Beyond the Battle for the Wall

The industry's new fight promotes glass with added value, in larger sizes, across more applications
Katy Devlin
January 9, 2017

Deloitte Tower in Montreal features high-tech, high-performance building systems that are designed to reduce energy consumption by 30 to 40 percent, compared to a conventional office tower. The project features more than 250,000 square feet of value-added, high-performance exterior glass from glass manufacturer Guardian Glass. Low-emissivity, high-performance SunGuard AG 50 encloses the office elevations and provides solar heat management and clear views. Unusually shaped, 5-foot by 8-foot ultrawide lites of SunGuard SuperNeutral 68 were specified at the retail levels to maximize visible light transmission. The project, designed to achieve LEED Platinum, was created in collaboration by architect of record B + H Architects and design architect Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. Multiver was the glass fabricator for the project, and Epsylon Concept Inc. was the glazing contractor. Photo by Stéphan Poulin.

Glass is no longer a commodity product. This has been a key message from global glass manufacturers for much of the last decade, as companies work to add value to the supply chain, to promote the industry’s advanced products, and to ensure a place for more glass on, and in, the building. The shift from volume to value is critical to the long-term success of the industry and its companies, sources say.

“We’re moving to a place where volume is not the number one goal,” says Serge Martin, vice president of marketing, building and industrial products for AGC Glass Co. North America. “We can no longer focus only on the truckload. Instead we need to focus on service, and we need to focus on advanced technology, interior glass and bringing more value-add to customers.”

The urgency of the push for value-added products can be traced back to 2010, when the glass industry first waged what became known as the “Battle for the Wall” in North America. At the time, a committee at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers had voted to reduce the amount of glass permissible in the envelope of commercial buildings in the prescriptive path of ASHRAE 90.1, a standard that is a benchmark for commercial building energy codes in the United States and a basis for codes and standards globally. If successful, the proposal would have reduced allowable glass by a full 25 percent—from a maximum window-to-wall ratio of 40 percent to a maximum of 30 percent.

The North American glass industry rallied together to fight back against the proposal and was successful. However, key glass industry players at the time warned that the proposal demonstrated a larger, more long-term threat to the industry: a perception by many in the building community that glass is simply a poor energy performer, and that the only way to improve whole-building energy performance is to reduce glass on the envelope.

In response, many glass company leaders called for the industry to fight back against the attacks on glass by promoting its value-added solutions, particularly those that promote building efficiency. And since that time, the North American glass industry has doubled down on its value-added offerings.

This movement has been led by global glass manufacturers, which had already instituted many of the same value-added propositions in the European market. The companies have continued to develop energy-performance solutions, with new coatings, dynamic offerings and even energy-producing products. And the industry has responded aggressively to provide solutions to other architectural glass trends—from more complex envelopes and larger sizes to more decorative products and interior applications.

“Added value product applications are increasing in the market. It has been our strategy for a long time to try to develop and innovate in this area, and it has proved to be the right direction,” says Patrick Dupin, president of the flat glass business for Saint-Gobain.

Suppliers say this promotes the industry as a solutions provider, protecting it against any future attacks on glass on the envelope, and it adds value, benefiting glass companies in every segment.

“We could fight for two square feet of insulating glass, or we could [push] for interior glass, or advanced glass. There’s more value there,” Martin says.

The 1.2-million-square-foot JW Marriott in Austin, Texas, relies on extensive use of high-performance glass on its exterior. The 34-story tower, designed to achieve LEED Silver certification, features Solarban R100 and Optiblue glasses from PPG, now part of Vitro. The architect was HKS Inc. Construction was handled through a joint venture of Hunt Construction Group and DPR construction. Photo by Tom Kessler.

Value-Added Trends

To best capitalize on the value-added revolution, suppliers look to market demands. “Look at the factors that drive those value-added features. Environmental concern—through regulations, pressure from the industry and overall awareness—is the number one factor. Then there is also quality, comfort and acoustic,” Dupin says. “We have addressed all of these concerns in our products, and it’s exciting to see growth in this area.”

The trends, in general, point to better glass of larger sizes in more places on the building. “Glass continues to get larger; we continue to push the limits of coatings on glass; we continue to improve the optics and acoustical performance,” says Stephen Weidner, vice president, regional director of sales and marketing, architectural and technical glass products, for NSG Group.

Chris Dolan, director of marketing, Guardian Glass North America, agrees. “We’re seeing larger sizes, new coatings, low-iron glass and triples. Customers are doing more applications with complex glass, with more holes drilled, edges polished, sound attenuation, and bent glass,” he says.

Additionally, there is a push for greater functionality in glass. “Down the road, new functionality will drive [the value-added trend],” Martin says. “We will compete with other building materials. For example, super insulating glass will compete with wall. We also have technology to make active glazing, such as electrochromics, or technology that conveys information, such as a product with encapsulated LEDs. We can use the whole façade as a medium.”

Glass suppliers emphasize the following trends in the value-added market:

High-performance glass
A main tenant of the glass industry’s value-added mission continues to be energy efficiency, and glass manufacturers remain focused on improving and promoting high-performance glass coatings.

“We are pushing coated products with increased performance that add value and meet energy codes,” Dolan says. Despite the decades of popularity of low-emissivity in the market, there is still room to grow, he says. “In the residential market, a majority of windows have low-E. The commercial market is at 65 percent and is creeping up. Once the latest energy code is adopted by all states, we will see low-E insulating glass in nearly all units. We’ll see increased penetration.”

Fourth-surface low-E is also gaining traction, and manufacturers continue to invest in next-generation coatings.

Dynamic and energy-producing products
Manufacturers are also looking beyond passive performance solutions to dynamic and energy-producing glasses. Electrochromics and thermocromics continue to gain traction in the dynamic glass market, and several manufacturers continue to promote building integrated photovoltaic products.

“The façade is moving away from being a static attribute,” says Weidner. “For years, glass just kept the elements on the outside. Now, façades perform all these functions. The glass tints, creates light, [acts as] a display surface. … Back in the 1960s and 70s, glass was considered inefficient. Now, the façade can be changed into a producer of energy. I’m excited about the new technological evolution.”

Oversized glass
The oversized, jumbo glass trend, which has been popular in Europe, is making its way to North America, and glass manufacturers have responded with major investments in oversized capabilities. Guardian announced the construction of a jumbo coater in fall 2016. Vitro also announced the construction of a jumbo glass coater in October as it finalized the purchase of PPG’s flat glass business.

“We are following the trends in the industry, and the trend is toward bigger and heavier glass. This is a good trend in the industry,” says Dick Beuke, a longtime PPG executive who is now vice president of U.S. and Canada operations for Vitro. “This capital investment was on the drawing board when PPG owned us. Vitro knew that, and figured we might as well make the commitment now to follow this important trend in this industry.”

Dupin says Saint-Gobain is also investing in jumbo coating operations in Europe to respond to market demand. “There is a demand in architectural glass moving more and more to larger panels. This is primarily done to improve the aesthetic. Customers are demanding panes of 12 to 15 meters without any seam,” Dupin says. “We are investing in this process and will be able to start producing jumbo panels in 2017. We will be able to produce and coat glass up to 18 meters.”

Interior glass
Architects’ demand for increased daylighting and views, and for a clean, modern aesthetic has led to a boom in interior glass.

“This has been a design trend for quite awhile, and it continues to grow, with glass office partitions, railings, doors. There is a lot of opportunity on the interior,” says Beuke. For example, “on a recent job, I joked to a colleague that there must be more glass inside the building than outside, even though there was a lot of glass on the exterior. Sure enough, when we did the calculations, there was more glass inside.”

Glass manufacturers are promoting low-iron, ultra-clear glasses and decorative products to take advantage of the market.

AGC, for example, developed a post-temperable back-painted glass for the interior glass market, Martin says. “We are bringing to the interior what post-temperable low-E brought to the envelope,” he says. “It allows customers to have back-painted glass easier, quicker and cheaper. Customers won’t have to keep all the colors in stock.”

Complex facades
Manufacturers say projects are also becoming more complex. Many buildings feature a greater number of products and more complex geometries across the façade. “This complexity is growing, and this is a big deal at the glazier level,” says Dolan.

One major trend in this area is bent glass. “We’re seeing more bent glass. Usually it is used at corners as an accent,” Dolan says. To meet the demand trends, Guardian introduced coatings that are durable enough to handle the bending process, he says.

Value-Added Changes

While value-added products offer opportunities throughout the supply chain, they also present challenges. Glass manufacturers, fabricators and glaziers must address these challenges in order to take advantage of the benefits of the value-added proposition, sources say. Manufacturers point to the following hurdles to success in the value-added market:

A primary challenge when dealing with more value-added products is managing the additional complexity inherent in specifying nontraditional glass products. “We have to manage the complexity. This is a huge challenge going forward,” says Lance Altizer, marketing director, Guardian Glass Europe. “We are a big organization that is trying to be nimble where we can be. It’s challenging internally.”

Lead times
The increase in product types combined with an increase of overall glass demand can also lead to longer lead times, something the industry did not need to worry about during the slower market of the recession. “The reality coming out of the recession is that customers became accustomed to short lead times,” Altizer says.

“There are so many float products, so many substitutes and coatings. The proliferation of SKUs is a challenge,” Weidner says. “We can’t inventory all of the products. A company may need ‘SKU A’ today, but might not need it again for two months. However, the architect will want it immediately. We will need advance notice to make sure they can deliver.”

Communication and early planning between the glass manufacturer and the fabricator can ease these pressures. “The strong demand, and greater complexity forces everyone to do better planning,” Altizer says.

“If we know a project is coming in four months or six months, we can plan ahead,” Dolan adds. “This collaboration is helping. Engaging with the customer is critical.”

Education is also key to selling value-added products, Martin says. “We have the technology, and we have the products. What we need is the education,” he says. “Right now, the fabricator is not thinking about bringing glass to the interior, and the installer is not used to it.” To be successful, all parties will need to not only learn about the value-added advancements in glass, get the equipment to produce it, but be able to sell it to owners and architects.

Weidner agrees. “This puts pressure on the fabricators. They need to have an awareness of the products—where and when to use. And, in turn, they have to educate the architect,” he says.

Some value-added glasses also require special handling and transport considerations, which demands education and training throughout the supply chain. This is particularly the case with jumbo sizes. “At the end of the day, handling is the difficulty,” Dupin says.

Looking Ahead

Despite the challenges, manufacturers are optimistic about the opportunities in the value-added market. “This will take equipment, education, and planning, but this is something that is a very good opportunity for growth,” Martin says.

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