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Thermal Insulation & Steel Windows

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 1960’s when aluminum came onto the scene with extrusions that were a lot less expensive to produce and more flexible.  That worked ok for them until customers in northern climates discovered that in the winter the aluminum conducted so much cold that they formed condensation so badly that it would form into a solid block of ice on the sills on the inside.  This was a marketing disaster.

The overtaken steel window manufacturers laughed and said “I told you so” because it didn’t happen very often with steel because steel is four times better at insulation than aluminum.  The aluminum industry proceeded to come up with thermal breaks which are polymer (plastic) members that are extruded or poured into cavities that create a break from thermal transfer from the outside extrusion to the inside extrusion. 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.  They could be configured to receive thermal breaks once oil prices rose in the 1990’s. The cold-rolled sections are not fully welded like hot-rolled ones and there is a lot less steel overall. To serious users of steel windows, they have never gained full acceptance.

Around 2010 I met Wolfgang Stumm who, along with his brother Michael, ran Montanstahl in Switzerland. During the 90’s they basically took over the production of almost all the hot-rolled sections from rolling mills in Birmingham, England.  From the vantage point of industry dominance Wolfgang realized that thermal insulation of hot-rolled steel sections was necessary to the industry and the world.  He developed a method of using their laser cutting and welding technology to come up with an ingenious system.

When the new thermally broken hot-rolled profiles were offered to the likes of Hope’s and Crittall who were industry leaders in making steel windows and doors, they almost laughed at him reciting the industry slogan that steel windows don’t need thermal breaks.  When I met him accidently during a factory visit to Switzerland with my Polish manufacturing partner, I got it immediately and together Montanstahl and my small company turned the concept into a full window and door series of profiles.  This system, complete with a glazing bead system, is now being made all over the world.

The story doesn’t end there.  Wolfgang and I then kept pushing ideas back and forth until a variation of this technology was developed that became Thermal Steel.  With Thermal Steel, the inside and outside “skins” of steel for each window sash and frame were cut out of a single sheet, eliminating welding and simultaneously reducing cost and the need for inventory. The skins were joined by connecting a strip of fiberglass between them and Wolfgang sought and received a European patent for the process.

A joint venture was formed between us to build the Thermal Steel windows in a new factory that Montanstahl built in Texas. But alas, it didn’t last long because of my failure to successfully wrap up the business I brought into the venture from my Polish factory.  Six months into the venture facing major production problems on the structural steel side of the US venture and the losses I brought into the Thermal Steel side of the business, we decided to end the failed experiment.

The Thermal Steel process, patent rights and machinery was then sold to Architectural Traditions in Tucson, AZ who also failed to make it successful although they sold about $9 million worth of them in less than a year.  To many product variances, too little engineering help and just generally getting the front line sales troops too far out front of the supply lines brought about the demise.  The process was then sold out of receivership to Arcadia who renamed the operation Arcadia Custom and is still producing Thermal Steel.

I was consulting with Architectural Traditions until a financial dispute separated us a few  months before they closed. I spent a couple of years just engineering systems for other companies in the U.S. and Europe.  During the late stages of this time, I decided to take all of my experience and knowledge and build the 2Fold® system of steel windows with Accoya wood interiors.  I lost faith in the internal thermal separation of Thermal Steel and the other variants, but never lost confidence in the value of steel.

Instead of having an inside and outside layer of steel with a plastic interface which required two mechanical bonds to make this sandwich of a profile, 2Fold® utilizes a unique aspect ratio of width to height for the steel section of the sash and provides insulation by way of the glazing bead frame that works lateral to the depth of the section. Heat and cold are not so direction conscious.  So long as the heat/cold can’t move from the outside air through the steel to the inside air, insulation is gained. The thermal insulation exceeds all 3-piece thermal strategies in both strength and thermal insulation. For this innovation we have a patent pending.

Anyone who would like to learn more about our approach to the modern, efficient steel window and door should kindly press the button below. 2Fold® is my baby and I’d love to show you pictures.  Be careful . . . you might not be able to shut me up. 

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CEO. Owner. Founder. 2Fold Doors.

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