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Fiberglass Fenestration: A Durable, Sustainable, and Economic Alternative for Windows and Doors

By combining the benefits of aluminum, vinyl, and wood windows, fiberglass composites provide aesthetics and longevity for any environmental condition.

June 2006
Advertorial course provided by Pella® Windows & Doors

By Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA

Fiberglass Composite Technology

Fiberglass composite materials are strong and durable. In testing performed in accordance with the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) testing standards, fiberglass composites displayed superior performance in strength, ability to withstand extreme heat and cold, and resistance to dents and scratches.

The structural core, consisting of glass fibers, is sandwiched between engineered layers of a structural mat, to optimize strength. During fiberglass production, the mat and glass fibers, known as rovings, are impregnated with heat-set resin and pulled through a die, a process known as pultrusion. Lastly, the fiberglass composite pultrusions are ideally painted with an environmentally friendly, durable surface coating, such as a powder-coat paint finish, or in some instances, with conventional, solvent-based paints or acrylic caps.

Material comparison of fiberglass composite, aluminum with thermal break, and vinyl.

Fiberglass
Composite
Aluminum with
Thermal Break
Vinyl
Overall
Performance
****
***
**
Strength
Excellent
Eight times stronger than vinyl; twice as strong as aluminum¹
Very Good
Fair
Becomes brittle over time
Hot/Cold Performance
Excellent
Withstands heat up to 200° F and cold to -40°F
Excellent
Fair
Warps, sags and softens in extreme heat; becomes brittle in extreme cold
Thermal
Expansion
Excellent
Low expansion and contraction rate assures consistent, weathertight seal between sash and frame
Fair
High expansion and contraction rate may break seal between glass and frame.
Fair
High expansion and contraction rate may break seal between glass and frame.
Impact
Resistance
Excellent
Withstands impact without deformation
Good
Fair
Durability
Excellent
Very Good
Potential for thermal break failure; prone to corrosion in seacoast environments.
Good
Cannot be repaired easily if damaged.
Energy
Efficiency
Excellent
Superior insulating properties, condensation resistance and U-values
Fair
Natural conductor, poor insulator. People seated by windows may be uncomfortable.
Excellent
**** Excellent
*** Very Good
** Good
* Fair
¹In testing performed in accordance with ASTM testing standards, fiberglass composite has displayed superior performance in strength, ability to withstand extreme heat and cold, and resistance to dents and scratches.

Key Features and Benefits of Fiberglass Composites

The primary benefits of fiberglass composite windows and doors include:

  • Durable: They are dent and scratch resistant, will not corrode or rot, are appropriate for coastal conditions, and exhibit great strength.
  • High performance: These units provide excellent resistance to air and water infiltration, as well as high winds, and serve as sound barriers between outdoor and indoor spaces
  • Installation, operation and maintenance: Fiberglass composite units typically arrive on-site pre-assembled and pre-finished, which makes them easy to install, and low maintenance over the long term.
  • Efficient: These units have high R-values, which is a measure of resistance to the flow of heat through a given thickness of a material, as insulation, with higher numbers indicating better insulating properties.
  • Sustainable: Fiberglass composites consume low embodied energy to produce, compared to aluminum and vinyl.
  • Thermally stable: Fiberglass composite has a very low coefficient of expansion. As a result, it moves very little as the climate changes, resulting in less stress on the installation, seals, and glazing of the window or door. In addition, since fiberglass composite is very heat tolerant, it can be painted dark colors without concern for heat deformation.

 

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