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Form & function: hot designs, tough codes, and demanding consumers push glass technology to the extreme.

OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS, MANUFACTURERS have showcased forward looking research and development projects designed to uncover the next hot window or door trend. You've heard about them: kitchen windows from which you can download recipes, plasma screens on doors that turn on systems at the touch of a finger, bay windows that double as media centers.

While these are fun to contemplate, you should be aware of four here-and-now technologies that will change how you think about specing windows and doors.


In addition to having them keep out the elements, consumers want windows and doors to protect them from three things: natural disasters, terrorist-style bomb attacks, and intruders. New impact-resistant glass meets those demands.

The biggest change in glass technology and use came about as a result of Hurricane Andrew, which taught the building industry a 245 mph lesson about the weakness of commonly used annealed glass.

Considering that nearly half of Americans live within 5o miles of the Atlantic, Pacific, or Gulf coasts, it's not surprising that the stringent Florida codes enacted as a result of the hurricane's devastation have spread to coastal areas in more than 15 states to prevent injuries, deaths, and exorbitant insurance costs. Add in the new international energy codes, and windows are now asked not only to dodge 2x4s powered out of cannons at 34 mph, but also to meet higher energy-efficiency standards.

"There is a built-in conflict between windows designed for wind-borne resistance and those designed to insulate," says Darrell Smith, executive director of the Martinsville, Va.-based International Window Film Association. "The industry was forced to develop 'crossover' products to meet both these codes."

Window manufacturers moved quickly to offer lines of laminated glass. In most instances, this impact-resistant option costs more because laminated glass is more expensive and because current window-frame technology needed to be tweaked to accommodate the glass's heavier weight.

"We had to get additional balances and design new tilt units to address the codes," says Bill Lazor, senior brand manager for Parkersburg, W.Va.-based Simonton Windows. "It is very expensive. Our StormBreaker product was mandated by code, and there are no reasonable alternatives: You have to have a 50 design pressure [dp] rating in these coastal areas."

But while many of the suppliers of IG (insulated glass) units to the window industry offered laminated glass to address the impact and energy efficiency standards, another technology may prove as useful while costing less money: safety film.

Billed as the lightweight, durable alternative to laminated glass, safety film is an optically clear polyester film that is applied to the interior surface of glass using pressure sensitive acrylic adhesive. The adhesive holds the glass particles together in an impact situation. In addition, the film blocks more than 90 percent of UV rays.

The largest producer of window film to the OEM (original equipment manufacturers) market, Film Technologies International is touting its newly patented Safe-Gard product as a less expensive alternative to laminated glass.

"The design concept of Safe-Gard entails dry-laminating thin composite films directly onto double-strength glass and in sorting it into IG units during the window manufacturing process," explains Craig B. Duncan, national sales manager/OEM for the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company.

"The Safe-Gard units meet the same standards as safety glazing or tempered glass and recently passed the Dade County [Florida] 2x4 missile impact and cycling requirements." And, according to Duncan, the technology costs 28 percent to 40 per cent less than laminated glass.

Controversy persists regarding how long film lasts. "We hear, 'We know it's less expensive and will perform as well, but it doesn't last as long.' And we answer: 'As long as what?'" says Smith. "A window will last 30 to 40 years. None of the window manufacturers are guaranteeing the energy life of their windows. In fact, California's Public Utilities Commission has said that the effective energy life of reflective windows and solar control window film is about 10 years [for both]."

Cost and durability aside, one area where laminated glass excels is as a sound barrier. Because laminated glass is thick--a PVB (polyvinyl butyral) layer sandwiched between two layers of glass--it deadens sound. "We marketed laminated glass as a security solution in urban areas, yet our buyers bought it for its sound-reduction qualities," says Jeff Williams, communications manager for Medford, Wis.-based Weather Shield.

A beneficial characteristic of both laminated and film products is the ability to thwart intruders. Indiana, Pa.-based Gorell Windows & Doors, which offers seven armor glass packages in its high end vinyl window line, recently partnered with the National Crime Prevention Council to educate consumers on the benefits of laminated glass. "A burglar alarm tells you when someone's entered your house; this product keeps them from getting inside in the first place," says Wayne Gorell, president and CEO.


As exciting to consumers as the personal dry cleaning system that makes short work of household chores, new self-cleaning-window technology promises an end to the grueling task of washing windows.

Simonton's new windows with SunClean self-cleaning glass by PPG hit the market in May. SunClean comprises two product technologies: photocatalytic and hydrophilic. In the photocatalytic stage, the sun hits the glass, which has a patented coating on it, and breaks down dirt particles. Then, the hydrophilic properties of the glass kick in: When it rains, a sheeting action causes the dirt to simply wash away.

Currently, Simonton is offering the technology in high-end retrofit but plans to offer it in new construction shortly. The biggest issue with the glass is that installers need to check their razor blades at the door. "Builders working with silicones use razors to scrape off the excess. It ruins the coating," warns Kathy Balzer, marketing manager for Simonton.

Builders are watching self-cleaning technology before signing on, waiting not only to see how enamored consumers are of it, but also how it performs on the north sides of houses, a location skeptics say may not get enough sun for the technology to work.

Weather Shield just announced its version of the self-cleaning window, EasyCare Glass. "Rather than using the sun to break down the dirt, we use a sputtering process [adhering glass on top of glass] to create a super smooth surface with an ultra-high sheen," explains Williams. "This eliminates 98 percent of the rough surface, which leaves no crevices for dirt to adhere to. So the owner simply needs to spray the windows with a hose to clean them."

Newark, Del.-based BFRich offers its windows with Activ by Pilkington, a technology that works along the same lines as SunClean. "Self-cleaning glass still hasn't gained widespread acceptance, but everyone who has purchased the product loves it," says Chris Lorber, vice president of sales. In BFRich's case, that's primarily custom and semicustom buyers. "It's an up-charge of about 15 percent to 20 percent over the base cost of a window," Lorber estimates.

The self-cleaning technology represents a small percentage of BFRich's custom window sales. "[Self-cleaning] glass is like the low-E coatings; it was at least five years before customers demanded it," Lorber says.


Not satisfied with pressing windows into service to clean, control heat, and provide impact protection, designers have heaped on yet another requirement: load carrying.

"Construction techniques have changed so much over the past decade. Now, we're making innovative products like a telescoping patio door with a six-panel unit that opens up to 20 feet, which can be 10 feet tall," says Weather Shield's Williams. "Ten years ago, the beam technology wasn't there to span that distance. Now, with engineered beams, we can do it."

Using laminated veneer lumber (LVL) technology, Weather Shield created a reinforced mull system that allows architects to design better-performing window walls than had been possible before.

"Today's building material technology, such as tubular steel, LVL, and composite beams, allows contractors to construct larger window configurations. Window manufacturers, in turn, are using that technology to create larger window components that can withstand higher wind loads and air and water infiltration," says Williams.

When engineered beams or mulls aren't the solution, silicone products can be. St. Louis-based Solutia notes that its glass products, combined with structural sealants, let architects design dramatic frameless porches, a hot trend in Europe and now gaining popularity in the United States.

"People want to have glass porches, but they only want to see the glass. Now, they are putting the sheets of glass together with sealants. The only hardware you see is on the doors," says Anne Cook, worldwide marketing director for Solutia.

Midland, Mich.-based Dow Corning is a major producer of structural sealants. Though sealants are used primarily in commercial applications, they are now being used in residential projects, as well. Silicones can be used in two- and four-sided structural silicone glazing systems as well as for the attachment of glass, metal, stone, ceramic tile, and composite materials.


"Windows are dumb. They just sit there. And they cause two big problems: thermal gain and glare," complains Mike Myser, vice president of sales and marketing for Faribault, Minn.-based Sage Technologies, as he explains why electrochromic technology is one of the most promising new window technologies in testing. Often called "switchable" windows or "energy management comfort appliances," units with electrochromic technology promise to slash energy bills and beef up privacy.

The technology runs a low-voltage direct current through wires attached to the windows to lighten or darken them. "Using the system, you can control light and heat without losing the view," says Myser.

Elcctrochromic technology has come through with some impressive test results: "We have quantified the energy savings of electrochromic technology using software," says Myser. "The results indicate you could put up to a 25 percent smaller air-conditioning unit in a house when you're using it. You would use 28 percent less energy to cool your home and 31 percent less energy to heat it. And in peak demand, you'd use 23 percent less energy."

To test Sage's energy savings results, Houston-based Emerald Homes agreed to try the technology. Emerald is the builder partner of an effort by the NAHB Research Center, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Andersen Windows, and Sage Technologies.

The builder constructed two identical 2,300-square-foot homes in Houston. One will be outfitted with the electrochromic windows, the other with double-paned low-[E.sup.2] windows.

Using a monitoring station, the participants will study how the technology. performs, and not only from an energy standpoint.

"The purpose of the test is to see whether it is construction-friendly," ex plains Brian Binash, president of Emerald Homes. "We think electrochromic technology has a lot of promise, but we're uncertain of the costs. And we need to know how much more efficient it is than double-paned low-[E.sup.2] glass."

The homes were finished in August, and the team hopes to have definitive results on the technology's benefits by the end of 2003.

Another advantage of the technology is it lets users turn their houses "dark" when they go on vacation. And in the interiors, the technology can be used to darken bathroom or bedroom doors when the rooms are in use.

Downsides to the new product have to be overcome, such as bringing the costs more in line with static glass. The worrisome issue of the system "failing to dark" in a power outage has been solved. "If the power goes out, the windows will fail clear," says Myser.

Of builders polled at the 2003 International Builders' Show, 70 percent said that when the price of the technology gets to 20 percent to 25 percent premium over double-paned insulated windows, they'd consider using it in their projects, claims Myser.

As far as installation is concerned, Myser says that the system can be installed by anyone. Time will tell as Emerald Homes works through the beta test and reports on how the system works in the real world of tight schedules and trades with different skill levels.

"We're ahead of the curve in energy efficiency," Binash says when asked why his company is testing the technology. "We know consumers are interested in energy efficiency, but if we waited for consumer sentiment to push us toward a particular technology, we'd already be too late."

Cati O'Keefe is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.
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Author:O'Keefe, Cati
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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