First R10-Factor window breaks into U.S. market

Photo by Pam Martin

Alpen High Performance Products CEO Brad Begin talks about Alpen’s new breakthrough thermal-resistant window at a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at the company’s headquarters on Monarch Park Place.

A new window developed by Niwot-based Alpen High Performance Products (Alpen HPP) breaks previous R-value thermal resistance records, a boon for energy-conscious Boulder County residents.

Designers and manufacturers of energy efficient windows and doors, Alpen HPP announced a new product Dec. 7 that delivers an R10 insulating factor—the Zenith Series ZR10 double-film fixed picture window.

The window system exceeds U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) ENERGY STAR® certification requirements, and arrived four years ahead of DOE expectations, since its members challenged the industry to develop an R10-level commercially viable product by the year 2020, according to Alpen HPP CEO Brad Begin. The ZR10 window system received certification by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) in June.

Europe has led the way in the design of energy efficient windows and doors for years, because of strong incentive programs and the relatively higher cost of energy abroad. But manufacturers overseas, particularly in Germany and Switzerland, have focused their innovations on the frame and less so on the glass, according to Begin. Alpen HPP has incorporated European-style frames, including the use of vinyl and fiberglass materials and foam insulation to fill cavities, and then takes a meticulously scientific approach to the glass as well.

“We’re the only ones using our unique combination,” Begin said. All the glass and frames are designed and produced in a 39,000-square foot facility on Monarch Park Place in Niwot, and a separate 12,000-square foot manufacturing location in Denver.

Begin mentioned a couple of U.S. competitors that also use fiberglass frames, but none of them have “our unique system,” he explained—a combination that involves a wider glass pocket up to 1 3/8 inches —“which makes a huge difference in the thermal performance of the glass,” he said. Alpen HPP incorporates double panes, two layers of insulating gases and low-emissivity film, which reduces solar heat gain and radiant heat loss for energy cost savings year round.

“Fiberglass is the latest and greatest framing material,” Begin continued. “Ten years ago it made up less than one percent of frames. Now it’s eating into aluminum, vinyl and wood frames and makes up about six percent of the market.” Pultruded fiberglass is a fabrication process that compresses glass threads under enormous pressures. The result is strong and durable, as well as extremely resistant to environmental corrosives and temperatures. Alpen HPP uses both fiberglass and vinyl in its window and door frames.

European competition impacts the domestic market, particularly on the east coast, where homeowners are looking for design features not readily available in the U.S. But Alpen HPP’s Tyrol Window Series is aimed to compete with the high performance imports with similar European styling. Less glass area, heavy-duty hardware and wider frames are joined by what’s called “tilt-and-turn” functionality—where users can swing the window into the room like a door, or tilt the top of the sash into the room for ventilation—with a single handle.

“But lead times [from Europe] can be between 14 and 18 weeks,” Begin said. “We can produce them in four weeks or even sooner,” and customers won’t have to wait long for replacements either, he added.

Company founder Robert Clarke has an engineering background and an MBA, and his focus on the science of high performance continues in the company’s ongoing collaborations with scientists at the DOE and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The lab has the tools and resources to develop computer simulations that test window-and-door design features, such as the air space in which Argon gas optimizes its performance, which happens to be at one-half inch, a fact that continues to drive industry production standards.

In addition to Argon, Alpen also incorporates Xenon and Krypton gases, and as a result uses wider-than-industry-average glass pocket sizes for greater efficiency potential.

Regarding those ongoing scientific collaborations Begin said, “We utilize those available resources in a manner that’s disproportionately high for the industry.”

According to Begin the company will continue to innovate. “We plan to be the first to produce an R11 window,” he said. He calls the company’s 60 employees “a special team of very intellectually curious people who are always looking to define what’s best in class.” Begin’s background is in the steel industry, where he said there was very little innovation except in the area of execution. Innovation in windows and doors, on the other hand, “is a wide open market.”