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Fenestration Forum: Future-proofing our products

Future-proofing our industry

August 4, 2016  By Brian Burton

When construction professionals consider the challenges we may encounter in the coming decades the question of what we need to do to effectively “future-proof” our buildings will inevitably enter the equation. Updating and renovating buildings as standards, use and technology change carries costs. Designs that anticipate and mitigate those future costs are more valuable.

Windows and doors are important in any consideration of future-proofing. For instance, today domestic and commercial consumers are generally more cognizant of issues like energy efficiency, safety, quality and sustainability than they were even a few decades ago. Fenestration components in buildings are also seen now to represent a fundamental and vital connection with the outdoors, which consumers value. They are a complex element of the building envelope. Innovations in fenestration elements we have seen over the years are significant and these innovations will almost certainly continue. But in what direction?

The construction sector, where the primary focus usually remains on the next project, has traditionally been somewhat slow in prognosticating for a number of justifiable reasons. To start with, most buildings are one-off prototypes. They are not built in batches by robots on assembly lines. The construction process has never been successfully mechanized or automated. To design each building, considerable expertise and co-ordination are required. Modern buildings are also extremely complex and costly to design and build – much too expensive to allow any attempts at systematic or radical innovations on most projects.

There are other reasons why re-thinking the construction process is difficult. For example, buildings are characterized by inherent immobility, meaning they are difficult to re-locate or re-orientate. As a result, once occupied, it becomes extremely expensive to modify, repair or adapt them to other uses. Construction also lacks the cost and time benefits of standardized replaceable components. Individual building components and materials wear out at different rates. Construction projects are also prone to inherent deficiencies due to factors such as compression, overlap and concurrency.


But the expectations of the occupants – always exceptionally high in Canada – will continue to grow. Our population demographics are changing. By 2056, one quarter of all Canadians will be older than 65. As the needs of occupants changes, our designs will have to adapt or run the risk of obsolescence – whether it be structural, functional or aesthetic – that can carry enormous financial consequences. Aging occupants will have a lower tolerance for safety risks and/or failures of building components. Security will be a heightened concern.

Younger buyers will have quickly evolving requirements with regard to information technology and will expect buildings to react to changes in environmental conditions: maintaining adequate levels of thermal comfort, indoor air quality, ventilation, sound control and daylighting, combined with an acceptable degree of occupant or building management control over the indoor environment.

To meet the challenges of the future, we will need an adequately skilled young workforce. A large number of our existing skilled workers are approaching or have reached retirement age. Analysts estimate we will need 400,000 new workers over the next decade and more as we move forward. Attracting enthusiastic and motivated young workers to opportunities in the construction trades is a persistent problem because of the less-than-stellar reputation the industry has developed over the years.  Although the reputation may be undeserved, a career in the construction industry is generally viewed as repetitive, hazardous and physically demanding. Most experts agree that the construction industry needs to develop a long-term strategy to attract young energetic workers.

Brian is a construction writer from Ottawa Ontario who served on the CSA’s Fenestration Installation Technician Certification Program Personnel Committee. You can contact Brian at or learn more by visiting burton’

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