The steel window and door industry has long been resistant to adding thermal insulation to their products. We need a little history here to help explain the reasons behind the reluctance.
Steel was the metal window profile material of choice until the 1960s, when aluminum came onto the scene. Aluminum extrusions were a lot less expensive to produce and more flexible. That worked relatively well, for a while. Eventually, customers in northern climates discovered that during the winter aluminum conducted quite a bit of cold. So much, in fact, that the condensation it formed would solidify into blocks of ice on the sills inside.
This was a marketing disaster.
The steel window manufacturers had taken over at that point and chuckled to themselves. Steel is four times more insulating than aluminum. In other words, this was an issue they almost never had to confront..
Thermal Breaks: what they are and where they came from
The aluminum industry proceeded to come up with thermal breaks. Thermal breaks create a break from thermal transfer from the outside extrusion to the inside extrusion. They are polymer (plastic) members that are extruded or poured into cavities. This was easy because of the extrudability of aluminum. However, this strategy was not readily available because of the hot-rolling method of making steel profiles.
Cold-rolled, complex shapes of thin steel sheet were developed as a less expensive and more flexible alternative to hot-rolled sections. In the 1990s oil prices skyrocketed and thermal insulation became extremely important. Cold-rolled sections could easily be designed to accept thermal breaks similar to aluminum windows. The cold-rolled sections are not fully welded like hot-rolled ones and use a lot less steel overall. They have never gained full acceptance from serious steel window users.
Do Steel Windows Need Thermal Breaks?
The short answer is yes. However, for many years “Steel windows don’t need thermal breaks.” was essentially an industry slogan.
Around April of 2010, I met Wolfgang Stumm who, along with his brother Michael, ran Montanstahl in Switzerland. During the 90s they took over the production of almost all the hot-rolled sections from rolling mills in Birmingham, England. They dominated the industry. From that vantage point, Wolfgang realized that thermal insulation of hot-rolled steel sections was the next logical step, and a necessary one. He developed a method of laser cutting and a laser welding technology that together created an ingenious system. It went like this:
Laser weld a “U” shape to the flat, laser cut sheets. Do this on the sides facing each other in the “web”.
Insert a fiberglass sheet that is the depth of the desired profile
Crimp it into place.
This system was going to completely change the game. But, that industry slogan I mentioned made it complicated. When Wolfgang offered the new thermally broken hot-rolled profiles to establishments like Hope’s and Crittall—industry leaders in making steel windows and doors—they laughed in his face.
I met Wolfgang by chance during a factory visit to Switzerland with my Polish manufacturing partner. And when he mentioned his creation, the concept clicked for me immediately.
Aside: I partnered with a father-son team in Poland who made hot-rolled steel windows and doors for me. This relationship led me to Wolfgang and Montanstahl.
Together, Montanstahl and my small company turned the concept into a full series of window and door profiles. This system, complete with a glazing bead system, is now produced across the world.
How Is Thermal Steel Different?
Wolfgang and I developed a variation of this technology that became ThermalSteel. With Thermal Steel, the inside and outside “skins” of steel for each window sash and frame were cut out of a single sheet. The skins were connected by a strip of fiberglass. This was a big deal because it eliminated the need for welding and simultaneously reduced cost and the need for inventory.
Wolfgang sought and received a European patent for the process.
Can An Innovative Product Keep A Business Afloat?
Event the most innovative of products aren’t enough to sustain a business.Montanstahl built a brand new facility in Texas. With the patent, Wolfgang and I partnered to build Thermal Steel windows. But alas, this didn’t last very long. I failed to to successfully wrap up the business I brought in from my Polish factory, which ended in significant loss.
After 6 months of facing major production problems on the structural steel side, and the loss I brought in on the Thermal Steel side, we decided to end the experiment.
If A Business Fails Does The Product Disappear?
The Thermal Steel process, patent rights, and machinery were then sold to Architectural Traditions in Tucson, AZ. They sold about $9 million worth of product, but still failed in less than a year.
Why did this happen?
There were simply too many product variances, too little engineering help, and the front line sales troops were too far out front of the supply lines.
Finally, the process was sold out of receivership to Arcadia. They renamed the operation Arcadia Custom and are still producing Thermal Steel today.
What Steps Do You Take After A Business Fails?
Innovation needs time to marinate. After a big failure it’s important to give yourself time to heal and to think. After everything that happened, I took to engineering systems for other companies in the U.S. and Europe.
After a couple of years, everything suddenly came together. I decided to take all of my experience and knowledge and build the 2Fold® system of steel windows with Accoya® wood interiors.
Where To Get The Best Quality Steel Windows and Doors
2Fold® Doors does it best and here’s how:
Instead of having an inside and outside layer of steel with a plastic interface, 2Fold® utilizes a unique aspect ratio of width to height for the steel section of the sash. We provide insulation using the glazing bead frame. This works laterally to the depth of the section.
Heat and cold are not direction conscious. This means, because the heat/cold can’t move from the outdoors through the steel, it doesn’t affect the temperature indoors. The thermal insulation exceeds all 3-piece thermal strategies currently made—in both strength and thermal insulation. This innovation is patent pending and provides the best thermal insulation available today.