Thermal Break Technology Could Help Improve Buildings' Energy Performance
December 11, 2009

Finding ways to retrofit building enclosures for energy efficiency and sustainability was the was theme of yesterday's Building Enclosure Technology and Environment Council (BETEC) Symposium, which took place in Washington, D.C., and one key point raised involved the benefits of thermal break technologies. Upon discussing energy improvements to glass, one member of the audience pointed out, "We seem to not be embracing aggressively strong thermal break technology … It seems like you're still [putting up solid aluminum frames in buildings today … why are we not getting thermal break technology in the curtainwall?"

According to Dave Hendrickson, a member of the market team with Technoform Bautec NA Inc., until recently the country has had a perceived ample domestic supply of energy resources, at low costs compared to other countries.

"As a result of low energy costs, thermal break products did not have the attention of building owners and designers as they do now," Hendrickson tells™. "As the supply of energy resources becomes more scarce and heating and cooling costs increase, the building industry is becoming more aware of the need to supply thermally efficient products to meet changing local, state and national thermal building codes."

During yesterday's symposium, Dudley McFarquhar of McFarquhar Group agreed that thermal break technology in frames could indeed improve energy performance. He suggested that architects may need more education on the benefits of these systems, as many may shy away because of a perception that deeper frames can hamper vision. However, he adds, "I think as you move forward certainly thermal systems are the direction we're going in."

Hendrickson says there are indeed a number of benefits when it comes to thermal breaks, including thermal efficiency of doors, windows, curtainwall system designs and glazing technology.

"As energy costs rise, thermal performance is more important than ever. Thermally broken products reduce energy consumption, which in turn helps our environment," says Hendrickson. "Some thermal break material, such as polyamide struts and warm-edge spacers, offer the architect or designer more freedom in designing products that not only meet the building's structural, thermal and aesthetic needs of today, but allow them to specify products that meet aggressively changing code requirements in the coming years."

He adds that the building and construction industry is already starting to see traditionally non-thermal parts of the country, such as the deep south and the warm western states, using thermally broken products.

"While the percentage of thermal glazing and thermal products in these areas may be small now, the trend is certainly on the rise. There is no doubt that the industry is seeing a huge surge in changing building codes, which directly affects all of us," Hendrickson says. "The Department Of Energy is one of many driving forces for these changes, which will help us meet national and global expectations for energy efficiency in all aspects of our economy."

Adding that energy use in buildings accounts for nearly 40 percent of all energy use in the United States, Hendrickson says, "With the use of higher performing thermal products, we can all reap associated energy, environmental and financial benefits."

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