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.
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Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA

Common Fiberglass Applications
Since the original patent of fiberglass was approved in 1946, the many uses of this material have increased substantially, attesting to its versatility under extreme environmental conditions. Fiberglass components are used in a variety of construction applications, in buildings, and on land and sea, which all capitalize on the inherent qualities of strength, durability, and moisture resistance. These characteristics make fiberglass composites the material of choice for different industries, and indicate why this material is ideally suited for fenestration.

For bridge, highway, and maritime components and panels, fiberglass offers low weight, high strength, long-term stability, and moisture resistance. Underground chemical storage tanks made of fiberglass must last over 50 years. At highways and roads, fiberglass sound barriers are often located between the roadway and residential areas as a stable, durable noise buffer. Roadway signs, and other highway elements with constant exposure to the elements, are an emerging use of fiberglass composite. Naval architects and engineers turn to fiberglass for boat construction and sea walls, because it withstands climate and water temperature extremes, and resists salt water corrosion.

The following are some common industrial applications for fiberglass composite:

  • Automotive: Fiberglass composite is used for bodies and bumpers, from cars to heavy commercial construction equipment, and armored vehicles. All of these are constantly exposed to climate extremes, and subjected to abusive wear and tear.
  • Boats: Most boats are made of fiberglass, because of its ability to withstand the elements under heat and cold, and corrosion-resistant properties from salt water and atmospheric pollution.
  • Bridge and highway construction: Bridge decking steel bars are being replaced with fiberglass, which has the strength of steel, but resists corrosion, a significant factor as steel prices rise. Other uses include: wide span suspension bridges requiring lower weight, highway guardrails, streetlight poles, and manhole covers, because of strength, light weight and durability.
  • Residential and institutional buildings: Shower stalls, laundry and hot tubs, and extension ladders.

Fiberglass is suitable for wet zones in health care facilities because it can be cleaned daily and resists mold and mildew, which can readily appear in poorly ventilated bathrooms. "As a board certified hospital architect, I've always preferred fiberglass handicapped showers for patient areas. The seamless fabrication, controlled engineering tolerances, ease in cleaning, and efficient infection control make it the perfect product consistently designed to meet strict regulatory standards," says Orlando T. Maione, AIA, ACHA, principal, Maione Associates, Stony Brook, New York.

Fenestration Design Criteria

Regardless of climate, client, or building type, architects have specific design criteria in mind when selecting and specifying windows and doors for new construction, renovations or retrofits. "With increased demands by clients for energy efficient windows and doors, the measurement of thermal performance is important when specifying windows. Fenestration performance is critical in determining the overall energy efficiency of a building. Fiberglass windows and doors are a good solution for added thermal performance. Where noise is a problem, fiberglass windows and frames can reduce undesirable sound transmission," says Terrance J. Brown, FAIA, senior architect, ASCG, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Retrofits and window replacement projects for older buildings sometimes pose challenges that don't arise during new construction. "When choosing windows, especially on retrofits of multi-family residential buildings constructed of brick, wood and stucco, I look for ease of installation, energy efficiency, moderate costs, maintenance, aesthetics, and durability. They make a substantial difference in fuel economy and sustainability," says Laurence E. Parisi, AIA, principal, Laurence E. Parisi, P.C. Architect, North Bergen, New Jersey.


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Architectural Record
Originally published in June 2006