Growing your piece of the pie

Profiting from dynamic and active façades
Helen Sanders
March 18, 2010

Fig. 1 Dynamic façade systems including dynamic glass are cost competitive with conventional solutions when the additional cost of increased HVAC size, interior blinds and exterior sunshades are considered, plus on-going higher energy costs. By offering a high performance façade solution, sales and profits can be transferred from other work packages by eliminating the need for interior shades and reducing the size of the HVAC system.

Window and façade systems are becoming increasingly more complex, and they must continue to evolve in order to achieve the energy performance necessary to satisfy rapidly changing codes and regulations. U-factor and solar heat gain coefficient requirements are tightening through the 2012 IECC code and 2010 ASHRAE 90.1 standard in line with the federal government’s immediate goal of a 30 percent reduction in energy use. A further 50 percent reduction is required in the next code cycle, and additional improvements thereafter leading to zero-energy buildings by 2025. A substantial portion of this energy efficiency improvement must come from the envelope, which is responsible for significant lighting, cooling and heating load in buildings due to solar heat gain and thermal energy loss. Unfortunately, either the energy performance of the window and façade systems must improve substantially, or the amount of glass in buildings will be reduced. The latter would be detrimental for the glass industry as a whole. We are already seeing the beginnings of this trend in the recent code cycles at ASHRAE and IECC, where current proposals are to reduce the window-to-wall ratio for the prescriptive paths from 40 percent to 30 percent. There are products and strategies available today that can be used to create dynamic façades that will improve the performance of the curtain wall and stem this trend.

Strategic business growth

Dynamic--whether through automated mechanical shading systems or electronically tintable glass--and active façades are the future of the building envelope and essential to achieving low or zero net energy buildings, according to the Department of Energy. This trend provides a tremendous opportunity for glazing contractors to increase revenue and profits. By developing internal capabilities to integrate and install dynamic and active façade systems, contractors can establish a significant strategic advantage over their competitors. Who wouldn’t want to be the first company the architect or general contractor calls with an invitation to be part of the design team for a new high-performance building? By developing organizational capabilities for installing sophisticated products, which involve the integration of wires and other new elements into the framing system, you can build a sustainable competitive advantage that lets you be more successful on bid day and complete the project profitably. Having gained experience with integrating and installing these sophisticated envelope systems, you can minimize risks and know where you can save costs. The organizational capabilities gained provide leverage for a wide portfolio of dynamic and active products, and a platform to adopt those coming in the future.

Even if budgets for the whole building are not increasing or construction activity is static, you have the opportunity to grow your “piece of the pie” by transferring sales and profits from other work packages. The current solutions to heat and glare control involve, for example, installing blinds on the interior of the building and increasing the size of the HVAC system--neither of which is in the glazing contractor’s work package. By offering a considerably more energy-efficient building envelope that can more effectively control sunlight, heat and glare, you can eliminate the use of interior blinds and downsize the HVAC equipment needs (See Figure 1). The result: Your piece of the pie grows while another’s shrinks.

Fig. 2 and 3: An example of electronically tintable glass installed into a curtain wall demonstrating the ability to control the light and heat without loss of view to the exterior.





In addition, if you install higher priced products, you make more profit in absolute dollar terms for a given percentage profit margin. You can become even more competitive by strategically taking a lower percentage margin on a high priced procured component (e.g., electronically tintable glass or integrated blinds), while still increasing the absolute profit compared with the regular purchased component. The result: You get the job and you earn more on the transaction than if you had installed a conventional envelope system.

The technology

I have just come back from a visit to Europe where I saw tremendously sophisticated double-skin curtain wall systems, many with automated Venetian blinds and shades inside the unitized system and some with building integrated photovoltaics. In the United States, we also are seeing the increased use of automatic mechanical louver systems on the exterior of façades, as well as automated interior mechanical blinds and shades that already have been widely adopted in Europe. Dynamic glass, which has been sold into the U.S. construction market for a number of years, provides an elegant alternative to the complexity of both double-skin curtain walls with integrated mechanical blinds and the combination of dual-pane low-E glass with interior blinds and exterior sunshades or louver systems.

Electronically tintable glass provides the means to modulate the visible light transmission and SHGC at the touch of a button or command from a building management system, providing heat and glare control while maintaining clear, unhindered views to the outside (See Figures 2 and 3). From a price perspective, dynamic glass solutions are already  competitive with the higher end conventional alternatives of automated interior blind systems, exterior shades and larger HVAC systems. As economies of scale are achieved, the price of dynamic glass will continue to drop until it becomes the standard choice, just as happened with the progression of low-E glass.

By providing a heat and light valve for your building through the use of a dynamic façade, you can capture considerably more energy savings than from a static approach and actually allow the use of more glass without energy penalty, especially on tricky east and west façades where sunlight glare is a significant issue. Additionally, on-site power generation and use of renewable energy sources are driving the adoption of BIPV, and there are a growing number of alternative PV technologies available for the building envelope that can provide another complementary opportunity for increasing sales and profits.

The author is vice president, Technical Business Development, Sage Electrochromics Inc., Faribault, Minn. Write her at