Volume 43, Issue 1 - January 2008

the Farnady Files

From Yesterday to Tomorrow
Looking Back at the Trends of the Twentieth Century 
by Dez Farnady

The first time I realized that 2007 was winding down I was having to threaten a customer with a 2008 date on a delivery schedule. While working on this column in November I had to inform a customer that, if we didn’t receive architectural approval for a project they had already delayed too long, they would be looking at 2008 for a ship date. That was the first time I wrote down or even thought about the date that brings us another year closer to the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. That’s a big deal for those of us who lived most of our lives in the twentieth.

For our business, this century has been defined by the dominance of the truly wavelength-selective coated products. They represent the major innovation in the creation of energy-efficient glass. But how many of you can recall what products defined the last century? There are two major candidates that come to mind immediately—and some of you probably don’t even remember when they were new. The first one obviously is air-spaced insulating glass. I remember when LOF and PPG sold it with a proprietary brand name. (By the way, do you even know who LOF was?) The second, and in my mind of greater impact, was the arrival of tinted products. Some may argue that insulating glass is more important than tints and coatings are. I strongly disagree. Making glass, which is an energy conductor, into a serious insulating product is a limited process at best. The options for controlling light transmission and heat gain offer an unlimited range of possibilities. Tints represented the first attempts at what we now call wavelength-selective products. I remember when black and hard-coat reflective products were the big deal energy performers. And then, one day, this weird green glass showed up. As usual in a market driven by auto glass, the first place LOF’s Easy Eye and PPG’s Solex appeared was in our cars. 

I tried in vain to sell the green stuff for years because everyone was concerned that sitting next to green glass would cast a ghostly pallor over your skin making you look as if you were dead. Well, for the past few decades your passenger has been sitting next to that glass every time she gets in the car. It wasn’t until decades after the arrival of the greens that Ford Glass sold it to the architectural community as the latest and greatest. 

It took a while before the marketplace discovered that green glass provided higher light transmission while reducing heat gain much more efficiently than bronze or gray glass does. That is when the wavelength-selective revolution really took off. 

As the New Becomes Routine
The ever-changing new products and all the various color differences were a nightmare. Once we got to the point where all bronze products were virtually undistinguishable from one another, we still were stuck with the fact that grays and greens were different and the reflective glass products could never mix. 

In the early days the first low-E products had similar problems. We had a job where the hard coat low–E stock got mixed so that the PPG stuff was cut and mixed with the LOF stuff on a couple of hundred windows. The building looked like a checkerboard when the sunlight hit the glass just right. I remember trying to figure out how we were going to keep track of every different low-E from every manufacturer on every job. 

In the battle for the second generation low-E market, the pursuit of performance and commodity status solved our problem. I am not privy to inside information and have no way to know how the manufacturers found a way to standardize the appearance of the product to the point bronze glass arrived at decades ago. Nevertheless, they did it. Quarter-inch bronze glass is 1⁄4-inch bronze glass, no matter who makes it. I never thought I would say the same about low-E. 

A few months ago we replaced one of our four panel 5- by 10-foot skylights with all new glass. Each lite of glass is different. Only one insulating unit is clear, the other three use various low-E products. On first look has no one ever believed they are all anything but clear glass. No glass person who has ever looked at it could tell me what each lite is or which is which. I know what’s up there and it’s a good thing too, because even I have to look for the difference. Needless to say, I am no longer too worried about mixing the second generation low-E any more than I worry about mixing the bronze. 

Dez Farnady serves as the general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, Calif. His column appears monthly. Mr. Farnady’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.

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