Industry awareness critical to safeguarding the use of glass in buildings, as codes become more stringent

Katy Devlin
November 5, 2012

Building codes, standards and rating programs are becoming increasingly stringent, and perhaps now more than ever, glass industry companies need to stay on top of changes that could affect their businesses. Glazing, in particular, has come under fire in recent years, with groups like the ASHRAE Standing Project Committee 90.1 making a push to reduce the amount of glass permissible in commercial building envelopes. Without industry awareness and involvement, these efforts could jeopardize the future of glass in buildings, industry code experts say.

This article provides a broad overview of the most important, recent developments in the building codes, green building codes and green rating programs, and the growing importance of life cycle assessments at the product and project level. 

Energy codes

The energy code environment of the last two years witnessed two major trends: significant increases in code stringency and energy efficiency, as well as code adoption and enforcement, said Tom Culp, owner of Birch Point Consulting, LaCrosse, Wis., during his energy code update at the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance educational seminar this fall. "Important things have happened in the code world that haven't hit the streets yet," Culp said. "Be aware [of these code changes], and be ready."

Energy Codes to Track:

(2010 version is the latest; 2013 version is under development)

International Energy Conservation Code
(2012 version is the latest; 2015 is under development)

A new addition to the codes that will affect the glass and glazing industry is a requirement for toplighting. "Both ASHRAE 90.1 and IECC now require a minimum skylight area and daylighting controls in large, open spaces," Culp said.The two major baseline energy codes, ASHRAE 90.1 and the International Energy Conservation Code, increased stringency by 30 percent in their most recent additions (ASHRAE 2010 and 2012 IECC), Culp said. More stringent U-factor requirements in the codes will lead to notable product trends for the industry. Specifically, the requirements will necessitate insulating glass and low-emissivity coatings in all climate zones, and "argon gas fill and warm-edge spacers will be needed in some climate zones," Culp said.

Culp also pointed out an interesting development in the 2013 ASHRAE 90.1―still under development―that will require daylight zones to be identified on floor plan submittals. "This gets architects thinking about daylighting earlier in the design process," he said. "This is a small but important change that could have a large positive impact."

Code adoption and enforcement of the more stringent energy codes sharply increased in the last several years due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. ARRA afforded funding to states, provided they adopted the most recent energy codes. That surge in adoption might not continue, however, due to backlash resulting from several controversial code changes. One such change mandated fire sprinkler requirements for single-family homes. In response, "some states updated their laws to make code adoption more difficult," Culp said. "How quickly states move on to the next version is more uncertain."

Possibly the biggest industry news to emerge from the latest code cycle, however, was what didn’t happen. In the 2010 ASHRAE 90.1, the ASHRAE Standing Project Committee 90.1 tried to reduce the amount of glass permissible in the envelope of commercial buildings using the prescriptive path by a full 25 percent: from a maximum window-to-wall ratio of 40 percent to a maximum of 30 percent. Through a group of industry associations and large companies, the glazing industry prevented the passing of those measures during the appeals process. However, the industry should be prepared for similar moves to reduce glazing area in the 2013 version, said Helen Sanders, vice president, technical business development, SAGE Electrochromics, during a presentation at the Window and Door Manufacturers Association Technical Conference in June.

Green building codes

Green Building Codes to Track:

ASHRAE 189.1-2011

2012 International Green Construction Code

While green building codes won’t be the norm for all buildings, they are gaining momentum, particularly for publicly funded buildings. The U.S. Army, for example, is requiring ASHRAE 189.1 for its facilities worldwide; Maryland has mandated its state buildings meet the IgCC; and several states and cities have adopted IgCC as a voluntary stretch code. ASHRAE 189.1 and IgCC are also being allowed in many places where LEED is required for governmental buildings, Culp said.

First published in 2010, ASHRAE 189.1 promotes daylighting, shading devices, on-site renewable energy and recycled content, and allows for a full life cycle assessment, Culp said. The U-factor requirements in the ASHRAE 189.1 standard “will require triple glazing in the North, and perhaps even the middle of the country for heavier commercial frames,” he said. The 2011 edition also takes into account dynamic glazing and automatic shades.

Published in the spring of 2012, the IgCC covers similar concepts to ASHRAE 189.1 and allows 189.1 as an option, according to Culp. The IgCC has more stringent daylighting requirements than ASHRAE 189.1, and the material selection requirements “offer credit for glass recyclability, but not in-process scrap recycled content,” he said. The IgCC also offers credit for LCA, though it doesn’t yet require it.  

“Why should you care about these codes? When you’re trying to serve the customer and meet spec, knowing the codes can [help you] help your customer, even if the customer is upstream,” Culp said. “If you have the knowledge about these codes, you can provide a value-added service, helping owners solve problems when they get dinged by officials and knowing when competitors are doing something that’s not right.”

Defining Life Cycle

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): An LCA addresses the embodied energy/carbon footprint of a product, taking into account factors such as climate change, acidification, fossil fuel depletion and human toxicity.

Product Category Rules (PCR): Scopes and sets rules for conducting the Life Cycle Assessment. The PCR ensures everyone is measuring the impacts of a product in the same way.

Environmental Product Declarations (EPD): Also known as eco-labels, EPDs disclose the life cycle environmental performance of a product. (The labels are similar to the nutritional labels for the food industry).

Cradle-to-gate: Life cycle assessments that measure the energy impact of a product from material extraction until the product leaves the factory.

Cradle-to-grave: Life cycle assessments that measure the energy impact of the complete life of a product, including: material extraction, manufacturing and production, distribution and transportation, operations and maintenance, and recycle and waste management. (Glazing industry manufacturers might want to consider a cradle-to-grave perspective, as glazing products provide energy benefits during the life of a building.)

Source: Definitions derived from the presentation “Eco-labeling is Coming: Is the Glazing Industry Ready?”, by Helen Sanders, vice president, technical business development, SAGE Electrochromics.

Life cycle assessment

Perhaps one of the largest developments in the codes and standards arena has been the growing prominence of life cycle assessment: a measure of the total energy impact of a product (or building) throughout its life.

“A new market standard is being established, and LCA is part of that,” Sanders said, during her presentation “Eco-labeling is Coming: Is the Glazing Industry Ready?” at GlassBuild America.  Eco-labeling could be “the next NFRC-type labeling system,” for the industry, she said. Also known as Environmental Product Declarations, eco-labels disclose the life cycle environmental performance of a product. The labels are similar to the nutritional labels for the food industry.

Companies will begin to receive more frequent requests for environmental impact data, and more mandatory requirements for LCA are on the horizon. “Today eco-labeling is a differentiator. Tomorrow, it may be a ticket to play,” Sanders said. “In the future, you may not be able to sell a window without an eco-label.”

In current green building codes, life cycle assessment is optional; however, LCA could be mandatory in the next revision cycle. Federal buildings are moving toward whole building LCA, which would require LCAs for products on the building, and the GSA also is moving toward products that have an eco-label.

Additionally, the forthcoming update of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, LEED v.4, will require buildings to meet and exceed green building codes, according to Paul Nutcher, director of sustainability services for the Think Agency Inc. Nutcher spoke during the Glazing Executives Forum at GlassBuild America this fall.

“LEED really wants you to look at the building from a life cycle perspective,” Nutcher said. As early as 2014, glass companies supplying products to LEED projects could be required to submit environmental product declarations, based on a life cycle assessment, he said. The Green Globes rating program also contains an LCA component.

The industry is on its way to developing an LCA method for windows, via a joint industry group that includes the American Architectural Manufacturers Associationthe Glass Association of North America, the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association.

“It’s very important that our industry is a proactive part of establishing these [LCA] rules. If we don’t do it, others will, and we won’t like the results,” Sanders said. “This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the value of glass as a building material.”

Sanders recommended companies get involved with their industry associations in the LCA development process. The development of eco-labels and product category rules for conducting life cycle assessment will require new internal competencies, data collection systems and supply chain support, she said. Awareness and involvement of industry players is paramount, Sanders emphasized.

The Department of Energy, through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is sponsoring the development of product category rules for windows, through the joint AAMA/GANA/IGMA/WDMA task group. Currently, the group is developing the product category rules, and a draft will be able for review shortly. The task group is also drafting environmental product declaration label templates, according to Sanders, who heads the Life Cycle Assessment Task Group for IGMA. On the glass side, the flat glass division of GANA is working on product category rules for float glass, she said.

LEED v.4

While the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program is technically a voluntary building rating system, LEED certification is legislated in many cities and some states, and required by the General Services Administration, federal government and Army Corp of Engineers, Nutcher said. ASHRAE 90.1-2007 is the benchmark for the current version of LEED; ASHRAE 90.1-2010 will be the benchmark for the next version: LEED v.4.

The next LEED version offers several opportunities for the glass industry, especially in regards to daylighting. Health care projects with at least 5 percent atrium area will receive a point, for example.

One major change in LEED v.4 is the new requirement for materials and resources. Projects in previous editions were eligible for the regional material credit if materials were created within 500 miles of the project. That has now been reduced to 100 miles, Nutcher said.

Contract glaziers will also have a larger role in v.4, as job site waste organization and distribution is applicable for credit. “Storage and collection of recyclables, having bins for recyclables, organizing and documenting waste, diversion of construction debris from the waste stream by salvaging and recycling or reusing—all of this is taken into account in the new LEED,” Nutcher says. “Construction waste makes up a large portion of landfill waste, and this is trying to reduce that.”

The USGBC opened the public comment period for LEED v.4 this October. The comment period, which will close on Dec. 10, enables the building community to view the most recent draft of the rating systems and provide comments where any substantive changes have been made. The proposed LEED update will go to ballot in the summer of 2013.

Katy Devlin is senior editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at