Huffer speaks at GANA Fall Conference

Sahely Mukerji
September 9, 2008

Keynote speaker, Russ Huffer, chairman and CEO, Apogee Enterprises Inc., Minneapolis, spoke on the State of the Glass and Glazing Industry.

“North America was a very protected market,” Huffer said during the speech, which was available as a live podcast. “A lot has changed. We’re affected by the global market where any standard item can be imported at low cost; technology spread quickly; and distance has become less of a barrier. There’s nothing that you can’t find out about in real time, patents, research, etc.”

In the past protected market, technology was valued, efficiencies were rewarded and prudent business strategies were rewarded, Huffer said.

“In today’s environment, the cycle is slowing, yet value-added products are expanding,” Huffer said. “The market is projected to remain at high levels through 2012. Residential took off in the middle and they over-built. The bubble eventually burst. We’re all seeing the results of that today. These things do happen. There is no bubble now. The square footage that was put in during the dotcom era is not there now. There’s a commercial construction downturn now, but it’s going to be shallow because of the over-built. Dollar value had a shallower dip than the square footage because of the over-built.”
Moving forward, there will be significant shifts in demand, Huffer said. “Residential demand that consumed 40 percent of total glass at cycle peak has been halved, and the industry’s still reacting,” he said. “Four float lines have shut down, probably 12 were running during the peak.”
Transportation costs, service values will mean more in the coming year, Huffer said, technology will become more specialized but cannot become an end to itself. “Never underestimate style,” he said. “Style changes and takes time [to evolve]. New technology also takes significant time to find its potential. Value, and therefore, solutions will be determined by worldwide local market needs. One size does not fit all. We need to deliver the style first and then the energy needs. That’s how we’ll generate great value.”
These trends are good economics, Huffer said. “Any time we look at trends, we must distinguish between a fad and good economics,” he said.
Demand for high-performance/green glass is increasing, Huffer said. “There is sufficient capacity available to meet the majority of future needs, thanks to the recent residential bubble. But one size doesn’t fit all in green buildings. Style/aesthetics will remain important. Without style, North America will be doomed to use glass from low-wage countries.”
Coated glass has grown from 32 percent of market at trough of last cycle to 51 percent in 2007, Huffer said. Solar is an important part of the Industry now.
Products will reflect various energy needs, Huffer said. “Residential and commercial products will vary according to geography, building style. Holistic approach to design, reflecting energy variations, daylighting, HVAC will determine products differentiation. Value will be found in energy cost, energy usage, comfort, daylighting.”
How products affect future energy costs for a building will become more important; peak demand usage will get more expensive, Huffer said.
“Peak usage can be affected by glass solutions,” Huffer said. “Natural light consumes 6 percent of energy of artificial light, yet not commonly installed even when windows are installed. However, too much light is often a problem in structures with high glass-to-wall ratio. Value of glass/window systems will not be limited to walls. Exterior glass must be integrated with interior lighting systems, light delivery channels.”
Glass facades and windows can enhance occupant comfort and still deliver natural light, Huffer said. We need to meet demand for certain standards such as condensation resistance. We cannot afford to be perfect in every way!”
The highest potential area that our glass can impact is daylighting, Huffer said. “Half of the electricity generated in the U.S. today is consumed by commercial buildings,” he said. “Half of the energy consumed is by artificial lights.”
Potential sustainable solutions include holistic approach, light shelves, new coatings enhancing ligh/heat management and photovoltaics. Vertical installation of BIPV’s going to be a difficult, but regular PVs should be OK, Huffer said. When vertically installed, each façade faces a different direction, and they won’t be efficient or cost-effective. Thin-film photovoltaics are lower cost but their output’s really low too. “That makes for bad economics! Can the economics be fixed with government taxes? Yes, but I hate government taxes. Gosh, they brought us ethanol! They should spend their money in research, not taxes.”
Huffer ended his speech by encouraging the glass and glazing community to participate in the glazing codes that support green buildings.
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