With the Latest Improvements, It’s Hard to Tell Impact from Non-Impact Products

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season is here. Early projections call for 11 to 15 named storms. With no significant code changes in recent years, manufacturers of impact-resistant hurricane products have had little to do in order to keep homeowners prepared for those events.

“As far as general impact protection codes, nothing’s really changed on that front,” says Lynn Miller, code compliance manager at PGT Innovations (PGTI) and chairperson of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) impact-resistance task group.

But that doesn’t mean that manufacturers sat on their hands. Instead, they’re focused on improvements that give impact-resistant products the same aesthetics and design features offered by other doors and windows.

“The codes have kind of been the codes,” says Scott Corley, director of engineering for ODL. “But what’s happening now is—folks in Florida and Texas are saying, ‘I want the same selection [of products and options] that I would have if I lived anywhere else,’” he says. Most notably, that includes thin, modern-style frames, expansive glass and narrow sightlines—features that, in the past at least, have conflicted with the beefier build of hurricane products.

For ODL, the goal includes making impact-rated doors and windows “disappear” into the product landscape, by designing them to look like any other product, Corley says. After acquiring Tru Tech Doors, the company is now focused on making impact-rated doors and door glass products a cohesive system to eliminate the need for thicker frames. It’s about, “having a beautiful piece of glass that you don’t know is hurricane glass, because it looks like any other,” he says. “You don’t have a frame that’s necessarily wider or beefier than any other frame out there. It’s designed as part of the system, so it doesn’t draw attention.”

Going for Mass Appeal

ODL is just one of many manufacturers working to expand the appeal—and market share—of hurricane-rated products.

Kolbe now offers impact performance within its mainstream VistaLuxe Collection, “For uninterrupted views that also meet the demands of these climates,” says Jeff DeLonay, the company’s president.

“In doors and windows, [customers] really have come to expect the same in the hurricane market, where they can have very large sizes, very narrow sightlines—all of the same industry trends you see in the non-impact world,” says Dean Ruark, vice president of innovation and design engineering for PGT Innovations (PGTI). “We continue to see a trend toward modern contemporary architecture, and products that have minimal sightlines, lots of exposed glass, high-end aluminum finishes—floor-to-ceiling, 60-square-foot-plus door or window packages,” Ruark says.

That’s not to say that larger and more streamlined designs are a shoo-in for hurricane protection. The use of vinyl requires some companies to employ specialty corner designs and other reinforcements. For instance, with its Oceanview line of products, Viwinco Windows reinforces its chambered vinyl frames with aluminum rods.

Others rely on proprietary materials. For instance, with its Forgent Series of impact products, Kolbe uses a proprietary, reinforced Glastra material, which officials say eliminates the need for supplementary reinforcements. As a result, all of the company’s Glastra and Glastra-wood Forgent Series products are capable of offering impact performance via a ladder design
and multi-chambered extrusions.

By carving out such improvements, companies now offer impact-rated products with the same or similar designs as non-impact doors and windows. CRL introduced a Palisades S90 bi-folding door and S100 sliding door system with Florida approval for all areas outside of the Miami-Dade and Broward Counties High Velocity Hurricane Zone (HVHZ), including large sliding glass panels. Despite the product’s slim frames, the maximum system height is a whopping 13 feet and panel widths can reach 7 feet.

Officials for Loewen say their company is set to introduce a new 2-¼-inch inswing door for the impact market—a configuration they say has traditionally been challenged to meet the performance requirements of hurricane-related codes. The product is expected to offer “dramatically thin stiles” up to 10 feet tall, while meeting the impact performance requirements of South Florida.

A Wider Net for Marketing

With these developments, manufacturers have begun to combine statements about hurricane protection and luxury aesthetics into the same marketing messages. For instance, Deceuninck’s 164 Series impact window system is marketed for “high-impact protection with high-impact style,” zeroing in on a sleek and modern frame design. That’s a departure from yesterday’s promotions for impact products.

PGTI went so far as rebranding its PGT Custom Windows and Doors segment with a new logo and the tagline, “the freedom to live where and how you want,” which it suggests will help to “lay the foundation for an expanded position in the marketplace.” With new messaging, the brand aims to transition from one that’s known for hurricane protection and impact-resistance, to “high-performance glass technology,” including features such as energy efficiency and sound reduction.

Recognizing the inherent benefits laminated glass has as a sound attenuator, some companies have begun to lean on this in their marketing. Kolbe markets improved air, water and structural ratings for its hurricane products, but also mentions sound transmittance ratings. NT Window promotes “enhanced noise insulation” for its 1800 Series impact-resistant
windows, along with a Narrowline profile that “maximizes visible glass without sacrificing energy efficiency.”

While sound attenuation is a fringe benefit, energy efficiency, on the other hand, can be a significant challenge.

“You end up with three pieces of glass,” Miller says, in insulated impact products. “You have two pieces for the laminated unit to achieve hurricane resistance. Then you have an airspace and another, third piece of glass.”

For this reason, when impact products are produced to the same dimensions as standard non-impact doors and windows, additional glass reduces the amount of available air space that can be utilized as insulation.

“In the Florida code there’s some allowance for that— where the U-factor requirement can be [more lenient] for impact products, placing the value of structural integrity and life safety, and the beneficial aspects of that product, over a slight decrease to U-factor,” Ruark says.

Where There’s a Will

There again, however, companies have found ways to give impact-rated glass energy performance that’s similar to other (non-impact) products.

The Muhler Company, a manufacturer of impact-rated doors and windows that’s based in Charleston, S.C., employs a patented lamination process, whereby the company dry laminates a multi-ply film to the inboard layer of IG units. The design includes “only two pieces of glass and no incursion into the air space, with no chance of de-lamination,” says Henry Muhler Hay III, the company’s president. The product is both lightweight and energy-efficient, Muhler says.

PGTI also has a custom solution for this problem: a new product, dubbed Diamond Glass, which it developed with glass manufacturer Corning Inc. Together with Corning, the company has been able to produce a residential glass product that’s as thin as 0.7 mm, but about three times stronger than standard float glass. “We’re getting even better impact and cyclic pressure
performance on some of these products than the existing standard laminated glass products, while reducing weight by 40% to 45%,” Ruark says.

Those reductions allow the company to create products with laminated glass that are about the same thickness and weight as non-impact products.

As some companies place their focus on glass, others choose to offer and market other alternatives. Rehau, for instance, offers storm-protection fabrics.

“While all of our systems are robust enough to be equipped with impact glass, the cost of this traditional approach caused us to look for a better solution, which we now offer as the Raushield storm protection system on our side-load single hung,” says Justin Taylor, the company’s product development engineer for the window solutions division.

The company’s new Exelis 190 hung-slider with Raushield features a 3 1/4-inch frame with integral anchor points, which allow homeowners to install storm protection fabrics in front of standard, double-pane glass.

In addition to its dry-laminated impact glass, Muhler Co. has developed several other options, including a Storm Jamb Window with attachment points for hurricane panels extruded into the frame. When a storm is approaching, cover caps can be removed, exposing attachment points, after which panels are screwed in. After a storm has passed, the panel is then removed and cover caps are re-installed. The company also manufactures lightweight hurricane panels and a product called Storm Surround—a patented vinyl extruded doorlite kit, which is installed into doors without the need for screws. Another of the company’s options, Storm Trim, is an extruded attachment system for hurricane panels that’s attached with a nailing fin that goes over the nailing fin of a door or window.

Another company, Tough Tek Metals, offers a hurricane screen, which has been tested and passed the Florida hurricane impact test for level D performance.

Growing Demand

Whether it’s impact-rated glass or add-on products, the geographical market for hurricane protection is steadily growing, as more homes are built in areas that require hurricane glazing and manufacturers manage to lure the interest of homeowners in other areas.

With those expanded markets, there is also interest among some manufacturers to align the more stringent Dade County standards with ASTM standards, Miller says, but so far that suggestion has fallen short. Two sets of requirements, “makes it challenging for manufacturers,” he says. “If we’re selling products in Florida and outside of Florida, we have to ensure we comply with both sets of criteria.”

The concept of going above code is one that’s also gaining ground with insurance companies, Miller says. “We’re getting more back-to-back storms,” he says. “It seems like they’re becoming more frequent.”

For this reason, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety established a voluntary “Fortified” construction method, which calls for building above and beyond code—including impact protection. Via this and similar programs, it’s entirely possible that— code changes or no code changes—insurance providers might begin to call the shots, specifying or incentivizing the use of hurricane products in more inland areas. With more hurricane products offering the same look, energy performance and appeal as other doors and windows, manufacturers should be well-positioned to capitalize on those opportunities.

Drew Vass is the executive editor of Door and Window Market [DWM] magazine.

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