Window Technology: The Real Update on Where We Are

Steve Selkowitz, senior advisor of Lawrence Berkeley Lab (LBL), gave an information-packed, 90-minute presentation on the state of technology in windows and buildings this week during the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) annual conference in Phoenix. Selkowitz led the Windows Group at LBL for 40 years, and he went beyond just highlighting the state of the technology.

Steve Selkowitz of Lawrence Berkeley Labs addresses the AAMA conference.

Technologies to Reduce Energy Consumption

One of the technologies he talked about was windows as power generators.

“These coatings may last for a month but they won’t last for years,” he said. “The efficiencies of these things are like 1-2 percent—it’s certainly not enough to power a building, but the technology is interesting.”

Selkowitz reports that LBL “is doing a lot of interesting things at our lab with these systems” and to stay tuned in the years ahead for more research as this technology continues to evolve.

He also addressed whether or not you can guarantee performance with specific technologies to building owners.

“Just because you have an NFRC rating doesn’t mean that LEED Platinum building is going to do what you want it do,” he said. “I am big believer in real facts.”

In that vein, he showed attendees a data collection for 40 buildings where the energy costs for most of them were 50 percent or 100 percent higher than expected.

“If you own one of these buildings, then you will pay twice as much for energy as you thought you would,” said Selkowitz.

He also addressed some other technologies:

  • Vacuum glazing. The cost is pretty high, he said. “Many companies have said for years they would offer a product, and yet nothing has come out.” He added that these products aren’t coming soon. “It’s not coming tomorrow or even a year from now.”
  • Liquid crystal. “At BAU there was a new player in the liquid crystal world,” he said. “The activity level is great, but the market impact is relatively low.”

After reviewing the various options, Selkowitz summed it up: “The good news is there are a lot of options. The bad news is they aren’t being used very often.”

A Technology to Bet On

Selkowitz is putting his money on an LBL-patented thin lightweight triple-glazed unit.

“You drop this half-mm glass in the middle of the IGU so there is only a single spacer, and then you fill the gaps with krypton,” he said, pointing out that krypton is one third the cost it was a few years ago.

“All double-glazed windows could be converted to R 4-7 without a major redesign,” he said. “We call this a drop-in replacement.”

LBL is trying to put together a consortium, and Selkowitz reported that “all the component guys are on board.”

“In the end it’s the window companies that have to buy into this. We have to find partners that will build them,” he said.

Adding Attachments

A common theme throughout the presentation was how far Europe is ahead of the U.S., which is not news to the industry. This includes attachment systems.

“When it comes to glazing framing and attachments, we want these things to be active and intelligent,” he said. “In Europe, most of the windows have shades and blinds attached.”

The Department of Energy does have an attachment council, and LBL is working with the agency on this. But that’s not an easy task either. “If you think the window world is bad, the shading industry is even worse as there are so many options,” he said.

The Years Ahead

Selkowitz summed up the presentation by comparing the window industry to the automotive industry.

“You are about to see more changes in the auto industry in the next 20 years than ever before,” he said. “We are building these automated vehicles, but then you have an industry that can’t get a shade to go up and down.”

The real question the industry should be asking is: “How do you build these systems in an industry that right now is not integrated?”