Twenty years from now, windows, doors and skylights will...

John G. Swanson
October 24, 2007
THE TALK...

The Talk, Page 2...

 Survey Results for 10/24/2007:

Twenty years from now, windows, doors and skylights will...

...both collect solar power and incorporate dynamic components.

 

 

40%

 

...be more energy efficient, but remain fairly much the same.

 

 

36%

 

...incorporate dynamic components to maximize energy efficiency.

 

 

11%

 

...collect solar power themselves.

 

 

9%

 

...won't change much from today.

 

 

4%

 

What does the future hold for windows, doors and skylights? On the heels of the Department of Energy-sponsored Solar Decathlon, that was my question last week.

The event, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., featured 20 “zero-net-energy” homes built by teams from various universities. There were plenty of high-performance windows and doors, some fitted with louvers to balance issues of daylight and solar control. Of course, some of the homes were equipped with photovoltaic panels, solar water heating systems and a host of other technologies.

Some cutting edge products there, no doubt, but one only has to look at the growing demand for “green” and steadily rising energy costs to conclude that we’ll be seeing more of these technologies moving into the homes of tomorrow. But will they be moving, specifically, into our products?

Well, our poll results suggest many of you think so. About 40 percent of respondents foresee windows, doors and skylights both collecting solar power and incorporating dynamic components like switchable glazing or automated louvers 20 years from now. Another 20 percent see one or the other of those concepts working their way into our products.

It was a little disheartening to me, however, to hear from the other 40 percent that our products will remain “fairly much the same” or “won’t change much.” I know change comes very gradually to the building products field, but let’s look at how different most of our products are now than they were in 1987. The concept of a hurricane-resistant window didn’t exist. I know a lot of you out there now involved in vinyl windows weren’t making or selling them 20 years ago. There were a few fiberglass doors, but they didn’t look as good as they do today. Low-E was out there, but no one was talking about warm-edge. These energy efficient features are now standard in most lines.

A representative from one of the window test labs e-mailed to share that same concern. “To say that windows, doors and skylights will remain basically the same over the next 20 years shows a huge lack of innovative insight,” he said. “Twenty years is an eternity when it comes to the advancement of technology in the 21st century. Already there are dynamic glazings that can turn opaque at the flip of a switch, and that’s just one example. For most of these innovative products, cost effectiveness is the last step to mass marketing.”

He foresees houses in the future with computers controlling dynamic glazings, HVAC systems, even opening and closing windows automatically, all based on current indoor, outdoor and desired conditions. “After all if we can currently buy skylights that close when it starts to rain, why shouldn’t we be able to program our windows to open, close or increase or decrease SHG or visible light transmittance based on ambient conditions? Whether it’s done by the windows themselves or with accessories, doesn’t really matter. The entire daylighting system of houses could and probably should change dramatically over the next 20 years. To not acknowledge that could be disastrous.”

I don’t foresee a disaster for the industry, but I think companies that don’t keep their eyes on these technologies could face some problems, and I certainly think they could miss some opportunities.

And while some opportunities may require significant R&D and leadership from industry suppliers, some won’t. It might involve the addition to a product or service line for some dealers. For manufacturers with the right dealer network, it might be partnering up with another supplier delivering the combination of products to the market more efficiently than anyone else.

By the way, I think DOE originally set the year 2020 as its target date for commercialization of “zero-energy-homes.” So we may not have to wait 20 years for the changes to come.

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