How to Push Boundaries with Proven Technologies

USGlass magazine editor Ellen Rogers recently wrote a long and thoughtful article about the potential for adopting thin glass triples—triple-glazed insulating glass (IG) units with an ultra-thin center lite—within the commercial glass marketplace. It’s worth a perusal for anyone interested in where new glass technology for commercial applications may—or may not—be headed.

Rogers graciously invited both myself and my colleague Mark Molinaro to offer insight for the piece, and we agree that significant hurdles will need to be cleared for skinny triples to gain real traction in commercial applications. There will need to be industry-wide consensus on how the technology is defined and certified for commercial use.

Thin glass cannot be tempered, creating questions for safety glass applications. And we may see thinner triple-glazed units more quickly, where a center lite is narrower than the industry standard ¼-inch width, but not to residential levels, where the center lite is millimeters. There is certainly some potential—but it could be a long road.

One of the biggest hurdles is that the commercial construction industry is more risk-averse than the residential space, where thin triples have greater immediate potential. Rogers writes, “Market acceptance of new glazing products and technologies moves at a snail’s pace. Everyone wants to see it before they’ll believe it—and buy it.”

But it’s increasingly important that we square this mindset with the direction of our industry. Stringent new energy codes are being adopted at accelerated rates worldwide, driving the necessity of high-performance products and technologies in new construction. To be sure: Our commitment to quality and performance must remain as strong as ever. Safe, resilient structures absolutely depend on the rigor with which commercial professionals evaluate and test new technologies before widespread adoption is possible. But if glass and glazing continue to be an important and prominent component of tomorrow’s architecture, we must also do everything possible to keep pace with new and future code requirements.

As we seek to continue elevating thermal performance, one way forward is the increased adoption of high-performance technologies that have already demonstrated their ability to stand up to the demands of even the most extreme commercial applications.

For example, high-performance, commercially rated vinyl window and door systems have continued to demonstrate their reliable applicability in commercial punched opening applications. The inherent thermal properties of performance-engineered vinyl formulas, coupled with multi-chamber profile designs that help maximize energy performance, can deliver major thermal improvements in applications where only metallic framing may have done the job once.

Elsewhere, high-performance warm-edge spacer systems have helped enhance glass performance in commercial applications for decades. With inherently better thermal properties than metal spacers, warm-edge technology should be considered just about anywhere where energy performance is a concern—especially as new energy codes demand it.

I expect thin triples are just one of many experimental commercial glass concepts we will hear about in the coming years. And as our industry collectively develops and tests those truly next-generation technologies, there is no reason to forgo proven, high-performance options that are available today.

Joe Erb is national account manager at Quanex.