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Innovation and Tradition: Freisinger Windows from the Tyrol to the World

bridges vol. 11, September 2006 / Green Buildings Focus
by Paulus Freisinger

Clever window developments, valuable patents and diverse innovation, and promotional prizes for unusual window developments - these are the hallmarks of traditional Tyrolean window manufacturer, Freisinger, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. Marked by a love of wood as a material, and by a sense of ecological responsibility, this traditional Tyrolean company is known internationally as the pioneer of energy-saving wooden windows, particularly for passive house construction. Passive houses manage without common energy sources and are currently the ne plus ultra in low energy construction - not least because increasing oil prices have raised consumers' awareness of energy-saving solutions and support the passive housing trend. Freisinger windows are used not only in Austria and Europe, but throughout the world, for example in Japan, the US, and Israel. To move innovative developments onto the market more quickly, Freisinger has founded OPTIWIN , an international business group now comprising 14 European companies, producing Freisinger windows under license. In September 2006, Freisinger toured Canada with Austrian passive house element manufacturers and architects to publicize the advantages of passive house technology and win new licensees for Freisinger Energy Save Windows. If it were Freisinger's decision, the Austria House at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, would be built as a passive house.

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Freisinger Windows - Tyrolean family company for three generations

Freisinger Windows was founded in 1932 as a carpenter's shop and general store; in 1947 the joinery was added. This traditional factory in the Tyrolean village of Ebbs valued innovation and creativity, while aiming for a healthy environment, high quality products, and satisfied customers and staff. The company has been awarded the State of Tyrol Innovation Prize, the Research Promotion Prize, and the Austria quality seal "Tested Quality." Freisinger was the first Tyrolean window manufacturer certified to ISO 9001and 14001 quality standards. http://freisinger.optiwin.net/freisinger/referenzen

Dedicated wood men with ecological responsibility
Freisinger does not produce or trade in PVC windows. The love of wood and protection of the environment mark our work. Solid wood and not glued window scantlings, natural colors inside and out, winter- and moon-felled wood, and avoiding plastic, all reflect our lively concern for ecology. One result is the development of innovative construction elements bearing descriptive names in Tyrolean dialect: "Zwoa2Holz" and "Drei3Holz" windows or "Frost Kork" house doors. Anyone who appreciates the cozy warmth of a wood burning stove on a cold winter's day knows that wood has a positive influence on our well-being. Wood communicates this coziness as furniture, wooden windows, doors, or natural wood floors.

While it may seem contradictory, the use of wood protects the environment. The forest, our green lung, is not only maintained by our using wood, allowing forest rejuvenation, but the forest is even strengthened. Each felled tree is replaced by planting a new one. A short transport distance to the point of processing also protects the environment.

A full moon in the forest
Ensuring a high standard of quality is a priority for Freisinger, and quality begins long before processing, with felling. We set particular store on winter felling, between December and March, when trees undergo a period of no growth. There is much less water in the wood of trees felled during that period, and the wood is therefore of a higher quality. Phases of the moon are also taken into account. By using wood from trees felled at full moon, particular attention is paid to healthy living. Moon wood is a selected air dried wood, used particularly for the construction of ecological houses. Thus, there is a guarantee from felling, through sorting, to final production that only the best quality wood is used. From an ecological viewpoint, the valuable material, wood, receives its full recognition and esteem.

The passive house actively protects the environment
freisinger_hatzl The future looks very promising for passive houses, that is to say, for energy efficient building. Together with "inventor" Franz Freundorfer, we caused a stir in the 1990s with several pioneering, award-winning key technologies and patents in the fields of ecological window construction, and low energy and passive house window construction, causing an uproar with the sensational thermal insulation results.

"Saving up to 90 percent of energy, a high degree of comfort, healthy air in the room, increased property value, and maintaining the natural environment are only some of the advantages offered by a passive house," says Bernhard Schwarze of the Interessengemeinschaft Passivhaus Tirol (Tyrolean Passive House Interest Group). However, it's a prerequisite that passive house construction must include qualified consultation and maintain the highest quality standards.

Passive houses advancing
The IG Passivhaus Tirol calculates that by 2010, one-quarter of the 2,000 buildings erected will be conceived as passive houses. Across Austria, around 1,000 passive houses are already saving about 29 million kWh, or 3,000,000 liters of heating oil each year compared with conventional buildings' energy consumption. With little need for decreasingly available fossil fuels, the future of passive houses is bright and warm.

From local window manufacturer to international group
Today's boom in the fields of low energy and passive houses shows that pioneer Freisinger was right. His patents for energy-saving building elements have become increasingly valuable. But in a small company, extensive developments can only be realized with the help of enormous financial and human resources. Freisinger opted to cooperate with other companies.

OPTIWIN is a young but very successful European cooperation between small and medium-sized window manufacturers. The group has been active for about two years in a highly competitive windows market, developing from a network of license partners initiated several years earlier. Due to their innovations in ecological window construction, craftsmanship, creativity, and the cooperative model, OPTIWIN has done better than many bigger players in the field. Cooperation means that Freisinger and Freundorfer can achieve a better return on their innovations without needing to dramatically increase their own production volumes. At the same time the medium-sized partners have a competitive advantage and can promote the OPTIWIN brand.

Why didn't Freisinger use its leading position to expand? Because we would have had to grow at a disproportionate rate. As a Tyrolean family business, it would not be healthy, and we do not want to. We have secured our regional market share and are concentrating on that at which we have always been excellent - the development of innovative window systems.

Membership tripled
OPTIWIN has set its target to develop and market innovative window systems, and holds technological leadership for all window units applicable to ecological passive houses. Universities, technical colleges, and research institutes are also integrated into this cooperation. Since its founding two years ago, membership in OPTIWIN has tripled. There are currently 14 medium-sized family companies in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria which belong to OPTIWIN, as well as members in Ireland and Denmark. The Group employs 750 and has a turnover of €100 million. Their target is 25 partner companies by the end of 2007. Recently, the 100,000th wooden window was produced by the international OPTIWIN Group!

Technology leader with 1000 years experience
About 1000 years of experience in window construction are represented in the OPTIWIN Group, whose individual companies have been in business for a long time. In OPTIWIN, small and medium-sized companies cooperate in marketing, training, technology transfer, and purchasing with the aim of consistent customer- oriented development from an ecological perspective. The development focus is generated by customer needs and, with the help of intensive communication, clarified for the customers. The development work requires close personal contact between the partner companies. Short communication routes mean that developers in individual companies get on the same wavelength quickly and can develop new products in a targeted way. This creates a flexible and powerful development department which individual companies could not have afforded. The decentralized organization also means that OPTIWIN members are near their customers. Customer proximity and lean structures enable OPTIWIN to react dynamically to market demands, bringing new developments to market quickly.

freisinger_kirchmair02 New sliding system for windows and doors "Seitensprung" suitable for passive house
The last international passive house conference showed Freisinger to be on the right track with its certified passive house elements. Among them were three models of "thermal bridging free connection," a "Frost Kork" house door unit, and a solar façade. Freisinger has also made the dream of many architects come true, with a sliding door suitable for a passive house. A completely new type of sliding door fitting was developed with Maco as "Seitensprung," a newly developed sliding unit that can be used for windows or doors. OPTIWIN Group again demonstrated its technological leadership in building elements suitable for passive houses. The agile window and door innovators can already show eight passive house components certified by Passivhausinstitut Darmstadt (Passive House Institute Darmstadt).

Drei3Holz window exterior now also opens outwards
The Drei3Holz window suitable for passive house use now also opens outwards. This "Exterior" version, developed in cooperation with the Danish partner and first shown at the international passive house conference in Hanover, means that Freisinger now offers a very slim and elegant window unit suitable for passive houses with the highest design standards. This window is particularly suited to the Scandinavian, Irish, British, and Canadian markets, where outward-opening windows are common. Once again, OPTIWIN has shown its leadership and proven its attractiveness internationally - not bad at all for a 75-year old!


The author, Paulus Freisinger is managing director and owner of Freisinger Fensterbau GmbH in Ebbs (Tyrol, Austria). In addition to this position, he is an engaged exponent of passive house construction methods.


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