift flaps installed where they’re needed,” Brunk says. “That’s the result of professional feedback we don’t always think of on our own.”
New to the Market
As the contemporary emphasis on size and color has matured, manufacturers have been rolling out new products addressing those desires, along with easing installation for remodelers. Not surprisingly, Marvin representatives highlight the Skycove product when asked about highlights in their latest introductions—including its possible use in project types they hadn’t yet considered.
“I think we’ve been surprised by how much interest we’ve seen in commercial applications—how they might perform in multiples,” says Brunk, noting college dormitories as one such use case outside designers have discussed.
Many other makers have focused on expanding existing offerings to become a more comprehensive supplier to the remodeling market. For example, Widlowski says he’s excited about the interior products Windsor Windows & Doors has introduced. “The addition of interior finish offerings and the addition of interior trim,” he says, ticking off new options now available in the company’s lineup. “Those correspond with the idea of a one-stop shop to add more value.”
Blink Blinds + Glass supports manufacturers’ ability to meet homeowner interest in personalization by offering its internal blinds in six different colors, Finch says. “It gives you another opportunity for decorating the interior of your home by using the blind as the focus of your design.”
Similarly, Kibler says Weather Shield has focused recently on adding new choices for consumers interested in personalization. “It’s been more about different options and finishes,” he says. “We launched a very high-end stain program with Sherwin Williams that’s been very well received—it goes through a seven-step stain program for an amazing finish.”
Pella has gone back to its roots with its most recent innovation, an integral screen that disappears into the window frame when windows are closed. The company was founded with the name Rolscreen in 1925, named after its namesake screen that rolled up and down like a window shade. According to Berger, in this latest iteration, magnetic attachments connect top and bottom sashes to the hidden screens, so the screens unroll as the sashes open.
Improving resilience is another theme found in more recent product introductions. This can be seen with MI Windows’ 1620 Series window, according to Willard. “It’s a replacement window and our impact window for coastal regions,” he says. “This product was designed to be impact-resistant from the start. All the reinforcements are toward the inside of the window, so it doesn’t take away from the window itself.”
Andersen has also focused on resilience with its 100 Series offering, Kinsman says. The windows are fabricated from a composite material called Fibrex. “Our 100 Series product line is two times stronger and offers a 12-times thicker finish than painted vinyl. It meets the contemporary style people seek, with a variety of rich dark colors that are designed to retain stability and rigidity in all climates.”
And Kolbe has introduced its own vinyl-alternative material called Glastra, a proprietary hybrid of fiberglass and UV-stable polymer. “With the introduction of the Forgent Series, we are providing an upgrade from vinyl windows,” Pesl says. “We’re creating a stronger window with options that homeowners appreciate as upgrades to fit today’s design styles. QR