Volume 35, Number 11, November 2000

The Right Keys

Education is the Key to Growth in the High Performance Glass Market
By Marc Massa

For almost two decades, low-E glass has offered a significant payback as an investment by homeowners and commercial building owners. Almost yearly, low-E suppliers have improved their products by reducing emissivity, varying solar heat gain, improving aesthetics and increasing light transmission. Today, North American coatings are among the best in the world in providing high-performance fenestration products that add comfort, reduce energy costs and increase the resale value of homes and buildings.

Smart Windows
The Department of Energy’s ENERGY STARŪ program has provided a set of performance specifications, which promote high-performance low-E glass in order to encourage energy conservation in residential construction and remodeling. The “Window Industry Technology Roadmap” program also brought industry leaders together to brainstorm the most potent technologies available for future performance and functional improvements in residential and commercial fenestration.

One of the most provocative visions of their roadmapping process was to see window products as part of an overall residential environment. In this environment the windows are an active, rather than passive, participant in HVAC, security and electronics while not losing their aesthetic and daylighting benefits.

Electrochromic-windows (also referred to as smart windows), currently are being developed by our company at AFG Development in Northern California. This recent addition to AFG’s product development efforts evolved out of a partnership with Optical Coating Laboratories Inc., where they are working full-time on commercializing this technology.

Another new product, which our company will introduce next year, is a laminated low-E glass for the hurricane regions of the Gulf and Atlantic Coast states. Testing has been completed and the new product will be available in 2001. From an energy point of view, laminated low-E loses its emissivity while retaining its shading benefits. This new safety product will reduce energy consumption in the deep South significantly, and the loss of emissivity is not a practical issue from an energy conservation point-of-view. Hopefully, we will be able to modify current window performance standards, which use both U-value and solar heat gain coefficients in the South. This is an opportunity to demonstrate flexibility in performance standards, with the benefits being reduced energy consumption over current practices. The Florida market, for example, is dominated by single glazing. The use of monolithic low-E laminated glass will reduce energy consumption while meeting the hurricane standards for safety.

In a recent study conducted for AFG, builders reported an increased use of low-E, but felt that their recommendation of low-E was accepted in proportion to their customer’s understanding of the technology and performance benefits.
Continuing to Grow
It appears that after nearly two decades of promotion, we—as an industry—still have a lot to accomplish in order to continue the 10 to12 percent growth rate we have recently enjoyed. With more than 40 percent of all windows now using low-E, we still have a long way to go in educating consumers, builders, remodelers, building owners and regulatory officials of the technology and energy savings performance benefits of low-E. Building codes and utility incentives are stimulating much of the current and forecasted growth. This is a push-marketing approach instead of the pull strategy required to educate and create demand among consumers. There is a short-term advantage to the industry with this support, but solid long-term growth will require consumer understanding to succeed.

Currently, the flat glass industry has sufficient capacity to meet the forecasted growth in demand, and our new Leybold coater at our Victorville, Calif., facility will add significantly to our ability to produce and market Comfort Ti with its family of appropriate performance-based products.

The market for low-E is strong and getting stronger, but its real potential growth comes from educating the public on its benefits.