Energy Efficient Products for Commercial Buildings

Cascadia Windows & Doors

Cascadia Windows & Doors is a manufacturer of fiberglass construction products, primarily windows and doors and it manufactures a cladding attachment product called the Cascadia Clip. The company operates from a facility in Langley, British Columbia and currently has approximately eighty-five employees, having grown every year since it was established.
Cascadia was founded by a group of building science engineers, and today has two additional main owners beyond the founding group. The initial founders had been working at RDH Building Engineering in Vancouver, and from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s they helped Vancouver’s construction industry understand, repair and overcome the leaky condo crisis in the region. During this difficult time for the industry, many buildings were suffering a premature failure of the building envelope – the physical separator between the exterior and the interior of a building – due to water leakage.

That group of engineers worked to solve the issue, as did others in the industry. Superior building practices and products were developed and implemented, and government guidelines were changed to prevent future occurrences.

The group got together in 2006 after the leaky condo to discuss what the next crucial problem in construction would be and how they could help solve it. They identified energy conservation as that issue, and since their expertise was in the building envelope, they discussed how to best address energy conservation in buildings within that realm. The biggest foe of energy conservation is heat loss, and the most significant cause of heat loss is the weakest link in the building envelope, which are windows and doors.

The team began looking at different material and technology options that could decrease the energy loss. They determined that aluminum windows could not be meaningfully improved much further, and plastic windows did not have a long enough lifespan to meet the durability and service life expectations for most commercial buildings. The founders of Cascadia finally discovered the ideal material. “They found fibreglass, which is a more structurally predictable and commercial grade product that is also a very energy-efficient product when used as a window or door,” says Michael Bousfield, the technical director of Cascadia Windows & Doors.

The engineers discovered that there were no meaningful manufacturers of fibreglass windows and doors on the West Coast of North America. So, the real motivating factor behind the founding of Cascadia Windows & Doors in 2008 was to manufacture and commercialize the innovations that will improve energy conservation in buildings.

Cascadia had a third party survey its employees about their understanding of the company mission. The result was positive. One hundred percent of the responses showed that staff understand that their work is about more than getting a paycheck, and they are proud of what the company stands for. The result of their work provides technology to the construction industry that assists with energy conservation in buildings, and therefore, works positively towards addressing climate change.

“We’ve articulated our mission as to lead the North American construction industry to more energy efficient building designs,” says Michael. “Our reason for being is to improve energy conservation in buildings, and the way we do that is to innovate and commercialize a product that will enable that to happen.”

Today, that product is windows and doors. However, Cascadia is not limited. If it made sense to do something different to continue enhancing energy conservation in buildings, the company would explore new products. One of these is the Cascadia Clip, fibreglass spacers for attaching exterior wall cladding. The clips improve energy efficiency in insulated walls by preventing thermal bridging – the movement of heat through conductive materials in the wall.

As the technical director of the company, Michael’s role is divided into three major components. The first is managing the portion of the business that surrounds the Cascadia Clip, the second is the development and coordination of the internal technical resources and engineering, and the third aspect of his position is participating in product development.

The Universal Series of windows and doors is a new product line from Cascadia that is providing the industry with energy efficiency benefits in commercial buildings. It has been in development for a long time; the company required more growth and financial resources before undertaking the new product.

“What we had set out to do is to bring together all of the positive characteristics of our existing product lines into one single product line that could do it all, plus apply everything we had learned over the last decade about making stronger, easier-to-use and higher-performance windows,” says Michael. Cascadia began afresh to build the product with a new design, while making manufacturing simpler, allowing the manufacturer to become more automated over time.

The Universal Series product line is Passive House certified in the USA, and certification is currently pending in Canada. This demanding standard confirms that a building uses little heating or cooling energy. “We wanted it to be a Passive House level of performance for windows and doors,” says Michael. A Passive House certified window or door is thermally efficient and appropriate for use in some of the most energy conserving buildings that are built to the Passive House design guidelines. “To put it in perspective, it is a level of thermal performance that one in a thousand windows in the world is capable of meeting.”

Of all the world’s Passive House level windows, Cascadia’s is the only one that is built purely out of fibreglass, and it is the only one that would be described as commercial grade. In September 2017, the Universal Series product was awarded the Most Innovative Window of the Year, the highest annual award from Window and Door Magazine.

One of the biggest present challenges for energy conservation in commercial buildings has been the requirement that windows meet a non-combustibility characteristic. Canadian building codes, before modern systems existed and fire protection in buildings included the use of sprinklers, were particularly limiting. “The result of these unnecessarily restrictive and broadly defined limits was that only aluminum windows were considered to be compliant,” explains Michael. Since aluminum windows have lower energy efficiency than non-metal windows, the potential for energy efficiency for any commercial building in Canada has been held back considerably.

“For the Canadian construction industry to meet the challenges that our governments have committed to, we are going to have to be able to build more energy-efficient buildings, and we have to get over that limit for the windows. They are such a weak link that they will diminish and eventually eliminate any other good done in other areas.”

To address the unnecessary limit in Canadian building codes, ten window manufacturers in the industry have partnered with the National Research Council of Canada. Their goal was to undertake testing to scientifically demonstrate that modern windows of all different sorts can be safely used in non-combustible buildings. This research will enable commercial buildings in Canada to be more energy efficient, once the building codes have been changed.

“The code change request is still being considered, and the vast majority of the testing had been completed successfully, so we all have our fingers crossed that this new normal of using more energy-efficient windows will eventually be permitted.” Canada will soon catch up to the rest of the developed world that does not have the same limitations in building codes.

It has been interesting in the construction industry to see that, regarding energy conservation in buildings, there are two groups that tend to lead the industry. When constructing buildings, government organizations are in a good position to make investments in innovative technologies that have longer-term payback periods because the government can afford to hold a building long enough to realize those long-term paybacks. The other group is the early adopters, since these people who can afford to go beyond the minimum building requirements and instead build themselves a much better building. Both groups have embraced and followed the highly energy-efficient Passive House building design guidelines.

Today, there are large housing projects being built to these guidelines as a transition in the industry is following the awareness of Passive House as a brand and a movement. “It has grown from a small scale, trendy thing to becoming a major and logical guideline that we see more and more builders and organizations aiming their future projects at,” says Michael.

More Than Just a Trend

The construction industry is typically slow to evolve. Despite the existence of countless new innovations and technologies, and safer, better ways to do things, it is an industry where tried and true construction methods and long-accepted materials are seldom replaced by a new product or approach.

April 19, 2021, 12:32 PM EDT