Privacy, Please: Niche Product Segment Moves into the Spotlight

By Trey Barrineau and Ellen Rogers

Products such as dynamic glass and blinds-centered glass have been available for many years. While they may still not represent mainstream demand, the level of understanding and awareness of how and where they can be used continues to increase. These products often are used in healthcare and educational applications, as they not only can offer transparency and privacy, but can also help create a safer, cleaner environment for building occupants.

Dynamic Options

Anthony Branscum, vice president of architectural sales with Innovative Glass Corp. in Plainview, N.Y., says there’s been an evolution in the level of awareness when it comes to switchable glass products.

“We used to only be in the big metro areas, and it was clients in big cities that knew about and used the product. Now, there’s a much broader acceptance throughout U.S. There’s been a lot of traction and ground gained.”

Some of the most common applications, he says, include corporate spaces, such as boardrooms, conference rooms and offices, followed by health care and higher education.

Branscum adds that another reason for the increasing growth and awareness is more competition in the market.

“There are more suppliers out there that are marketing [dynamic glass] than before, and that’s definitely making it come up in Google searches,” he says. “Another thing is that the architects have been educated and once that happens they’re more influenced and aware that the products are available.”

He also points out that there’s been increasing understanding in specific design community segments where the products could be used.

“[In those markets] there’s a lot of networking and education. People learn of the products and they start talking about them and that starts to build repetition and awareness in an industry,” he says.

Nanawall Systems of San Francisco recently developed a new product for the privacy glass market, as well, called WhiteOut. The system is an individual panel frameless opening glass wall system that provides visual privacy or transparency on demand.

The glass wall panels go from clear to white or vice versa at the touch of a button. The opacity allows it to be used as a whiteboard or projection screen for maximum space efficiency. When not in use, panels can be stacked remotely and out of sight for flexible connectivity of the space.

Blinds Between the Glass

Blinds between the glass are an-other option that can be used to provide transparency or opacity. With this option, the blinds are sealed between the two lites of glass in an insulating glass (IG) unit, eliminating the need for cleaning and dusting. They’re also easy to maintain because the cords do not get tangled up in each other. This means they’re also safer compared to traditional shading products; since the blinds and their operating systems are enclosed, there are no cords that can be hazardous to those around.

The safety aspect of windows with blinds between the glass will be increasingly important as a ban on cords starts to take effect. The Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA), in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), recently developed new standards that require most window coverings to be cordless.

“All companies who manufacture, distribute, or sell window coverings in the U.S. must comply with the voluntary safety standard or face enforcement action by the CPSC and/or be open to legal action if non-compliant products are sold,” WCMA executive director Ralph Vasami said in a statement.

Blinds-between-the-glass products are recognized as a safe alternative to cords. For example, ODL’s Blink has received WCMA’s “Certified Best for Kids” designation and the Parents for Window Blind Safety Seal of Approval.

“We’re proud that our enclosed blinds were among the first cordless products to be backed by two safety certifications,” says Scot Harder, vice president of sales and marketing, ODL Pro Channel. “We see this as an important step for our company and these product lines, and we’ve positioned ourselves well ahead of an impending ban on all cords.”

Enoch Suen, the general manager with TEDNovo Building Products, a distributor of blinds between the glass products, echoes those sentiments.

“In our numerous conversations with end users, the appeal of blinds between the glass is obvious, because it provides practical benefits in every-day life,” he says. “It’s healthier because it eliminates dust. It performs better, it’s more stylish because there’s no longer clutter associated with blinds and cords outside the window, and it’s safer for pets and children.”

The products are especially popular in the multifamily housing market, which has been strong in recent years. According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2018 State of the Nation’s Housing report, more than 354,000 multifamily units were built in 2017. That’s about 30 percent of all housing starts last year.

“We see many compelling benefits to using enclosed blinds products in this market, as they offer flexibility in design, cleanliness, safety and privacy,” says Harder. “Apartment complexes see higher turnover rates than single-family homes and typically are managed by a property management company. The cleanliness aspect means reduced maintenance and cleaning effort for tenants since the blinds are enclosed between glass panes and won’t collect dust or be damaged from excessive wear and tear. Plus, the cordless operation means that property managers face less risk of being held liable for cord-related injury to children or pets.”

According to Jamie Runevitch, marketing manager with Intigral in Walton Hills, Ohio, colleges are also requesting more blinds-between-the-glass products.

“It’s a great solution for dorms,” she says.

Because of all the demand, Intigral started a certified fabricator program this year. The company supplies its custom ScreenLine kit, and the certified manufacturer places the blind between the glass.

“This program will offer two integrated blind models, six different control systems and 31 color combinations,” Runevitch says. “The certified fabricator then can establish the best blinds or shades to satisfy their dealers.”

Suen says that despite growing acceptance of blinds between the glass, upselling could be required because the products had a bad reputation in the past due to quality issues.

“Many door and window vendors are hesitant to promote this type of product due to quality and pricing concerns,” he says. “However, there is no question about the growth of the market based on consumer demand; more door and window vendors need to be educated to offer their customers blinds-between-glass products.”

Runevitch says the design side of the industry is taking notice, too.

“Architects find these product solutions that are suitable for all types of insulating glass projects,” she says. “Our products range from a tilt-only to a fully motorized unit … they can create an upscale look without needing additional hardware or fabric around the window.”

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