Volume 47, Issue 1 - January 2012




Dynamic Glazing Suppliers Answer Builders' Common Questions

While the recent mergers and joint endeavors indicate growth in the dynamic glazing market (see November 2011 USGlass, page 30), builders and construction managers remain skeptical.

Dynamic glazing is definitely unique, but it's not for every application, says David Shenk, project manager of Neagley & Chase Construction Co. in South Burlington, Vt. "Because of its supreme technical advantage over conventional glass, it is more expensive than normal glazing, making it limited to specific applications," he says. "We used it at a fine art gallery, and I see tremendous value at that location, because the building would not accommodate any other type of system that provides tinting for their artwork. It is too expensive to use a common storefront, but for areas that require variable degrees of light penetration it is almost priceless."

Shenk has worked on one dynamic glazing project: The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum in St. Johnsbury, Vt. "This is my first project using this glass, and prior to the project I had never heard of it," he says.

Dynamic glazing is relatively new technology, says Randall Vaughn, director of architecture for Gray Construction in Lexington, Ky., and builders question the durability and long-term sustainability of the product. They want to know if "the glazing subcontractor trade is comfortable with dynamic glazing installation and maintenance of dynamic glazing systems," he says.

Shenk echoes Vaughn and says that he is still unclear about the life expectancy of dynamic glazing. "This process is relatively new, and I would be hesitant to install this glass on a project that I personally fund, because I am unsure how long the system would stay operational," he says. "Having no idea how the glass actually 'operates,' it would be hard for me to predict the longevity, but I would like to think it would last my lifetime."

Builders harbor quite a few common misconceptions when it comes to dynamic glazing, says Helen Sanders, vice president of technical business development for Sage Electrochromics Inc. The most common misconceptions are that it is complicated to install and too expensive, she says. Also, "the impact we have on the space in terms of occupant comfort and energy efficiency is underestimated until they [the builders] see and feel it for themselves," she says. "We send customers to see and feel it for themselves in our many installations. [They also believe] it isn't proven, until they see an installation or photos of our installations and realize that we have had product in the field for eight years."

"Right now, when these materials are being presented to the architectural and design community they are met with great interest and curiosity," says Matt Vasquez, architectural product specialist for Cristacurva/Craftsman Fabricated Glass in Houston. "However, they are also being met with a certain skepticism and caution. For this reason, it is essential that our industry not only depend on the design community in order to create demand but also we must go directly to the owners and developers who will in turn motivate the designers to invest in these products."

To further encourage builders to use dynamic glazing, they have to be shown "that when you consider the cost of complete conventional solar solutions-glass plus interior/exterior sunshade devices and chiller costs-[the product] is cost competitive," Sanders says. They also need assurance "that we will support them and their subcontractors with installation and commissioning."

Despite builders' doubts, dynamic glazing use should go up in the near future, Vaughn says. "Architects welcome the flexibility with the use of glazing in building designs, and dynamic glazing is the solution," he says. "Glazing of any kind adds to the overall construction costs, thus the more glazing designers are allowed to use, the less the appeal when overall construction is factored."

"Dynamic glazing is without a doubt the future of our industry," Vasquez says. "I do not believe awareness of these groundbreaking materials is where it should be or will be in the coming years. When these materials finally resonate with owners the demand will increase at a very rapid rate."

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