Codes in high-wind zones near the coast require opening protection, typically provided by impact-rated windows with reinforced frames and laminated glass panes. The reinforced glazing is a sandwich panel, with acrylic plastic bonded to glass. To pass code testing, window panes have to stand up to a nine-pound 2×4 launched at 50 feet per second.
Hurricane glass works, but it has drawbacks. Its heavy, and windows made with it are bulky especially if theyre double-glazed or even triple-glazed to satisfy energy efficiency specifications. Impact-rated glazing is also costly and in the event that it gets damaged in a real storm, it can be hard to replace. And units can pass the test even if the 2×4 punches a small hole through the windowpane as long as the wind pressure doesnt rip that hole too much wider. So in a real storm, the window might still let in some wind and water.
Enter the WISP window. The concept is simple: take the impact-resistant reinforcement out of the glazing element, and deploy it as an automated indoor sun-shade instead. The window starts with a sturdy, thermally-broken aluminum frame, adds standard low-e dual glazing panes, and then applies an operable interior protective curtain made of tough, light-blocking synthetic fabric.
At the Builders Show in Orlando, Florida, last week, Senior Product Design Engineer Fred Higgins put the WISP windows interior protective membrane through its paces for Coastal Connection. You can slide the shade up and down by hand, but Higgins was also able to control a demonstration unit by using a remote control and even from his cell phone, using a home-automation program on a personal computer. So if the building owners should happen to be out of town when a storm approaches, they could still lower the protective screen remotely, as long as phone and power were still operational. (Home Run Holdings, the parent company for WISP Window and Door Systems, has long experience with home automation systems.)
Higgins was also proud of the windows structural elements the rugged extruded aluminum frame with synthetic thermal breaks, the positive screw connections at the corners. And he pointed out the bottom-edge weep screens, designed to take advantage of wind pressure on the system to force water out of the front of the windows lower frame, rather than allow water through into the home in case a window breaks or a seal fails.
WISPs literature calls the system the new standard in hurricane protection. New it certainly is so new that only one set of windows has been installed in the field so far. Coastal Connection spoke last week with Peter Waring, the New Orleans architect of that prototype project. Waring is sold on the WISP system he said, Its brilliant on so many levels. You can use the shade unit as just a shade. And you can also use it to create a dead air space between the inside glazing panel and the conditioned space, which actually adds another layer of insulating value.
WISP approached Waring when he was already into construction of a complex remodel and rehabilitation of three commercial buildings on Tulane Avenue, near the heart of downtown New Orleans (see photos). Warings design combined the three existing structures into one commercial building, with flexibility to house from one to three or more commercial tenants. For the investor, Waring explains, WISPs solution offers distinct economic advantages, both in its first cost and in the event of a need to withstand and recover from a potential hurricane. Said Waring, Impact rated units cost a bloody fortune. And the windows I used for this project are a custom order they are double insulated, with low-e glazing, and they are bronze tinted. If I wanted to do that with hurricane impact glass, it would cost me a kings ransom … But this way, I could just use a standard, state-of-the-art, energy efficiency glazing package on this window and get it delivered that way; and the curtain behind the window handles the impact resistance requirement.
In the event of a hurricane with flying debris that breaks any, or even all, of the windows, argues Waring, performance would be better and recovery faster than would be the case for windows with impact glass. We know that the glass will break with either kind of window. And with impact glazing, some water will get in, too — we dont know how much. But lab testing of the WISP system indicates that when a missile breaks the glass, the curtain does not tear, and remains waterproof, he said. And as for replacement, he said, All you have to do is call the glazers, and almost immediately, your building can not only be re-tenanted, youve avoided all the damage from the windblown rain on the inside, and youve also cosmetically restored the thing. And the job is done for a fraction of the cost that it would take to replace the hurricane impact glass units. So it saves money when you first build the building, it saves money because a building owner can get his tenants back in lickety-damn-split, and not miss any rent; and it saves money in insurance, because the repair costs go down dramatically.
Sales representative Randy Gardner told Coastal Contractor that the company is still working on building a network of sales outlets. But the companys manufacturing facility in Pensacola, Florida, is ready to rock and roll, he said, and the company is handling sales inquiries through the wispwindow.com website and the toll-free number (877/939-9283).