New Technologies and Green Highlight WDMA Conference

WDMA’s new president also introduces himself and the organization's new management company

Lincolnshire, Ill.—Next generation glazing products and the continuing shift toward green building topped the agenda at the Window & Door Manufacturers Association Technical Conference held here in May. John Stoiber, WDMA’s new president, also used the event to introduce himself and discuss the expanded capabilities the organization will have under its new management company, Chicago-based SmithBucklin.

The meeting also featured discussion of pending Energy Star criteria changes. Considerable discussion focused on the need to get the Department of Energy to look not just at ratcheting up performance requirements, but to find ways to encourage more replacement activity in the millions of homes in the country still fitted with single-pane windows.

“We believe the Department of Energy should be focused on saving energy,” explained Jeff Lowinski, WDMA’s vice president/technical services. While further improvements may be possible for energy performance in windows, it’s not certain those improvements will be cost effective, he noted. Meanwhile, the potential energy savings available in converting single-pane windows throughout the country to today’s proven window technology is “huge,” he continued.

Vacuum insulating glass is “closer than many think,” Ken Bettger of Eversealed Windows Inc. told WDMA attendees. Pointing to efforts at his company, as well as plans announced by Guardian Industries in the U.S. and Grenzebach, a German supplier of glass manufacturing equipment, he predicted such products could be launched in the market as soon as 2009.

The concept of vacuum glazing is not a new idea, he noted, with work carried out for nearly 100 years. Japanese glass maker Nippon already offers such a product, he added. The fact that vacuum glazing is fairly costly while energy has been cheap has “probably prevented it from making it in the marketplace.” Asking if anyone expected gas prices to go down significantly, he said “the equation is changing.”

Bettger explained the technology his firm is developing, which uses a metal-to-glass bond for the edge seals. “It’s not a new idea. It’s similar to what’s used in a television tube,” he explained. Suggesting that vacuum glazing could offer U-factors as low as 0.07, he noted that challenges to be addressed include minimizing visibility issues associated with the pillars used to separate the two pieces of glass, making sure such units are reliable and can withstand the stresses of the real world, and assuring the safety of these units.

Citing both John McCain and Barack Obama’s energy efficiency policy goals, Christian Kohler, a researcher with the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s Windows & Daylighting Research Center, began his presentation on emerging technologies by reviewing why the U.S. government is putting so much effort into windows. “If we used the right kind of windows all around the country, we believe they could go from accounting for 4 percent of U.S. energy consumption to 2 percent,” he noted.

Believing that dynamic glazing will be key to achieving such a decrease, LBL continues to work on such technologies, including a unit that uses gas between the panes to switch from clear to reflective. Current dynamic products go from clear to a tint, Kohler explained, and therefore still absorb heat. A clear/reflective product would provide greater energy saving potential by reflecting the sun’s rays instead of absorbing them.
To see significant increases in energy performance, Kohler continued, it’s also likely that windows will need triple-glazing. LBL is currently exploring options using non-structural center-layers instead of a third lite of glass in the middle to keep weight down, and enable units that could be made with only two edge seals instead of four, like most triples are currently manufactured. “We think it could be made cheaper,” he noted.

The technical conference featured numerous other speakers. Joseph Puhfahl of Adchem Corp. discussed new cellular foam products for window and door applications, including new DP 50 and DP 60 capable foam tapes, weather barrier products for installation and sill drain systems combining open cell and closed cell products. Ben Dipzinski of Stiles Machinery offered an overview of new woodworking technologies. He pointed to new printing technologies being used on edgebanding and even panel surfaces, and also suggested that robotics are seeing increased interest around the world, due to the flexibility they offer.

Also from Stiles, Russ Suor focused on green production, urging manufacturers to look at ways they can improve their operations. Many changes can provide significant payback, he noted, especially by taking advantage of incentives offered by states and utilities. He pointed to woodworking companies that had brought in new energy efficient lighting into their facilities, and a company that put solar panels on its roof that were able to achieve a relatively short payback on their investment. Suor also urged wood product manufacturers to look at their waste, and suggested they look at production of densified wood fuels. Companies can take not only solid wood waste, but also engineered wood waste, and deliver it in pellets or pucks that can be sold to utilities as fuel.

To assist builders, architects and code officials looking to meet the growing demand for green, the National Association of Home Builders and the International Code Council will soon offer the National Green Building Standard, reported Allan Bilka, senior staff architect with ICC. What’s unique about the new document, he emphasized, is that as a consensus document, it will be ANSI-certified. He also noted that it covers all types of residential construction, including both low and high rise buildings, mixed use applications and entire subdivisions. Additionally, he noted to attendees, it also covers renovations and additions. “It’s really important that it addresses residential renovation, because it’s such a major part of the market. It’s also a core part of your business.”

An important goal of the new standard was to make it “affordable to be green,” Bilka continued. Enforceability was also a key factor, with the standard written in such a way that a local building official can look at it and see if the building meets the requirements. He also pointed out some of the specific references to windows and doors in the new standard (a more detailed look at provisions covered in the NAHB/ICC document is also available on Window & Door’s Web site.)

While buildings are going green, just what makes a building green remains the subject of significant debate—particularly when it comes to choosing materials, noted Wayne Trusty of Athena Institute. Local sourcing, favored in current green building programs, sounds good, but pointing to credits earned by buying something made within a 500-mile radius of a home, he said, “It doesn’t make sense if you’re buying from one of the biggest polluters in the nation. These issues haven’t been thought through. That’s true for all these programs. That’s where life-cycle assessment comes in.”

That’s the direction green building will move in, he predicted, “getting off simple attributes and getting to true environmental performance—capturing all the flows in and out of nature.” Trusty reviewed some of the ISO standards now focused on life-cycle analysis, including a new ISO 2930 series of documents specifically focused on building products. Many companies are using these documents internally—not to go around saying their products are better, but looking for improvements. “This can be a very long exercise,” he added.
He concluded by reviewing his organization’s life-cycle assessment tools for buildings, including Athena Impact, a computerized tool for assessing whole buildings, and the EcoCalculator for assessing assemblies, both of which can be downloaded from the Athena Web site,

Saying “it’s an exciting time for the association,” Rick Kon of Masonite, current WDMA chairman, officially introduced Stoiber at the conference. Stoiber joins WDMA with the change in the association’s management firm to SmithBucklin, which Kon described as “a huge source of best practice sharing.” Pointing to SmithBucklin’s offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C., he noted that the organization should be able to step up advocacy efforts.

Stoiber started his talk by noting, “This is the last time you’ll hear me talk about SmithBucklin. We’re WDMA.” He talked about some of the changes that had taken place to date, integrating WDMA’s existing staff into the organization, as well as SmithBucklin’s abilities to bring staff resources in when necessary. “We now have the ability to scale up and scale down,” he said. Looking toward the future, he said initial efforts will focus on improvements in existing WDMA  oducts and programs.

WDMA next gathers for its annual meeting, scheduled for Feb. 14-18, 2009 in Tucson. More info on that event is available at JGS