Volume 46, Issue 3 - April 2011



The Wrong Focus Means No Focus at All

Russ Huffer has made three presentations in the last 18 months that I’ve been able to hear and I think he’s got it right. We are wrong.

The outgoing CEO of Apogee Enterprises contends that our industry is doing itself a disservice in the arena of energy efficiency. First on the list, photovoltaics. “They are not there yet,” he says, “they cannot work effectively unless they are angled. This is a huge design disadvantage.” Huffer says that until or unless someone can provide PV technology that is efficient at a zero-degree vertical orientation, the technology will not be fully embraced.

And, he contends, the bigger disservice we are doing ourselves is to allow our industry to be the whipping boy of energy efficiency, photovoltaic or not.

“Look at my building in Minnesota,” he said at Glass TEXpo ’10. “There’s such light coming through that it creates a tremendous glare. So we close the shades. Then what do we do? We put on the lights. So on a beautiful sunny day we are blocking the natural sunlight that would require no interior lighting and using interior lighting and the energy to produce it.”

The same is true for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) costs. “We build buildings with inoperable windows so we can never take advantage of the outside temperatures when it’s comfortable. So we use energy to do what nature could have done for free,” he says. And who gets blamed for this? The glass industry does.

I think he’s right. While all the glass suppliers jockey to show how their glass meets certain energy performance specifications, they fight each other for that business. They don’t fight the real enemy.

What almost no one ever does is look at what the choice of glass does to the energy costs of other materials in the building, specifically HVAC, lighting, sunshades and more. All these choices need to be evaluated in a continuum and not on a separate Master Spec basis.

The glass industry has everything to gain with such a continuum review. No industry has done more to advance the energy performance qualities of its materials in a shorter time than the glass industry. And we keep pushing to do so.

There are two crucial things the people who write the codes don’t understand. First, residential projects are very different than commercial projects. In residential work, the companies doing the building rarely own their projects after completion. They sell them to homeowners. The codes have done an effective job of making builders use more energy-efficient materials, and the Department of Energy and other governmental and environmental agencies have done a good job of helping create homeowner demand for energy-efficient homes.

The commercial market is different, especially now that fewer buildings are being built on spec. The building owner will reap the benefits or pay the consequences of his choices in materials and has an inherent incentive to be efficient.

But the building owner can only be so efficient and that is the second problem. There is no one, really, who looks at all of the energy components on an integrated basis. Glazing contractors often provide alternatives to what’s spec’d that will cost a bit more for the glass yet save thousands a year in HVAC costs. (It’s no accident that the HVAC industry is promulgating energy codes such as ASHRAE 90.1.) Yet these alternatives often are not utilized.

I asked Paul Sternberg, a noted architect with the firm CSO Architects Inc. in Indianapolis, about this at the Glass Expo Midwest ’11 earlier this month. He said the problem is that no one has yet taken on such integration review. “Because the function is not required, no one will pay for it, so who will do it? I hope there is more integration review in the future, but that is not the case today,” he said.

The glass industry would win big if there were. So would the country.



P.S. Some of you may have seen the story on page 60 announcing Lyle Hill’s retirement from MTH Industries. Though Lyle is retiring from the company, he recently told me he has an announcement coming soon and plans to remain active in the industry. You will be happy to know he will continue his popular column here in USGlass. Here’s how our conversation went:

Me: Lyle, though you are retiring from MTH, will you write about the glass industry for us?

Him: You’ve been trying to get me to write about the glass industry for years, but I say why start now? You’ve obviously never read my articles, because you’d see I try hard to write about anything BUT the glass industry. So I’ll keep on writing my column, yes, but I’m not changing a thing.

Uh … and I am very glad about that.
(And I really am.)

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