Steel windows and doors are often desired for their graceful aesthetic properties and narrow sightlines, which are highly desirable elements for countless architectural styles. Homeowners and architects alike have historically turned to steel fenestration products not only to achieve their design visions, but also to take advantage of the unparalleled strength and long-lasting durability of steel. While energy regulations continue to get tighter, will steel windows and doors continue to meet these stringent requirements, or will architects finally have to sacrifice elegant form for function?
Will Steel Windows and Doors Meet New Building Energy Requirements?
California is leading the nation in green building standards with an aggressive plan to meet their goal of net zero energy use in new construction residential buildings by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2030. This plan is achieved through continuously updating the building code energy requirements approximately once every three years with a set of ever-stricter, more efficient guidelines. On January 01, 2017, a new set of building code energy guidelines was implemented, leaving many fans of steel products asking themselves:
Do these updated guidelines rule out the beauty and strength of steel fenestration products?
The Benefits and Beauty of Steel
The superior strength of steel allows for one of its most desirable properties: narrow sightlines. Because minimal framework is required for steel's structural integrity, much larger expanses of glass for the architectural design of buildings is possible.
Imagine full walls of glass looking out towards picturesque vistas, allowing natural light to pour into rooms, and a seamless transition artfully blending interior and exterior spaces with only the slimmest steel window and door systems to frame the effect.
But any architect designing in California knows that tighter energy regulations means more consideration needs to go into fenestration product selection. A full wall of glass may offer daylighting, ventilation, and spacial design solutions, but if that wall can’t meet code requirements that vision will never come to life.
Steel may be a window building material that’s only been used since the late part of the 19th century, but it's permanence stands the test of time. With high quality fabrication techniques and current fenestration technologies, today’s steel window and door products are an elegant solution to stringent energy requirements. Features like thermally broken frames and multiple panes of glass allow this classic material to adapt to today’s tough fenestration regulations.
Thermally Broken Steel Window and Door Frames
Steel already has low thermal conductivity, which means it won’t transfer as much hot and cold energy compared to most other metals used for window and door framing. This naturally low thermal transmission is considerably improved on when steel window and door frames are thermally broken. A thermal break, or thermal barrier, prevents heat from transferring from the inner frame to the outer frame (or vice versa), significantly improving on the energy efficiency of steel fenestration products. Heat or cold come in contact with the metal on the outside and dissipate when they come in contact with the thermal barrier.
Glass Considerations for Fenestration Energy Requirements
When projects consist of several large glass openings, its treatment can make or break its overall efficiency rating. Pairing thermally broken steel frames with modern glass technologies means steel products can meet demanding energy requirements in extreme climates. Different glass coatings can have an impact on thermal transfer. Low E glass types can be oriented to reflect heat away from the building or reflect heat back into the living space depending on the environmental need. Tinted glass can be used in a variety of shades that can vary the SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient). Furthermore, specialty gas fills such as argon and krypton improve product performance when used with optimum air space between the glass panes.
A variety of today’s glass types can be combined in an insulated unit for thermal reduction, as well as tint controls, UV blocking and sound inhibition. These variations are needed to help adapt to the requirements of modern architecture. Along with meeting the updated 2017 code requirements, modern glass systems offer options that can enhance the user experience as well as contribute to the aesthetics of any design.
There are numerous benefits of steel windows and doors in architectural design, which is why the material has been favored as a building material for decades. Steel's streamlined appearance can be adapted to fit any number of styles from modern and contemporary, traditional, and even gothic designs. But steel’s appeal is far more than just aesthetic. The benefits of steel are even greater when you consider the material’s durability, permanence, and ability to align with modern window technologies to meet stringent energy code requirements all around the country. When it comes to designing for efficiency and beauty, steel is a solution that architects and homeowners can rely on to meet their needs today and in a more efficient tomorrow.