New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine October 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Evolution: Windows

The view on windows, if you'll pardon the pun, was not clear. It was, in fact, a shady scene. Regulations were stretched and quality was overlooked. No thought was given to the right fit for a particular building. The time was 1982 and the one real concern of the window consumer was price.

Because of the many conversions occurring simultaneously, the early 1980s was a time of booming business in the window industry. "Anyone who had a screwdriver and a hammer became a window guy because so much work was going on," recalls Robert Ecker, president of Ecker Windows.

While the overall structure of the window hasn't changed much, today's models are significantly better, thanks to improvements in installation and insulation. Twenty years ago, capping was prevalent on the outside of windows. Nothing more than a quick fix, a thin piece of aluminum (maximum width .032 in) covered the aging wood frame; it was held in place with nails and caulking. The aluminum fought the nails and caulking and the little integrity the installation had was lost. Wood molding struggled to hold the window in place on the inside.

Today, panning is the widely respected way to go. A .078-inch piece of aluminum is attached to the window, resulting in a much sturdier installation. Snap-trim, an aluminum box that acts like sockets around the window, provides a near-airtight seal on the inside. The industry has learned a great deal about insulated glass; i.e., where you would find air between the window panes of yore, today there is the option of using low 'E' glass in conjunction with argon gas to greatly increase energy savings.

The essential benefits of an engineer overseeing the process from start to finish have become increasingly popular over the years. "Many owners want the cheapest window," says Anthony Szabo, chief engineer at Rand Engineering, "but now they're finding out they need to spend the money on quality manufacturing and installation to save money later."

Szabo says that a standard window (three- by five-foot, double-hung window at 40 pounds per square foot of wind load) would cost roughly $150 in 1982 and anywhere from $300 to $350 today.

Since longevity wasn't given a second thought in 1982, when many developers opted for the cheap way out, some windows didn't even have thermal breaks and many would require adjustments. As a reflection of their quality of work — and also because the amount of work has decreased — only a handful of the businesses from two decades ago remain today. That means some building owners found themselves out of luck as they realized the company from which they had purchased their windows no longer existed, rendering their warranties useless.

Over the years, trade associations have been working to increase the consumer's confidence. Window installers may now take part in the American Architectural Manufacturers Association's program, gaining their certification in the process. For windows themselves, the endorsement of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) can prove as invaluable to a company as Good Housekeeping.

Windows are submitted for testing voluntarily and graded based on their performance ratings. In the early '80s, the main focus of window performance was water and air filtration. Since the categories offered such limited characteristics among them, they were overly forgiving, allowing many companies to take advantage and market their product as a higher quality than it probably deserved. Richard Apfel, vice president of Skyline Windows, recalls that only one window needed to be submitted to the test lab every four years to be re-certified. "Quality control was somewhat lax."

Thanks to wake-up calls in the '90s, ratings are much stricter today as climate conditions, height of installation, type of building, et al. are taken into consideration when assigning a performance grade. These measurements are not intended to direct the application of a window; but are used as a source to gauge what would be appropriate in a case-by-case basis. Rick Perry, director of Industry Standards for the WDMA, is proud of the improvements made to the system. "Hopefully, we're keeping the window industry honest," Perry says. "[However], you're still going to find people that are going to go around it."

Under the New York City Department of Housing and Preservation J-51 tax benefits program, roughly 1,011,185 windows have been replaced since 1989. Ecker estimates 5 million have been replaced in the past 20 years. The average lifespan of windows has grown from roughly 15 years in 1982 to anywhere from 20 to 50 years in 2002. Whether or not this foretells a window replacement resurgence for the industry today is an open question. "It's happening now," says Ecker. "Absolutely." Says Willard Gay of TRACO: "We're told by some people that the window replacement business has dried up. But we've seen [some] little jobs. From what I hear in the street, I don't look at it as a boom."

Regardless of the potential spike in business, everyone involved in the window industry, from the manufacturer and the installer to the consumer, now realizes the overwhelming role that windows play in the quality of life. They are now thought of as a commodity and, as a result, the windows of today are more sophisticated. The good news is that prices haven't increased in proportion to the improvements made and the companies in business seem to be here to stay.
The view on windows, if you'll pardon the pun, was not clear. It was, in fact, a shady scene. Regulations were stretched and quality was overlooked. No thought was given to the right fit for a particular building. The time was 1982 and the one real concern of the window consumer was price.

Because of the many conversions occurring simultaneously, the early 1980s was a time of booming business in the window industry. "Anyone who had a screwdriver and a hammer became a window guy because so much work was going on," recalls Robert Ecker, president of Ecker Windows.

While the overall structure of the window hasn't changed much, today's models are significantly better, thanks to improvements in installation and insulation. Twenty years ago, capping was prevalent on the outside of windows. Nothing more than a quick fix, a thin piece of aluminum (maximum width .032 in) covered the aging wood frame; it was held in place with nails and caulking. The aluminum fought the nails and caulking and the little integrity the installation had was lost. Wood molding struggled to hold the window in place on the inside.

Today, panning is the widely respected way to go. A .078-inch piece of aluminum is attached to the window, resulting in a much sturdier installation. Snap-trim, an aluminum box that acts like sockets around the window, provides a near-airtight seal on the inside. The industry has learned a great deal about insulated glass; i.e., where you would find air between the window panes of yore, today there is the option of using low 'E' glass in conjunction with argon gas to greatly increase energy savings.

The essential benefits of an engineer overseeing the process from start to finish have become increasingly popular over the years. "Many owners want the cheapest window," says Anthony Szabo, chief engineer at Rand Engineering, "but now they're finding out they need to spend the money on quality manufacturing and installation to save money later."

Szabo says that a standard window (three- by five-foot, double-hung window at 40 pounds per square foot of wind load) would cost roughly $150 in 1982 and anywhere from $300 to $350 today.

Since longevity wasn't given a second thought in 1982, when many developers opted for the cheap way out, some windows didn't even have thermal breaks and many would require adjustments. As a reflection of their quality of work — and also because the amount of work has decreased — only a handful of the businesses from two decades ago remain today. That means some building owners found themselves out of luck as they realized the company from which they had purchased their windows no longer existed, rendering their warranties useless.

Over the years, trade associations have been working to increase the consumer's confidence. Window installers may now take part in the American Architectural Manufacturers Association's program, gaining their certification in the process. For windows themselves, the endorsement of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) can prove as invaluable to a company as Good Housekeeping.

Windows are submitted for testing voluntarily and graded based on their performance ratings. In the early '80s, the main focus of window performance was water and air filtration. Since the categories offered such limited characteristics among them, they were overly forgiving, allowing many companies to take advantage and market their product as a higher quality than it probably deserved. Richard Apfel, vice president of Skyline Windows, recalls that only one window needed to be submitted to the test lab every four years to be re-certified. "Quality control was somewhat lax."

Thanks to wake-up calls in the '90s, ratings are much stricter today as climate conditions, height of installation, type of building, et al. are taken into consideration when assigning a performance grade. These measurements are not intended to direct the application of a window; but are used as a source to gauge what would be appropriate in a case-by-case basis. Rick Perry, director of Industry Standards for the WDMA, is proud of the improvements made to the system. "Hopefully, we're keeping the window industry honest," Perry says. "[However], you're still going to find people that are going to go around it."

Under the New York City Department of Housing and Preservation J-51 tax benefits program, roughly 1,011,185 windows have been replaced since 1989. Ecker estimates 5 million have been replaced in the past 20 years. The average lifespan of windows has grown from roughly 15 years in 1982 to anywhere from 20 to 50 years in 2002. Whether or not this foretells a window replacement resurgence for the industry today is an open question. "It's happening now," says Ecker. "Absolutely." Says Willard Gay of TRACO: "We're told by some people that the window replacement business has dried up. But we've seen [some] little jobs. From what I hear in the street, I don't look at it as a boom."

Regardless of the potential spike in business, everyone involved in the window industry, from the manufacturer and the installer to the consumer, now realizes the overwhelming role that windows play in the quality of life. They are now thought of as a commodity and, as a result, the windows of today are more sophisticated. The good news is that prices haven't increased in proportion to the improvements made and the companies in business seem to be here to stay.

Subscriber Login


Ask the Experts

learn more

Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

Source Guide

see the guide

Looking for a vendor?