The Empire State Building to Undergo a Unique Window Retrofit Approach to Sustainability

Sustainability and energy efficiency have become monikers for many of today’s retrofit and new construction building projects, and the Empire State Building is no exception. More than 6,500 windows in the iconic building are being upgraded by Serious Materials as part of an energy-efficiency retrofit project, which was announced last April.

Johnson Controls, a provider of energy efficient and sustainable products, services and solutions, selected Serious Materials to “super-insulate” the windows. Serious Materials is providing its SeriousGlass™ technology through a sustainable production process designed to directly reduce energy costs by more than $400,000 per year. The new units will increase the thermal performance of the windows by up to four times their current thermal performance and will also reduce solar heat gain by more than 50 percent compared to the older windows.

“We are removing the dual pane windows that are (about) R2 center of glass and replacing them with R5 through R8 depending on where they are in the building and what direction they are facing,” says Kevin Surace, chief executive officer of Serious Materials. “We are re-using all of the glass, and we’re not buying any new glass.” He adds that the current windows were originally supplied by Traco in the 1990s.

“All of that glass is coming out, but it’s not going to be crushed and it’s not going to be thrown away. We are unsealing/un-glazing [the IG units], then scraping and cleaning the glass and then re-using it. We have done this successfully before; you can absolutely re-use glass where it’s going back into the same frame, for instance … this is uncoated, clear glass,” Surace adds of the approximate 26,000 panes of glass in the 6,514 windows.

And just where did the company come up with the idea to re-use the glass? It goes back to environmental awareness.

“The building owner had these windows put in not long ago, and he is also very sensitive to environmental issues. He loved the fact that he could save over $400,000 a year just attributable to the window change, but what he did not like was the fact that all the glass would have to be tossed away,” says Surace. “So our team came up with a unique solution to re-use the glass and do it on-site. It’s a heck of a point for sustainability that the glass can be re-used.”

Surace continues, “In these days of focusing on sustainability and cradle to cradle, there is no reason to throw out glass that’s [not very old].”

He also says he hopes that other companies will be inspired to also take on similar projects.

“Sustainability is good for all of us and everybody should be looking at how we can re-use things. I think a lot of companies, though, would not have the flexibility that we have had; we’re very innovative and willing to innovate business models as well, which can be tough for a larger company to do. For us going forward we will certainly look for other opportunities to use this model.”

The company is not only reusing all existing glass, but it is also fabricating all of the units within a 5,000-square-foot processing space on the fifth floor of the Empire State Building.

“It is very unusual and was difficult because we had to choose equipment that we could fit into the elevators or that we could take apart and fit in the freight elevator to get onto the fifth floor and lay it out,” explains Surace. “We were given a portion of the fifth floor that had water access, drainage, and also had electrical requirements.”

Removal and re-installation of the glass will occur during evening hours to avoid any disruption to building tenants and occupants. By reusing existing glass and producing the new glass on-site, the process will help eliminate virtually all waste, save energy and reduce replacement costs.

Installation will be done by Kilroy Architectural Windows Inc., the firm contracted by the Empire State Building to handle replacements, repairs, etc., and will begin within the next 30-45 days. Completion is expected by November of this year.

Johnson Controls is overseeing the full retrofit project, with a team of energy efficiency experts including the Clinton Climate Initiative, Jones Lang LaSalle and Rocky Mountain Institute. The window upgrade process is one of eight individual measures that are expected to reduce energy use by 38 percent, save $4.4 million per year in energy costs, and save 105,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years.