A 1990s Window Design Could Substantially Upgrade Urban Efficiency

Using windows that can properly insulate constructions can make a significant difference in a building's overall energy efficiency.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Did you know that the United States Department of Energy estimates that buildings use 75% of the country's electricity? One area that can greatly improve building efficiency is windows with models even being created that can generate their own energyUsing windows that can properly insulate constructions can make a significant difference in a building's overall energy efficiency. But how can you engineer these types of windows?

One innovation came about in the 1990s. According to Scientific American, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had back then conceived a “thin triple-pane” glass window that could cut the annual energy used for heating buildings by 39% and reduce air conditioning spending by 28%. The scientists had produced this super-efficient window by adding a thin layer of glass in its middle and sealing it with an inert gas. The end result was a window that was lighter but functioned better at insulation (keeping heat or cold in depending on the weather).

This meant it could significantly reduce emissions. Unfortunately, U.S. window manufacturers, unlike European ones who took on the new concept and implemented it, found the invention too expensive and the time and the Berkeley team gave up on their research. 

“It was un-manufacturable,” Robert Hart, a Berkeley Lab researcher who leads the team that invented the window, told Scientific American. However, in 2003, the Berkeley Lab team decided to have another go at promoting their super-insulating windows. This time, however, they had the help of companies that make cellphones and televisions. 

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These firms had managed to significantly reduce the price of ultra-thin glass since it was such a necessity in their production methods and by 2019 the Berkeley team was ready to take their invention to U.S. window companies once more.

Luckily, one such firm, the Alpen High Performance Products Inc. of Louisville, Colorado was already hard at work on a three-pane window. Once they saw the Berkeley prototype, they were inspired to upgrade their concept resulting in a far superior window. This proved very profitable for the Berkeley team as by the summer of 2019, the researchers received a grant from the California Energy Commission to replace all the double-pane windows in new model homes in Fresno. That was quickly followed by a second grant of $1.85 million to evaluate the economic impacts of triple-pane windows in three low-income communities.

The Berkeley team was on a roll proving that persistence and hard work pays off.

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