Exhibitors at Fensterbau Decked the Halls With Green Materials

March 21st, 2024 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor

“Climate change.”

Nothing will set fire to a dinner party in the U.S. quite the way those two words can.

“The problem these days is, if people don’t have the same feeling about a topic, they immediately think it’s arguing,” says Sandro Straub, sales manager, expanding markets, for Aluplast.

Exhibitors and attendees at Fensterbau Frontale agree that the industry bears a certain responsibility towards the environment.

But at Fensterbau Frontale, there’s been no arguing this week—not when it comes to climate change and environmental impacts, at least, and what the industry sees as its responsibility to make a difference.

“Take a look around,” said Martin Schmeppenhouser, a press representative for Kömmerling. “Everyone here is trending toward green technologies.”

Six years ago, there wasn’t a plant or stitch of greenery to be found at the show, said Dominik Kiefer, Kömmerling’s head of product market management. “I arrived this year, looked around and said, ‘Oh wow … this looks like a gardening show,” he said, commenting on the environmental themes. Most exhibitors had one section of their booths dedicated to environmental topics and products, such as bio-based materials and recycling. Aluplast even had a separate “green booth.”

“It’s embraced by the industry in Europe, but we’re always trying to go above and beyond the boundaries to do more,” Straub said. “The environment is already really important to us, but there is more we can do.”

First and foremost, European door and window companies have focused on producing energy efficient products. In the U.S., that typically means better glazing and sometimes better frames. But European manufacturers feel there’s merit to the way some of their windows operate. For instance, while they haven’t caught on in the U.S., tilt-turn style windows in Europe feature beefier hardware that compresses weather seals when latched. This makes a difference when it comes to air infiltration and efficiency, European manufacturers suggest. Strong hardware also accommodates heavier, triple-pane glass, which is the standard in Europe.

Meanwhile, “Tilt-turn in the U.S. is still the BMW or Mercedes of windows,” said Greg Koch, vice president of sales and marketing for Deceuninck North America. But the market is becoming more educated on the products that are available in Europe, which is helping to build interest, Koch said.

The industry is also turning to more recycled content and new, bio-based versions of PVC. Kömmerling’s booth had a display for windows made from what the company calls “bio attributed” PVC. The material is made of pine-oil, but in the end, it’s the same as regular PVC, Schmeppenhouser said—so much so that the two materials can be commingled in recycling. “The chemical and physical properties are the same,” he said.

Other companies have similar materials, but there’s also a focus on products made from recycled PVC—in some cases by as much as 100%, such as Deceuninck’s Phoenix line of windows.

“The Phoenix line was designed for the European mentality, which is much more eco-conscious,” Koch said. “We’re getting there in the U.S., but there’s still a big gap.”

Customers in Europe request fully recycled product, he and others said, but for now it’s an expensive option. For this reason, windows made from recycled materials comprise a small part of the market, Schmepenhouser said—partly due to a lack of availability. Products made from standard PVC are more readily available.

A product’s environmental impact is a significant concern at Fensterbau Frontale.

But there’s another issue that European companies face as they look to produce more recycled products—especially if they intend to sell them in the U.S.

“Some of the windows being recycled are older than me,” Straub said. “So, we cannot guarantee they contain no lead.”

As much as 30 years ago, PVC windows often contained lead. For this reason, companies offering windows made from recycled PVC cannot guarantee that their products do not contain trace amounts of the material. Several companies have remedied this problem by using recycled materials in the internal components of some window frames, where they’re encapsulated with virgin capstock—often made from bio-based PVC. Kömmerling exhibited a ReFrame line, a product that’s made of 100% recycled PVC, but it includes an outer layer made of the company’s “bio attributed” material.

In those cases, there are issues to overcome in manufacturing, in order to keep work environments and employees safe, but, “They’re safe when they’re installed,” Koch said of Deceuninck’s recycled products. But you won’t find them in the U.S.—not until standards catch up to the concept, he said.

With robust recycling programs in place, companies can also supply their own materials for manufacturing.

“It’s a totally closed loop—all in our hands,” said Frank Zimmermann, chief technology officer for Rehau. “It starts with contracts we have with our dealers, for them to give us back the old windows to be recycled.”

Ahead of Fensterbau, Deceuninck held a tour of its recycling center in Belgium, which stores “massive mounds” of torn out windows, Koch said. With windows made from recycled PVC, those mounds now represent raw materials. In some cases, the supply is significant.

Kömmerling’s recycling program has a capacity of 15,000 tons per year. But the company isn’t alone. When it comes to the door and window industry, “We have a large recycling initiative here in Germany and Europe,” Schmeppenhouser said, thanks to government regulations that began in the early 1990s.

It’s about more than just reusing old windows to keep them out of landfills. By utilizing recycled materials, “We can also save a lot of energy, and CO2 emissions,” Zimmermann said. “If you use recycled materials, CO2 emissions can be reduced by roughly 88%. That’s good for two reasons—we can reduce the usage of natural resources, while reducing emissions in the process.”

Fensterbau runs through Thursday. Watch for additional coverage over social media.

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