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Taking Aim at Sustainability with Commercial Vinyl

As vinyl options for commercial glass and glazing applications mature, they offer performance in demanding applications and sustainability for architects 

glass facade

Architects are always tasked with balancing a range of different performance criteria when specifying materials and drawing up designs for new commercial structures. But in 2024 and beyond, there’s one driver that may trump them all: sustainability.

There are a variety of reasons why. Building codes and standards continue to become more stringent when it comes to energy efficiency. Meanwhile, sustainable design choices are increasingly viewed as a simple social responsibility not unlike that of adequate fire protection or other essential components. And because 40% of energy in the United States is consumed by buildings, organizations like the American Institute of Architects are making strong commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

For architects, there are countless choices to be made when specifying materials for a new building, and all of them can contribute to the structure’s overall sustainability profile. Those include, of course, choices about fenestration systems.

It’s against this backdrop that commercial vinyl window systems have emerged as a reliable and more thermally efficient option when compared with many metallic systems. For punched opening applications, and even for some forward-thinking curtain wall applications, vinyl can bring elevated energy efficiency to an entire building—and in 2024, has proven itself to be 100% viable for the demands of commercial construction.

For architects looking to add another element to their arsenal of sustainable building options, it’s worth investigating commercial vinyl options. 

Outstanding thermal efficiency for more sustainable buildings

Windows and fenestration are an essential component in any human-occupied structure. Be it professional or residential space, occupants require daylight and—where appropriate and when weather conditions are optimal—the option of free-flowing fresh air within the interior space.

That being said, heat that either escapes or enters through windows accounts for roughly 30% of the energy used to heat or cool that same building. That’s a significant loss of energy, but the right window technologies can help drive that figure down significantly.

Vinyl and composite options offer opportunity here. The right designs can dramatically improve energy efficiency, structural performance and condensation resistance versus energy-challenged, metal-based frames and components that lose energy. There are ancillary benefits too, as these options have the potential to reduce sound transmission, helping to create quieter and more comfortable living and working spaces, especially in busy urban environments.

Paired with proven technology like high-performance, warm-edge spacer systems—which have demonstrated their ability to deliver efficiency gains in some of the most demanding applications in the world—architects can make a real impact with commercial vinyl in a variety of applications.

Long-term performance

It’s important to remember that sustainability is about more than immediate-term efficiency gains. The entire life cycle of chosen components should be evaluated when specifying for sustainability. To wit, here’s a quote from a recent AIA practice guide, “Design for Adaptability, Deconstruction, & Reuse”:

For all the heavy lifting a new building requires, our structures are often torn down before they reach the end of their useful life. It doesn’t have to be this way. By being more intentional about the flexibility of a structure, buildings can hold neighborhoods together, encourage social equity, and contribute to community resilience for extended periods of time.

For these reasons, it’s increasingly important to consider the long-term durability and longevity of any building component. Because even if your window systems may deliver efficiency gains, those can easily be cancelled out in terms of overall environmental impact if those systems fail in the short term; they’ll just end up in a landfill that much sooner.

When evaluating vinyl or composite options, consult with your suppliers and partners on how their systems withstand the test of time. For example, do they meet the right weathering requirements for trustworthy performance in wide-ranging North American climates? Do they demonstrate the necessary structural characteristics to match the expected performance of a comparable metallic option? And if you’re opting for nonstandard color options, will those technologies provide long-lasting vividness and weather resistance?

As sustainability becomes ever more important in the architectural and commercial construction spaces, these are some of the things that are worth thinking over. Vinyl and composite technologies are here to stay in the commercial world—immediate efficiency and thermal performance gains must be matched by anticipated longevity for a true, sustainable solution. 


Joe Erb

Joe Erb

Joe Erb is national account manager for Quanex Building Products.