Jan-Feb-March 2002

Window Manufacturers Take the Next Step in the Value-Added Chain–Self-Cleaning Glass

Low-E glass has been around for a while, and in this energy-conscious era, its use continues to increase. In fact, the product is stronger than ever. As with most products, glass continues to evolve as manufacturers look for more value-added products. The next step that glass manufacturers are taking in the value-added chain is to provide self-cleaning glass. 

“This is a precursor to what the glass industry has to do to keep companies ahead of the learning curve,” said Jesse Dyck, sales and marketing manager for Ontario-based North Star Manufacturing. 

Terry Rex, director of marketing for BF Rich in Newark, Del., also said it is important to stay ahead of the game. “We like to stay on the cutting edge by offering value-added products,” he said. 

Pilking-ton was the first to launch its version of self-cleaning glass in June 2001, (production of Activ™ self-cleaning glass began in December 2000 in Ottawa, Ill.). (See July 2001 USGlass magazine, page 24 and Fall 2001 Door & Window Maker, page 73). Manufacturing of PPG’s SunClean self-cleaning glass has begun at its Mt. Zion, Ill., plant (See November 2001 USGlass magazine, page 24, and Winter 2001 Door & Window Maker, page 24). 

Additionally, AFG Industries is in the final phase of development prior to the launch of its self-cleaning glass, and Guard-ian Industries says it will introduce a similar product, which the company deems as low-maintenance and not self-cleaning. Guardian says introduction of this product, which may be used in architectural applications, is projected for the fourth quarter of 2002. (For extensive information on the new self-cleaning glass products, see the January issue of USGlass magazine, page 34.) 

How Does it Work?
According to Pilkington, Activ is a pyrolytic coated-glass product, therefore the composition becomes an integral part of the surface. Once produced and installed, it never needs to be re-treated. 

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays cause the integrated coating to react chemically with unwanted organic dirt to break down its adherence to the glass surface gradually and continuously, known as the photocatalytic effect. After installation, the integrated coating of Activ must be exposed to the sun’s UV rays for several days to become active. The integrated coating reduces the surface tension of water on the glass surface. This is known as the hydrophilic effect and causes water to sheet on the glass surface, preventing the formation of separate droplets and ensuring that loose dirt and other particles can be washed away during normal rainy weather.

PPG describes SunClean as a coated glass product with photocatalytic and hydrophilic properties that combine to make windows easy to maintain. The transparent coating of SunClean is applied to hot glass during the forming process, where it forms a strong, durable bond with the glass surface. 

The photocatalytic property of the coating is triggered by the sun’s UV light and works to break down and loosen organic dirt slowly. At the same time, the coating’s hydrophilic property breaks down water beads and causes water to sheet over the glass, which helps to rinse away loosened dirt. Depending on exposure, it may take up to seven days for the glass to energize, according to PPG.

Activ has been installed in numerous homes in the United States and Canada and is specified for various commercial projects. Currently, there are eight glass fabricators who offer Activ. Eighteen window manufacturers sell the product directly to consumers and/or sell windows through distributors. In addition, some of the glass fabricators sell insulating glass (IG) units to window manufacturers and distributors. 

Time Saver
One window manufacturer selling Activ is Thermolite, a vinyl window and IG manufacturer in Scranton, Pa. The company’s president John P. Mesko says it is about time such a product was introduced. “The glass industry is looking for value-added products,” he said. “Low-E has been around for about 15 years.”

So, who is the ideal customer for this product? “Hopefully modern families, those with the mother and father working, who don’t want to do maintenance on their homes, will want to purchase this product,” Mesko said.

Thermolite manufactures vinyl windows, which according to Mesko, require no maintenance, so the addition of self-cleaning glass to vinyl windows is a natural extension. “People are looking for a maintenance-free exterior,” Mesko said. “This is the logical first step.” 

Dyck takes the same approach. “Our whole pitch is ‘maintenance-free,’” he said.

David Rascoe, president of Pittsburgh’s Thermal Industries, is planning to launch PPG’s SunClean this summer. “The average consumer doesn’t want to clean his glass so this meets his value perspective,” Rascoe said. “The glass offers the benefit of a reduced workload by ease-of-cleaning.”

While it is easy to make the assumption that self-cleaning glass never has to be washed again, manufacturers say this isn’t the case. Pilkington says the windows will have to be washed but not nearly as often as without using Activ. According to PPG, the self-cleaning attributes of the product are effective in reducing the everyday dirt and grime that accumulates on the exterior surface, meaning windows will be easier to clean. However, inorganic materials such as paint will continue to require hand cleaning. The interior surface will need to be cleaned like any other window glass. 

In looking at a garden through a window, you can see the Activ™ glass causes water to sheet (left) rather than streak (right).

Trouble Spots
While window manufacturers say they foresee a great deal of success with the sale of self-cleaning glass, Rex did say he has encountered some stumbling blocks when selling Activ.

“Initially there is excitement for the product,” Rex said, “but it is difficult to show the product to the customer because it can take several days to activate.” 

According to Pilkington, Activ has very much the same appearance as any other clear float glass used in windows and skylights. The only noticeable difference is that it may appear slightly shinier than clear float glass. PPG says that from the exterior, windows with SunClean glass appear brighter than clear float glass. From the inside, they look the same.

“We need to think of other ways to market it,” said Rex. “There is a lot of skepticism on the part of homeowners.” 

Mesko has a slightly different view than Rex. “The in-home salesperson should have particular success selling Activ as they will be able to fully explain the product to the homeowner. 

Homeowners vs. Builders
While homeowners may be willing to pay extra for the glass considering that it will save them valuable time, builders may not be as prone to adding that extra expense.

“Whenever you add money to the price of a home you get a strong reaction from builders,” said Mesko. He added that this is why the company has decided to focus primarily on the renovation market. 

At North Star, the company is marketing to both builders and homeowners, but Dyck says the company foresees more success with the renovation market. “Unless it’s a high-end house, which a fair amount of our business is, they [builders] will be half-interested,” he said. “Builders are notorious for not wanting extra costs.”

Proving that markets differ all over the country, Rex says he foresees a 50/50 split between new homes and existing home renovations. BF Rich works with custom home builders who add value-added features so selling to them won’t be too difficult.

Traditional window cleaning can be quite a chore (above).
 With PPG’s SunClean, a transparent coating on the glass
 helps break down dirt so it is easily washed away with a 
hose (below).


Cost Considerations
The cost of both Activ and SunClean are set by the window manufacturer or distributor. Pilkington estimates that windows with Activ will cost approximately 20 percent more than windows using standard, clear glass. PPG said windows with SunClean glass will cost between 10 to 20 percent more than windows with ordinary glass. 

“It’s pretty expensive but like any new product, it will come down on price later,” Dyck said. “Just look at what happened with low-E glass.
The cost has dropped for low-E in the marketplace but the perceived value has increased,” Rascoe said.

While some people say the glass is expensive, Rascoe counters, “Expensive as compared to what? Cost is relative.”

Production Procedures
Even though window manufacturers are accustomed to dealing with cost issues, there were a few new things they had to learn regarding self-cleaning glass—including new handling procedures. 

According to Pilkington, it is important not to touch the Activ surface or the glass will have to be cleaned by hand. Pilkington representatives spent a day with Thermolite’s production employees explaining correct handling procedures for Activ to the staff. According to Mesko, handling Activ properly in the factory is Thermolite’s biggest hurdle to overcome. “Production workers must ensure that the Activ side is facing to the outside—if the coating was facing inside it would be rendered ineffective,” he said. 

Mesko added that the company had to put new plant processes into place such as conducting a more thorough check of water temperature. “It really comes down to workmanship issues,” said Mesko. “You have to be careful of what you’re doing.” 

Rascoe echoed these sentiments. “You have to be aware of what comes into contact with the glass and the material used in the manufacturing process, so that it conforms to PPG standards,” he said. 

Predicting Success
With any new product, it is difficult to pinpoint just how successful it will be. This is especially true in this case, since many of the window manufacturers quoted here are just beginning to sell self-cleaning glass products. 

“We’re marketing to dealers but it is very low-key,” said Dyck. “No one is buying it yet, but this is customary with a new product.”

Additionally, the cold weather in Ontario, as well as in most parts of the United States, doesn’t make the winter an ideal time to sell windows of any type. “We currently have a foot and a half of snow on the ground so no one wants to hear about this product yet,” said Mesko. But he added that Thermolite’s dealers will attend various home shows in the spring, thus they will generate a great deal of interest in the product.

In fact, of all the manufacturers to whom Door & Window Maker spoke, BF Rich was the only one who had actually performed a few installations, one of which was very close to home for Rex. In fact it was his home. The installation was performed approximately two weeks before we spoke to Rex. He then left for a business trip and was anxious to return home to “do some experimenting.”

Although Thermal Industries won’t begin selling PPG’s SunClean until this summer, the company knows a great deal about the product. In fact, they worked with PPG for a year in the product development stages, including performing test runs of SunClean.

Although the company has been involved in the product development stages for SunClean for some time now, Rascoe says it is difficult to determine its success. To attempt to do this, he looked back at the company’s track record selling low-E glass. 

“We looked back at our low-E sales to see how that graphed through the product life cycle. It was a slow start,” he said. “In the first one-to-two years we were selling 5 to 10 percent of low-E glass and now it makes up 70 percent of our sales.”

Thermal Industries, which will sell SunClean through its dealers, said the company is targeting those dealers who are prone to selling low-E glass. “Looking at this 70 percent, we anticipate 20-25 percent of that group to have a high likelihood of selling SunClean,” Rascoe said.

Others, like Rex, haven’t yet pinpointed a specific number but simply say, “I know we will be able to sell it.” 

Dyck offers another simple answer, “Time will tell.” 

Tara Taffera is the editor and publisher of Door & Window Maker magazine. 



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