Glazing Products Are Key to Ensuring Occupant Well-Being

By Ellen Rogers

“Windows play a huge role in creating a more comfortable environment,” says Bruce Sohn, CEO of Halio Inc. “Without them, everything is just a wall.”

And who wants to sit and look at a wall?

We build buildings for people—and that’s the reason to ensure glazing remains an essential part of the facade. Natural light, fresh air and simply opening a window can provide a connection to nature, contributing to overall health and wellbeing.

“Humans don’t flourish in dark environments, and [natural light] is just a small part of what glass can offer a project’s design,” says Emily Losego, director of commercial segment innovation for Vitro Architectural Products in Pittsburgh.

Marc Deschamps, business development manager with Montreal-based Walker Glass, agrees, adding that a fundamental attribute of glass is its ability to maximize natural light while reducing dependence on artificial lighting.

“There is simply no replacement for natural daylight and the many benefits that come with it,” Deschamps says. “Glass lets people experience those benefits from the comfort of the indoors.”

Glazing products offer solutions that help occupants, whether at work or home, be comfortable, productive, healthy and safe.

Clear Perspective

Today’s glass products are multi-functional. They serve as necessary components not only to let people see out but also to ensure comfort. Losego says glass has strengths and characteristics that help it meet these needs, starting with energy performance.

“Given the amount of energy efficiency we can load onto an insulating glass unit, the functionality of the glass is huge and works holistically with the building’s mechanical system,” she says. “Then there’s the technology of the low-E, which means the glass doesn’t have to be dark. You can have transparent glass without sacrificing or trading off [energy performance] if you don’t want to.”

Dynamic glazing products, which have been around for some time, are also becoming more popular. That’s thanks in part to recent tax credits incentivizing their use.

“We now have a product that satisfies the need for clarity, speed, uniformity and integration with the building management system,” says Sohn.

A decade or more ago, the idea of sustainability may have been a niche or trend concept, but that’s no longer the case.

“Sustainability is becoming more important because codes are requiring it, and everyone is thinking more about it,” Losego says. “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), for example, is optional, but some of those credits will be the precursor to future codes.”

Danik Dancause, marketing operations manager with Walker Glass, adds that rating systems incentivize architects to prioritize daylighting in their designs by offering credits for optimizing natural light.

“For example, a project can earn LEED credits for Daylighting (3 credits), Quality Views (1 credit) and Energy Performance (up to 18 credits),” he says. “On the other hand, the WELL rating system rewards projects that optimize daylighting with circadian lighting design, solar glare control, automated shading and dimming controls, ‘right to light’ (adequate access to natural light), daylight modeling and daylighting fenestration.”

Another program is the Living Building Challenge. “This calls for views and natural daylight for at least 75% of occupied spaces as one of its requirements for a healthy environment,” says Dancause. “So we’re seeing a strong message from these three building rating systems that good daylighting is crucial for a healthy built environment.”

Environmental Extremes

Environmental and societal changes also bring an increased focus on occupant comfort. For example, Canadian wildfires during the summer of 2023 took a toll on much of the U.S. no one expected. From the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic to the Southeast, unhealthy air quality advisories kept many people indoors on days when they could have been outside.

“[Our] reliance on the interior environment changes as the exterior environment becomes less comfortable,” says Losego. “Seasons aren’t the same,” she says. “We’re living in an evolving [climate] environment. That changes how we make decisions in building products.”

Sohn adds that the focus on reducing carbon emissions and being responsible about climate change is driving interest in products such as smart glass, from an energy perspective, as well as the need for natural light and the ability to see outside.

“Those are natural and engaging aspects of life that people expect in their pursuit of happiness and comfort,” he says.

For many people seeking sanctuary from outside noise, a comfortable room is also a quiet room. Casey Mahon, president and CEO of St. Cloud Window in Sauk Rapids, Minn., says there’s growing interest in noise control glazing.

“When people talk about ‘green’ and quality of life, a quiet space is undervalued,” he says. “I think, at the moment, we live in a society that’s a little tense, people are more on edge and looking for ways to alleviate that; they’re seeking some measure of quiet and solitude.”

As a result, Mahon is seeing interest in products that provide an acoustic barrier to outside noises.

“Hospitality has been a critical environment, we’re also seeing it in offices where tenants are making more of an effort to separate sound transmission from one room to another; we’re putting a lot of heavy acoustic fenestration into interior spaces,” he says.

Sound control is also important in learning environments. “Studies show in schools that the intrusion of noise is disruptive to children. It takes about 20 minutes for elementary students to refocus on what they were doing after [a noise disruption].” He adds, “I think architecture is driving toward a quality of life that is reflected in fenestration that considers both noise and personal safety. A good acoustic window is also a very safe window because of the integration of laminated glass.”

Addressing Concerns

Ensuring the right type of glass is used in the right location is a critical part of the process. That’s because the wrong glass can cause more harm than good, leading to issues such as excessive glare and heat. The first step is making sure the project is built to meet (or exceed) the local legislation and building codes.

“Second, it’s important to consider all glass components as part of a unified system and not only look at individual products in isolation,” says Deschamps. “There will always be trade-offs between things like light and views, and energy performance or security. The good news is that a variety of specialized products can help meet any given set of needs.”

Acid-etched glass, for example, is well-known for its use as a decorative material, but it also contributes to occupant comfort since it diffuses light without restricting light flow.

“It distributes daylight evenly within a space, creating a well-lit interior without uncomfortable hot spots or glare,” says Dancause. “… Occupants can have privacy without sacrificing natural daylight.”

In addition to its use in interior walls and panels, acid-etched glass can be fabricated into insulating glass units.

“First-surface acid-etched glass offers a potential for energy savings because it can be combined with a low-E coating on surface two,” says Dancause.

Losego adds that low-E coatings can also provide essential benefits for occupants.

“You can manage [solar heat gain] through low-E coatings alone or low-E with a tint,” she says, adding exterior reflectivity can address some privacy concerns, “providing a visual barrier from seeing into the building,” which is also a benefit for schools and other similar project types that want to keep people outside from seeing in while still allowing those inside to see out.

Sohn says one of the nice things about smart windows is architects or building owners don’t have to make an absolute choice when designing and constructing the building.

“In conventional buildings, the designers must look at the situation and make a single [glazing] choice the building will live with,” he says. There are various weather and temperature conditions depending on where the building is located, he explains, so one single glass might not be ideal in all situations. “With dynamic glass, there is no longer a need to trade-off between radiative effects and the visible light transmittance. Glass tint can dynamically change based on the situation. It can change minute-to-minute based on cloud coverage and things of that nature.”

Mahon says the glass industry has been exceptional in evolving with the desires of architectural design and the comfort of building inhabitants. The bigger challenge he sees is on the acoustics side.

“We would like to see architects who are well informed about acoustics in fenestration. It’s risky to spec an attenuation value based on glass alone, because noise follows air,” he says. “If you have heavy glass but it’s glazed into framing with excessive air infiltration, or the installation is not adequately sealed, the attenuation potential is compromised… Other
contributing factors, things like electrical outlets, loose seals around doors, exhaust fans … those are all flanking paths for noise intrusion. We need to take a comprehensive approach to the entire envelope, and to the degree we are able, discourage basing attenuation on glass compositions alone.” Buildings are built for people—people who spend most of their lives inside. Glazing can help them be comfortable.

“Scientific studies prove that when exposed to natural light, people are healthier, more motivated, and more productive,” says Sohn. “We’re fortunate to have technologies that can deliver on that expectation.”

Outside Connection

Biophilia is another design trend that contributes to occupant comfort. Biophilic design is rooted in creating a connection to the outdoors, whether through views of the outside or bringing the outside indoors. Glass has an important part in that, especially when it comes to views.

“We’re seeing a trend toward more neutral glass, so it has a less visual impact,” says Emily Losego, director of commercial segment innovation with Vitro Architectural Glass. “People want to see outside as closely as possible.”

Ellen Rogers is the editorial director of USGlass magazine. Email her at erogers@glass.com and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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