Let the Sun Shine In

One thing the college and university market has going for it is that it is leading the charge in creating environmentally friendly facilities. But one area in which it often seems difficult to make environmental advances is windows, as there is such a tug-of-war between their advantages and disadvantages.

No one argues that windows let in natural light, which is vital to human health and productivity. In addition, letting in light decreases dependence on artificial light. However, when light is invited in so, too, is glare, which causes a loss of productivity, and heat, which increases cooling energy usage.

How can administrators effectively tilt the window balance so that there are more advantages than disadvantages? Through advances in both window coverings and windows.

Window Coverings

Historically, window coverings included drapes and pull-down shades that blocked light and the view to the outdoors, qualities only desired to darken a room for video projection. There have been advances along the way, including mini-blinds, which can be adjusted to some degree.

About 15 years ago, with the advent of the computer age, more and more people began requesting window coverings for light control in order to prevent glare and reflections and see their computer screens.“That’s 99 percent of the requests I receive for window coverings,” said Rick Colunio, the“blinds guy” at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Today, there is more from which to choose, designed to meet the customer’s needs, whatever they are.

For example, Spiceland, IN-based Draper Inc., a manufacturer of custom-made window shades, offers mesh fabrics. “They allow you to see outside and have a view, while still providing daylighting control,” said Clint Childress, Draper’s product specialist and green buildings coordinator.

One reason mesh fabrics are popular is because they accommodate graphics. “It’s a nice feature,” said Childress. “You have the benefit of the window covering and adding atmosphere to an interior space with the graphic.”

There are other reasons why mesh shades are popular, noted Childress, including the following.

Maintenance ease. Because of their vertical nature, they don’t collect dust, dirt, and allergens like other materials do. Also, they don’t require special cleaning — they can be wiped down with a duster or damp cloth. Plus, there are not turning pieces to break.

Energy efficiency. They don’t absorb heat and radiate it back into the room. “There’s a return on investment if you select the right covering and operate it in the right way,” Childress pointed out.

Natural daylighting. The mesh fabrics allow you to see out, yet not be overcome with glare and heat. This creates a healthier environment.

Design versatility. The product comes in different colors to create an aesthetically pleasing room while adding to glare control, energy efficiency, maintenance reduction, and more.

The blinds come with a manual or motorized operation option. Motorized shades are tied to an automated control system that tracks sunlight off a GPS and moves shades across the building as the day progress. “This gives a maximum return on your investment because you’re getting maximum efficiency,” said Childress.

Another example of a window covering designed to meet customers’ needs is cell — short for cellular — shades. “They are fantastic, said Colunio. “They have an open pocket that allows the air to separate the room side of the shade from the window side.”

Colunio notes that cell shades are ideal for older buildings with leaky windows because they block cold air in the winter. And he recommends them for large windows that let in a lot of heat in the summer. “You can choose from single-, double-, or triple-pocket shades. They’re just like insulation in that they have an r-value and energy efficiency rating assigned to them.”

How does Colunio know whether he should use mesh, cell, or another kind of window covering? He begins by asking his Cornell customers what they want the window covering to accomplish. Then he researches product specifications from different manufacturers’ Websites. “I use many different brands because I may not be able to find what I want with just one company,” he pointed out.

Smart Glass

If you want to move beyond window coverings to save energy and increase building occupant comfort, there’s a new window technology available that’s sure to wow you with its ability to do both. Smart glass is electronically tinted or dynamic glass; it changes its energy optical light properties on demand.

A leading firm in this area is Sage Electrochromics Inc., based in Faribault, MN. The company is the exclusive developer, manufacturer, and marketer of SageGlass electrochromic technology and window glass products.

John Van Dine, Sage’s founder and president, noted that SageGlass electronically controls the level of tint, therefore controlling the level of solar heat transmission and glare and light. “On a bright, sunny day, when we need to stop the heat and glare from coming in,” he said, “SageGlass acquires a low heat-gain coefficient. On a cloudy day, when you want to let in natural light, you can tune the glass to have that happen.”

SageGlass is manufactured through a number of steps, including coating and fabrication into an insulated glass unit. In addition, it is available with a host of control methodologies. The most popular is via an integrated building management system. Another option is manual control by flipping a switch, ideal for spaces where the use changes. As a bonus, the solid-state system has no moving parts to break.

Thanks to advances in windows and window coverings, administrators can have their windows, complete with view, natural daylight and energy savings, thus ending the long-lasting tug-of-war between their advantages and disadvantages.


Window Advice

When choosing windows for your next project, Van Dine encourages specifiers to consider two major issues.

The first is energy savings. “There’s a growing influence and demand to make buildings more energy efficient, as the movement in green building design grows,” he pointed out. “SageGlass contributes to energy savings. In fact, we were voted one of the top 10 green building products last year by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).”

The second consideration is what the window means to the building occupant. “In terms of productivity and comfort, a building is a nicer place to be when you have windows and a connection to the outdoors,” said Van Dine. “You don’t have to use Band-Aids to overcome the negative aspects of static glass.”


Window Covering Advice

Draper’s Childress has advice for campus administrators wanting to learn more about window covering options.

1. Ask questions. Different environments require different fabrics for different performances. “The right type of window covering is very important,” said Childress. “You don’t want to choose the wrong material and then have to switch it out after installation.”

2. Go green. Childress noted that there are some fabrics that are Greenguard certified for low off-gassing emission standards. For more information, visit www.greenguard.org.

3. Avoid mesh in residence halls. The reason is that, with mesh, outsiders can see in at night.

4. Plan ahead when choosing automated window coverings. There are numerous control possibilities. Therefore, it’s important to plan with the installer ahead of time to avoid making changes after installation.