Energy Experts Discuss Creating Demand for Energy Efficient Glass

“Are you going to stand by and let competitors come in or are you going to get involved?”

Those were the words of Marc LaFrance, windows technology manager on the emerging technologies team at the Department of Energy (DOE). LaFrance appeared as part of a panel discussion during the virtual fall meeting of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). The session, “Emerging Trends, Innovations and Opportunities in the Fenestration Industry,” involved LaFrance, Jeff Baker of WESTLab, and Rob Tenent of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

New Developments

Much of the discussion concerned new technologies, and Baker addressed what this all means in Canada.

“Getting to a 0.14 U-factor by 2030 is a huge push,” he said. “That push is leading to a lot of interesting things. We are doing a lot of work looking at the design possibilities. It’s going to mean new technology to get there. A lot of activity will happen in the next ten years or so.”

Tenent weighed in, and said that aerogel has a lot of potential. “That one has been fun to see and talk about how these things can be integrated,” he said.

“There is definitely more functionality coming into the glass,” he added, including dynamic glazing. “There is a potential for dynamic low-E.” But there are a lot of technical challenges to overcome, for example, trying to put energy generation into vertical building facades. “That is a pretty big technical challenge,” he pointed out.

Moving Forward

LaFrance jumped in and reminded attendees that the DOE, along with industry stakeholders, have invested tens of millions of dollars into new technologies.

“In ten years, you will see a revolution in the use of dynamic glazing,” he said. “We do support Canada to get to more stringent levels as Jeff said, but we need more traction in the U.S. to get to that demand.”

Baker agreed that industry members have to get involved and he said it’s all in the mindset.

“There is a lot of work to be done here but you can look at it as an obstacle or an opportunity,” said Baker. “It’s a huge opportunity for manufacturers. But it’s about how you bring that technology into production and bring them out in high volume.”

LaFrance agreed wholeheartedly, adding that a key factor in all this comes down to demand.

“For this to really happen we need to get to that demand side … Windows are kind of being left behind. There is a lack of collaboration in this goal of getting that high-performance technology out.”

“We have to figure out ways to drive the demand, and it’s about a complete redesign of the building,” Baker added. “How do we drive that technology in existing building stock because that’s where the improvements really need to be made.”

Baker ended by sending a clear message to window manufacturers: “If you are not looking for new ways to install glass and glazing in your products you will be left behind.”

Until HVAC Catches up, Windows Are Key to Ventilation

As researchers work to better understand COVID-19, scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggest that fenestration can serve as a key defense.

In a press conference, Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science and director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program, said operable windows that are open amid fall can add enough fresh air to classrooms to help disperse coronavirus particles. Allen directs the school’s Healthy Buildings program, and also serves as a certified industrial hygienist (a field that anticipates, recognizes and controls hazards in the workplace)—all of which qualifies him to “say what good plans look like and maybe what not so good plans look like,” he said. When asked if he feels that kids should return to school, “I think kids should go back,” he said.

“Today’s headlines will be about the occasional case in a school,” he added. “Next year’s headlines are going to be about the consequences of virtual drop out, stories of abuse and neglect, [and] lack of access to food. I mean, there are stories already from talking to teachers that they don’t know where their students went after March.”

Reducing Risk

Risk reduction strategies, such as hand washing and universal masking are musts, but also ventilation and filtration, he said. At the same time, he and other experts acknowledge that many existing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are woefully underequipped or ill-tuned for providing adequate protection from the virus.

When asked if there are concerns that those systems could act to spread the disease, “Airborne spread [and] airborne transmission is definitely happening,” he said. “We’ve been saying it since early February. I think people are just coming around to that now more widely. So that’s a good thing that people are starting to recognize, as every piece of evidence since February has supported this hypothesis.”

In cases where HVAC systems fail to incorporate outdoor air and proper filtration, air merely recirculates within a room and building, he said, adding, “That’s going to lead to a build up of indoor pollutants, be it chemical pollutants that give off gas from your carpet or, in this case, the buildup of viral particles. If someone is infectious and just breathing, it’ll just build up over time.”

Ventilation is Key

The end result for any system, he said, includes diluting the virus through ventilation, cleaning it out of the air via filtration, “or it’s deposited in occupants’ lungs.” To support this notion, he cited numerous documented cases of spread.

Building ventilation systems are designed around minimal requirements and energy efficiency, he explained, and not infectious disease control. Updating those systems to provide adequate protection will take time and resources—if it happens at all, in some cases. In the meantime, “Start opening up windows,” he said.

Allen and other researchers conducted an experiment showing that anywhere from five to 10 air changes per hour are achievable simply by opening doors and windows.

“We went out to a couple of schools, measured ventilation rates, even through just opening windows,” he said. “We took dry ice [and] built up the carbon dioxide concentrations. You watched the decay curve and you can estimate how many air changes per hour of clean air you get.”

According to the study’s findings, opening windows even as little as 6 inches is sufficient, but when confronted with the issue of window opening control devices and child safety, “You just have to get them open a little bit,” he said.

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