Volume 17, Issue 3 - May/June 2013

feature

A Different Tint
Electrochromic Technology Offers Another Way to Tint Buildings

by Casey Neeley

As window film continues to adapt and find innovative solutions for energy-efficiency and glare reduction, could there be a dark horse in the architectural glazing market looking to render it irrelevant? The glass, which is electronically tintable, can be used in doors, windows and skylights with both commercial and residential applications. It can also tint in sections to reduce glare without darkening the entire room. Window Film magazine recently sat down with Helen Sanders, vice president of business development for Sage Electrochromics Inc., a Saint-Gobain subsidiary and manufacturer of electrochromic glass, to get a better understanding of the technology and its potential applications.

WFM: Dr. Sanders, could you explain electrochromic glazing for readers who may not be familiar with the technology?
HS: It’s called an active dynamic glazing technology because the user gets to determine how and when you control the glass. You have the ability to let heat and light in when you want to and you can reduce the transmission when you need to. As a result, you get a tunable façade. You can limit overheating and the load on the A/C system and in the winter you can let in as much passive solar heat gain as you want yet still have the ability to prevent overheating. You can control the glare so you don’t need to put shades and blinds in. You really need to be at 2-percent transmission or less to block the glare. One of the key benefits of electrochromic is to control the heat and light while maintaining the view and connection with the outside.

WFM: What makes electrochromics different than window films or other energy-efficient glazing options?
HS: A window film and regular low-E glass are somewhat similar; both are static in nature and can require additional shading to provide a complete solution to a dynamic sun management problem. You have a dynamic environment where the sun is changing and moves at angles throughout the day … I think both products definitely have their place, and I think window film, like low-E glazing, is part of a larger conventional solution, which would also have to look at blinds for glare control and perhaps some sort of exterior shading system.

WFM: Do you think more consumers will begin to consider electrochromics as an option?
HS: I think people are realizing when you compare the alternative solutions for dynamic solar control, dynamic glazing is cost-competitive.

WFM: What would you say are some of the benefits electrochromics offer?
HS: [People] see it as an elegant solution. Designers are seeing it as a more elegant way to use more glass. Today you’re having to trade off human comfort to use more glass. With dynamic glazing you can use more glass without trading off energy or human comfort. There are three things you have worry about: design aesthetic, energy and human comfort. With electrochromics you don’t have to compromise one over the other.

WFM: Do you think electrochromic technology will become a major player in the heat- and glare-reduction glazing markets?
HS: In 5 to 10 years you’re going to see this as a more mainstream glazing option. We see electrochromic glass market adoption developing in a similar way to that of low-E. It requires a critical mass of projects in the marketplace where architects can see it being used and consumers can walk in and experience it. While you can intellectually understand what the product can do, you don’t really appreciate it until you can walk in and feel and see it in the space. I think you’re going to see a lot more dynamic glazing in new construction. We’ll still continue to use it on fix-it jobs on existing buildings, just as window film [is used]. With codes going the way that they are, there is downward pressure on the allowable window-to-wall ratio.

WFM: Do you see any common interests between window film and electrochromics?
HS: From a whole industry perspective, I think we need to work together to advocate against reducing the amount of glass allowed in buildings. We put windows in buildings because of people and people like having that view and connection to the outside and access to natural daylight and the human health benefits that it brings.

Casey Neeley is the editor of Window Film magazine. She can be reached at cneeley@glass.com.

 

Suppliers Say …
“For reducing energy consumption in the glazing curtainwall, window film offers the best return on investment, period,” says Josh Buis, vice president of window film operations for Scorpion Window Films. “Nothing gives you more bang for your buck, not low-E coatings, not window shades and certainly not electrochromic glass. Window film offers huge savings, virtually limitless aesthetic choices, low-cost installation and longevity. Especially in terms of existing facilities, installing window film is really the only practical way to go. These are tight economic times and building owners are not willing to invest in products that they cannot get a fast payback from.”

“Retrofit window films are recognized as the solution of choice for commercial buildings because they generate quicker return on investment than competing technologies,” says Tom Niziolek, director of sales and development, architectural for Madico Window Films. “Additionally, window films provide benefits for safety and security. For example, window films are designed to increase the shatter resistance of glass, especially with the heavier combined performance products such as safety-security solar control (usually 4- to 8-mil or thicker).”

Buis warns that cost may not be the first consideration for all consumers, though.

“This approach is reversed with architects,” he says. “Despite how cost conscious they are, they will always gravitate to the bells and whistles when it comes to building technology. This is why education is the key. Most architects are totally unaware of the wide range of window films available and their energy-saving properties. We must push to get our products in front of them. If they have it in front of them, they’ll use it. If they aren’t aware of it, they use what they saw in the latest trade publication, which is sometimes a new, untried product. They need to be shown that film gives them a huge color palette to choose from. The most successful dealers know that to move window films in those arenas, you must present it as an important part of the building infrastructure. Sell it as a capital improvement, not a retrofit product.”

According to Niziolek, though, it is unlikely a technology such as electrochromics will phase out window film anytime soon.

“Electrochromic glazing currently has a market position for energy saving glazing systems,” he says. “That position will grow as the technology advances and also costs go down. However, there is a large base of building stock and residential markets with glazing ready for window film. The benefits for window film mentioned above outweigh most other competing technologies and usage of window films will continue to grow.

“Electrochromic glazing is a very interesting technology, which is improving each year and gaining market appeal,” Niziolek adds. “The ability to create a high-performance, user-controlled, dynamic glazing system is an attractive option, but it is still fairly new to the market so time will tell its true impact on the industry. Window film has been, and will continue to be, a very viable option for years to come.”


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