Allow me to borrow an example from the residential window market for a moment. Talk in the industry has revolved around the critically stringent new ENERGY STAR 7.0 criteria, set to take effect at some point in 2023. Window systems meeting the current criteria will in most cases need to make significant design alterations to achieve the thermal efficiency performance required to maintain the ENERGY STAR label.
The question for window manufacturers is this: How to go about making these changes? There are options, and some of them are more complicated than others. To date, residential manufacturers have typically relied on their insulating glass units to meet previous ENERGY STAR criteria; low-E coatings and high-performance spacer systems have gotten the job done.
But the new ENERGY STAR 7.0 numbers — requiring a < 0.22 u factor and > 0.17 solar heat gain coefficient in the Northern Zone, which covers much of North America — will trigger more dramatic changes. My colleague John Ryba has written extensively about the options manufacturers have at this magazine’s sister publication for the past year. Triple-paned IG could be a necessity if manufacturers don’t want to alter their window systems completely. Elsewhere, switching to energy-efficient vinyl systems can help manufacturers meet the new figures with greater confidence.
The latter process involves a greater upfront investment. Changing your vinyl systems is a big shift — but one that might be worthwhile over the long term for residential manufacturers who want to remain at the forefront of energy efficiency trends in the industry.
What does this have to do with the commercial glass industry? First, it’s important to remember that energy efficiency standards, barring some major regulatory shakeups, never go backward. ENERGY STAR is just one example. Government bodies around the world, from the local level to the national stage, are more concerned than ever with fostering greater sustainability in all areas of society. We’ve seen the effects in North America as new building codes in major municipalities are implemented, demanding higher and higher levels of performance from all types of buildings. That, of course, includes glass and glazing codes.
It means that the case is strong for commercial fabricators (both window and door and glass) to invest in innovative and forward-thinking technology today — before it simply becomes the cost of doing business. For example, high-performance vinyl systems have proven themselves to be viable in commercial window and wall applications, while delivering an outstanding thermal performance that metallic options can’t match without major modifications. Warm-edge spacer systems have likewise delivered outstanding efficiency gains in major commercial applications, including architectural glazing. The right products can also provide nice efficiency improvements in manufacturing.
Technologies like these represent not only a way for commercial fabricators to prepare themselves for a future where more stringent efficiency standards come into effect; they’re also a means to create separation from the competition. As we round out 2022, it’s worth keeping these things in mind while making plans for 2023 and beyond. It’s incumbent upon the commercial glass and glazing industry to remain innovative as codes and regulations change. Investing in high-performance technology is one path to get there.
Joe Erb is the national account manager for Quanex