Window Trends: More Glass, More Control

With slimmer frames and larger glass areas, manufacturers are innovating at a rapid clip, just in time for a luxury remodeling boom.

authors Patrick O'Toole | May 19, 2021

Set against today’s supercharged remodeling market, the windows category is bursting with new products driven by a number of key trends. According to manufacturer interviews with eight suppliers who collectively represent nearly 20 window brands, those trends are bigger openings and glass walls; the desire for outdoor living spaces, technology and control; customization; the use of color, energy efficiency and comfort; and finally, specialty solutions.

More Glass, Bigger Views

Remodelers, general contractors and residential architects are quite familiar with this trend. Every year fenestration technology advances, creating more opportunities to design and build windows that fit bigger openings. Nearly all manufacturers today are in the market touting slimmer frames with better sightlines that can safely secure larger expanses of glazing. This is happening across all price points and product lines.

A good place to start is with a Canadian premium window manufacturer, Loewen Windows, which has built a strong presence in the U.S. Founded in 1905 and still based in Steinbach, Manitoba, Loewen began selling its custom wood windows (primarily Douglas Fir) here 30 years ago. According to the company’s director of product and marketing, Jon Sawatzky, the trend toward contemporary architecture and bigger expanses of glass has pushed them toward the development of glass curtain walls for the residential market.

Marvin and Halio have partnered to create windows that can be adjusted to a range of shade settings, depending on the need.

Similar to the glass curtain walls found in commercial settings for decades, the Loewen product enables very large panes of glass of up to 80 square feet to be joined together without a heavy grid of structural beams holding them in place.

“For remodelers doing large-scale residential projects and residential architect, we like to tell them a couple of things,” Sawatzky says. “Traditionally, they’ve been limited to what they’ve known and to what’s existed in the past. Those boundaries can all be thrown out. Now with the technology that you have in both the product and in the current building processes, you can create whatever you want. Today, it’s easy to change the structure of the home for openings. In our curtain wall system, you can transform a house with an entire glass wall. Whether it is done with a curtain wall, a lift-and-slide door or a multi-slide door, you can literally change the persona of your home by just thinking a little differently.”

Loewen’s Curtain Wall is made possible in part by a unique drainage system that is engineered into all framing members.

For Loewen, it was the development of a framing system that doubles as a drainage system that really enabled their residential curtain-wall opportunity. A schematic of that system is shown on page 54. Other manufacturers through a combination of technologies offer similar, large-glazing opportunities, namely Marvin Windows with its Modern collection, Pella with its Architect Series, Kolbe with its VistaLuxe and Ultra Series, Andersen with its E-Series, and Jeld-Wen with its Siteline collection, among many others.

Furthermore, the trend toward thinner frames and more glass is permeating (to varying degrees) across all types of substrates, even to vinyl and fiberglass product lines. Milgard, which was acquired by MI Windows and Doors at the end of 2019, has strong market presence west of the Mississippi, where MI’s director of products, Josh Williard, sees strong market demand for bigger expanses and cleaner frames that maximize views. Milgard’s Trinsic Series V300 Vinyl Windows is the primary vehicle for this trend.

“Out west, there is strong demand for products with narrow sightlines and more glass because customers want those views of the landscape,” Williard explains. “It’s a big topic of conversation in that part of the country.”

Outdoor Living

The trend toward window walls has grown steadily for many years. Like many trends, it has its genesis in high-end custom homes, which quickly moved to production homes of the early 1960s. It was then that home designers began placing more emphasis on great rooms with larger kitchens and more natural light. These spaces featured more windows and sliding patio doors, which enabled increased interaction with backyards and patios.

Kolbe’s Forgent Series fits well with the trend toward cleaner lines and bigger openings.

Beginning in the early 1990s, demand for greater interplay between indoor and outdoor spaces gained increased momentum that has continued to this day, with skyrocketing interest in large outdoor living programs. Covered outdoor living rooms, lanais, outdoor kitchens and entertainment spaces anchored by fire pits are considered part of the home now.

Kolbe’s premium Ultra Series also exemplifies the trend.

To a great extent, window manufacturers have ridden this wave by driving the new product innovation described in the previous discussion of glass walls. This is where the discussion of windows merges inexorably with doors, specifically the wide availability of folding glass doors, multi-slide doors or, as some manufacturers describe them, “moveable window walls.” This article is not about this very separate and distinct category of doors, but the trend between the two is difficult to pull apart. In interviews, nearly all window manufacturers merged the two categories when discussing outdoor living.

Today’s larger fixed windows are now offering more venting options. For larger casements and sliders, the focus is on making them easier to open and close. Case-in-point is Pella’s introduction of its Impervia product, which replaces the venerable crank with an up-and-down, easy-open slider that is embedded into the frame near the jamb for casements, and on the sill for awnings.

“The product was designed using principles of universal design,” says Jennifer Tuetken, manager of design and insights at Pella. “About 5 pounds of force move the mechanism, which is made of a Kevlar-reinforced belt-and-ball-bearing system for smooth and silent gliding.”

Pella Corporation recently launched its Impervia casement and awning product line. It replaces hand cranks with an ergonomic easy-slide lever embedded in its sash.

At Kolbe, a number of product lines have been enhanced or improved due to the trend toward outdoor living, says Nick Pesl, who is the company’s displays and product information manager. According to Pesl, the company launched a sleek line of fiberglass windows called Forgent in order to bring many of the features from its premium modern wood product lines to a broader segment of the market.

“Consistent with the outdoor living trend, we’ve seen greater interest in thinner frames and larger glass offerings,” Pesl says. “And we now offer very large-view corner windows, which we’ve seen requested by customers more frequently. We also offer some motorized operators on our casement and awning windows to provide ease of use. These also can help facilitate more ventilation in areas where they cannot be easily reached by hand. This is particularly true if you have a bank of clerestory awning windows. You can operate those with a flip of a switch.”

Technology and Control

In keeping with the motorized controls described by Pesl, the broader window market today is chock-full of big advancements that would have been difficult to imagine previously outside of a commercial fenestration setting. The most recent example was the April 13, 2021, announcement by Marvin that it has partnered with a tech-driven tinted-glass manufacturer Clark Pacific to utilize its Halio Smart Glass in its premium window product lines. As illustrated above with before-and-after photos of a home office fitted with a wall of Halio-enabled Marvin windows, the technology will—on remote command—provide shade or completely darken rooms.

Windsor Window is touching a number of trends with its Next Dimension Signature collection vinyl windows. These fixed windows have thin frames and are presented in black.

According to Levi Geadelmann, product portfolio strategist for Marvin, the Halio partnership represents an increasing trend toward tech-driven premium solutions driven by market demand that are steadily being rolled out by the company. One year ago (pre-COVID) at the International Builders’ Show, the company launched its stunning all-glass box bay SkyCove in two sizes, as well as its tint controlled Awaken skylight, which are featured in a sidebar on this page. The benefits of Halio include glare reduction, protection of interior furnishings, and enhanced privacy—all without the need for blinds, shades, curtains or other old-school ways to counter the growing trend toward more and bigger windows.

“It is an interesting development that as people seek clean sight lines, Halio’s got a technology that we will be leveraging that nearly allows you to no longer have to shade your openings. You don’t need to have roller shades coming down because the glass will now tint down to 0.1 percent at the darkest,” Gaedelmann says. “It’s also a healthy step forward in getting to your energy requirements, which is another tension point between the desire for more glass and the desire for more energy efficiency.”

Simonton, a Cornerstone Building Brands company, offers this DaylightMax slider. It features very narrow framing and excellent sightlines.

From a broader perspective, the growth of smart-enabled products in the home is advancing rapidly. This is also true in the market for windows. Everyday we are learning about smart control systems from Pella, Cornerstone Building Brands (a.k.a PlyGem, Simonton, Atrium, Great Lakes and SilverLine), Andersen, Jeld-Wen, Kolbe and Marvin. Pella’s Insynctive smart-home system allows users to remotely operate blinds and shades between the glass of some of its window products.

More Colors, More Customization

Stepping back from these prominent whiz-bang macro-trends, color and finish are key design trends impacting windows. “Black is still a big trend that we are seeing around the country,” says Steve Hoffins, vice president of marketing for U.S. Windows at Cornerstone. “We have a huge demand for colored windows. We’ve really added a lot of colors to our product lineups and our brands over the last couple of years.”

MI’s Josh Williard agrees. “It is probably the hottest topic across our products right now. It is being driven by the trends on display on HGTV. There’s black, of course, but also some earth tones—almonds and clays. And we are offering bronzes as well,” he says.

Andersen Windows 100 Series is the company’s most popular and versatile product line. Andersen now offers customizable grilles in any pattern submitted by a designer.

Color options abound on most substrate options. Hoffins notes a lot of technology goes into applying black to vinyl for products sold in hotter climates like Arizona. And colors are really just emblematic of the trend toward customization and made-to-order options available at many price points. This applies to custom window sizes and also to grille patterns.

Andersen Windows, for example, is touting custom grille patterns for its popular 100 series window line. “It’s an opportunity to custom placement of multiple horizontal and vertical grille bars,” says Andersen’s Aliki Vrohidis. “It’s a cost-effective way to create the look of a window combination with a single window.”

Milgard Trinsic Series consists of a fiberglass substrate. It features a narrow frame to allow for better sightlines. It is also shown in black, another popular trend.

Customization for privacy is offered through Andersen’s Satin Etch Glass, which is a “pearlescent” glass and is now available on the company’s 100 Series, 200 Series, 400 Series, A-Series and E-Series product lines. “These customization options are designed to offer possibility and inspire creativity,” notes Grant Davis, senior vice president and general manager of Andersen’s Residential and Commercial Pro Business.

Other Key Trends

The proliferation of increasing complex window products to allow window walls, more light, smart features, custom sizes and various design options is a sign of the times. The remodeling market nationally is bursting at the seams with an abundance of large, discretionary projects like room additions and whole-house renovations.

In recent years, however, the trends have been driven by a new raft of performance demands. There are a huge number of new window products designed to meet or beat the updated Energy Star efficiency guidelines. There is a growth in super-efficient products to address new codes in California, Colorado and many other states, as well as products designed to meet PassivHaus and other green standards.

Jeld-Wen has long offered a laminated color solution for its vinyl windows called FiniShield, which is consistent with the ongoing trend toward black and other colors.

In addition, a number of manufacturers are reporting growth in products designed to meet or exceed codes written for coastal environments. Dade County, Florida, has the benchmark code for impact-resistant glass. Nearly all manufacturers interviewed offer these options. Manufacturer websites offer increasingly detailed technical information for contracting professionals to access on the go.

“We keep all of our specifications, instructions, ADMs and 3-part specifications on our website,” says Joe LaMuraglia, director of corporate communications for Jeld-Wen. “We also maintain many instructional videos in our Jeld-Wen U portal for dealers.” For bigger projects, most companies offer one-on-one architectural services. “The entire industry is responding with new performance criteria and certification hurdles,” LaMuraglia says. QR

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