For the Future of Windows, Look to LBNL

Researchers working in the windows unit of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Building Technologies Department are perhaps the luckiest people in the window and glass industry. Not only is the view stellar—the various lab buildings are nestled high in the Berkeley Hills, overlooking San Francisco, the Bay, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge—the work coming out of LBNL’s Building Technologies Department is paving the way for the future of energy-efficient buildings and windows.

LBNL’s Windows and Envelope Materials Group, led by Steve Selkowitz, hosted attendees of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance 2014 Winter Conference at the beautiful lab site last week, for a guided tour of the various window activities. LBNL has done work in the window industry for more than 30 years, collaborating with industry to “make windows smarter at the level of the window; make windows smarter at the level of the home [or building],” Selkowitz said during the tour.

LBNL conducts a wide range of research, development and performance testing with the goal of converting “windows from net energy losers to net zero, and then becoming energy suppliers to buildings,” according to the group’s resource guide.

At the lab campus, the LBNL windows group operates a number of test facilities, including: the Advanced Facades Testbed; Mobile Window Thermal Test Facility; and the Quantitative Infrared Thermography Facility. However, the main attraction of the LBNL window facilities tour was FlexLab, or Facility for Low Energy eXperiments in Buildings.

According to LBNL officials, the FlexLab will allow users to:

  • Conduct focused research or product development on single components or whole-building systems integration
  • Replace any building system such as exterior building envelopes, windows and shading systems, lights, HVAC, energy control systems, roofs and skylights, or interior components such as furniture, partitions and raised floors.

The lab, which will be operational later this year, contains four 600-square-foot test beds, including one that rotates. Because nearly every building component of the test bed can be replaced, a designer or building owner could essentially create a project mock-up to test every aspect of building energy performance, from HVAC to daylighting. Individual product manufacturers, or industry groups, could use the facilities to test performance of a range of products in varying situations.

“FlexLab embodies everything we’ve learned over the last 30 years,” Selkowitz said.

Visiting the lab was fascinating. However, the real excitement will be watching how activities at LBNL, particularly in FlexLab, pave the way for better and better energy efficiency in windows and whole buildings.

Devlin is editor of Glass Magazine. Write her at kdevlin@glass.org.

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