Prepare Your Talking Points, the Battle for Glass is Back

Are architects turning their backs on skyscrapers? This was the question posed in a recent CNN piece that interrogated the sustainability and energy performance of glass. The article, through interviews with several architects and other building industry officials, seemed to posit that glass buildings stand in the way of green building. “I think (glass) is a symbol for energy-guzzling buildings, and we need to move to a much more energy-conscious environment to try and save resources,” said famous British architect Ken Shuttleworth in the article.

Unsurprisingly, the article sparked conversation among many in the glass industry. (I recommend Max Perilstein’s hot take, if you missed it last week.) I was able to engage in a few of these conversations about the article and the topic in general last week at the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance Winter Conference in Tucson, Arizona.

Many of the industry representatives I spoke to were not surprised at the reemergence of this now-familiar argument from some in the building industry—the argument that glass is simply a poor energy performer. The industry has fought back against this take before, including during two recent code cycles that led to the creation of the term, the “battle for the wall.” Despite emerging success during those battles, misconceptions over glass performance continue, and the industry could face yet another push to limit glass use in buildings in the upcoming code and standard cycles.

So, what can those in the industry do to better fight back against claims that glass is a poor performer? And, equally important, what can the industry do to promote its energy-saving solutions and ensure that the right products are used in buildings in the right way? Below are several recommendations that I pulled from these conversations.

Promote balance. Blanket calls for less glass aren’t the solution. Glass is a critical material in creating buildings that promote energy efficiency and occupant comfort. But, simply calling for more glass isn’t the answer either. The wrong type of glass or glazing system, or too much glass on certain orientations of a building can hinder energy and thermal performance.

Promote people. Building performance means so much more than energy. Human comfort and wellness should factor every bit as much into considerations of building performance as sustainability and energy. Study after study shows that occupants in buildings that are designed for comfort and wellness are healthier, happier and more productive. Employers report less absenteeism; hospitals see faster healing. Achieving a more comfortable building requires careful consideration for indoor temperature control, airflow, access to views and the right amount of daylighting—and this means glass. Several industry representatives at IGMA say the industry needs to do more to promote the necessity of human comfort in the built environment.

Promote solutions. The glass industry offers an ever-growing collection of product solutions that can help ensure buildings achieve stated performance goals. Consider some recent advancements in high-performance glazing: triple-insulating glass units, fourth-surface low-emissivity coatings, dynamic glasses, automated blinds, sun shade systems and more. The solutions are available (and many, such as electrochromic glass, have been available for decades). The industry must continue to invest in education to ensure that architects know the right products for the right applications.

Promote investment. “We have the products, but owners or architects won’t pay the additional cost.” “We get these products into the specs, but they are value engineered out.” These were two common sentiments I heard from industry reps in Tucson. The key is educating architects and building owners that the extra cost of the higher performance products will pay off in terms of energy savings and occupant comfort.

What industry talking points do you use to push back against calls for less glass? 

Katy Devlin is editor in chief of Glass Magazine. Contact her at kdevlin@glass.org.

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