How Dynamic Glass Has Evolved from Energy Efficiency to Wellness

By Jordan Scott

From skylights to skyscrapers, dynamic glass is being specified for a wide variety of commercial applications. The technological improvements made to electrochromic glass combined with changes in how the product is marketed has helped push it from something specified solely by early adopters to an up-and-coming wellness product. However, the sector’s commercial market share is approximately 1%. What else can dynamic glass manufacturers do to gain market share?

A Growing Market

Alternatives to dynamic glass such as traditional blinds or automated shading devices require cleaning and maintenance. These, Andy McNeil, façade performance specialist for Kinestral Technologies of Hayward, Calif., says can cause a headache for building stakeholders.

“The nice thing about dynamic glass compared to shades or diffusing products is that it maintains the connection to the exterior,” he says.

Dynamic glass also allows for more precise control of sunlight in an environment. McNeil says Kinestral, which manufactures Halio through a partnership with AGC, uses sun mapping with its skylight applications to ensure that preferred areas of a space, such as a feature wall or planted area, get sunlight while other areas, such as occupied spaces, remain protected from glare and solar heat gain.

Vice president of industry strategy Brandon Tinianov has been with View Glass of Milpitas, Calif., for nine years.

“In the early days, a project might be a building’s lobby, a conference center in a medical facility or one small 30,000-square-foot office building with punched windows. It was really about finding early adopters and convincing them that this product was right for their vision. Now it’s the opposite,” he says. “Now we’re installing glass in a 68-story tower in New York City.”

Tinianov adds that, in the past, securing projects required outreach whereas now, some potential clients reach out to them. This is because the conversation has shifted from dynamic glass being seen as risky and expensive to what he calls a “business enabler” or a desirable amenity.

Tinianov says View has experienced growth in four key markets: corporate campuses and owner-occupiers; commercial and speculative developers; aviation; and medical and hospital facilities.

Ryan Park, vice president of global marketing and product management for SageGlass of Faribault, Minn., explains that investors, owners and architects are looking to differentiate their projects from neighboring buildings through the use of technology.

“Some customers have made the decision to use dynamic glass because of performance but also the prestige it can bring to a brand,” he says.

A New Perspective

Park says there’s been a huge movement toward healthy buildings in the wake of COVID-19.

“People are wondering how they can create better environments. Our mission is to create a better experience for the occupant and we can do that without giving up performance,” he says. “A building can use a lot more glass without taking on an energy penalty when using dynamic glass.”

Park points out that using dynamic glass mitigates glare, reduces solar heat gain and increases access to daylight, which not only has a positive impact on occupants, but reduces a building’s reliance on artificial light.

He says dynamic glass in office buildings can contribute to reduced absenteeism and turnover while increasing occupants’ productivity, health and wellbeing.

In schools, the product can improve test scores and in healthcare facilities, it can enable faster healing.

In the airport sector, SageGlass has been used to mitigate glare so that TSA workers can see clearly in security checkpoints. At airport gates, it prevents fewer seats from becoming uncomfortable, increasing the airport’s capacity. And Park says studies show that if people are more comfortable they are more likely to spend money, which is a major benefit for airports.

In the beginning, the discussions about dynamic glass focused on energy savings. Now the focus is on occupant benefits thanks to evidence-based science. According to a controlled study titled, The Impact of Optimized Daylight and Views on the Sleep Duration and Cognitive Performance of Office Workers, performed by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, View and SUNY Upstate Medical University, participants who spent one week in an office with View glass performed better in cognitive tests and slept better than they did while spending a week in an office with window blinds. The data supports dynamic glazing companies’ claims that their products improve occupant wellness by mitigating glare and solar heat gain while allowing
increased access to daylight and views.

McNeil says that many developers and designers think dynamic glass is best applied to the south façade and that they can save costs by putting static glass and manual shades on the north façade.

“They come to regret this because, even on north facades, occupants lower the shades and then leave them down. When we have a potential project we’ll show them how nearby buildings with manual shades have them down continuously on the north façade,” he says. “We find that Halio is beneficial on the north façade because the few times there is glare the façade will tint and then clear automatically. It allows for a visual connection and daylight for the majority of the year.”

Tech Talks

Technological advances to dynamic glazing have made the product more desirable to stakeholders. Park says the first generation of SageGlass involved coating the electrochromics directly onto the outer lite. That technology has since evolved so that the coating is on a thinner, 2.2-mm glass lite which is then laminated. This offers more flexibility to the market, according to Park.

Tinianov says most of View’s developments have been internal rather than customer facing. However, the newest generation of dynamic glass is clearer and more color neutral than past versions.

“Some of the perceptions about smart glass in the past were that it has a blue
tint or is inferior to typical low-E glass, but those have been put aside,” he says, adding that the product can now eliminate glare while allowing for more available daylight throughout the day.

SageGlass also addressed this issue with its Harmony product, which tints at a graduation to mitigate glare at a high angle while allowing unfiltered natural light through to maintain a neutral color rendering. Park’s company also has emphasized its ability to use data analytics and machine learning to create a better occupant experience through an understanding of how to regulate a building’s light intake without relying so much on artificial lighting.

Although electrochromic technology has advanced, Park says installation isn’t complicated. He explains that SageGlass engages with the project team to ensure the glazing contractor understands how to install dynamic glass. The company provides videos and one-on-one training if necessary.

“… It’s best to make sure the glass is configured up front but there will be nuances that need to be worked out. If a new occupant enters the building we can work with their facility’s management and owner to reconfigure the dynamic glass,” he says, calling the system futureproof as a result.

McNeil points out that once a developer or contractor works with dynamic glazing they become more comfortable with how it works and are open to using it more broadly.

What Needs to Change?

According to Park, dynamic glazing currently makes up less than 1% of the commercial market on a global scale. To increase market share, Park says his company has focused on increasing brand awareness and expanding its portfolio. He explains that designers want a variety of options such as the ability to specify different colors, hurricane ratings and sound absorption.

Cost can be a barrier for some, but Park says that an increase in volume reduces manufacturing costs. He hopes for volume increases for all dynamic glass companies so the industry can grow. Park believes once economy of scale is reached, it will allow dynamic glass to break into other sectors such as the residential market.

McNeil agrees that there’s room for cost reduction on the manufacturing side. He explains that 5 by 10 feet is the maximum size Kinestral can manufacture and that the closer to that maximum size, the more cost effective as all dynamic glass sizes are derived from a 5- by 10-foot lite. In addition, each window requires a driver and cable. If a project includes larger glass sizes then that cuts down on the amount of electronics needed for a project.

“If we get involved early on we can help steer the decision to help with the cost,” he says.

While cost may be a barrier for some, the benefits of dynamic glass are beginning to be recognized by major architects and developers. Dynamic glass manufacturers agree that the product can create custom and dynamic solutions based on each building’s needs.

“What draws people to dynamic glass initially is what it can do for them as an alternative to traditional solutions for a space. It’s really our duty to educate architects and designers around the fact that dynamic glass is so much more than that,” says Park.

Jordan Scott is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. She can be reached at jscott@glass.com

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