Electrochromic smart glass has brought exceptional versatility to the window film market. To find out how you can utilize this new technology to enhance your builds, learn the ins and outs of ESG.
What Is it?
One of many emerging “electrically-tintable” products, electrochromic smart glass (ESG) is a high-tech glass that can alter its properties when an electric current is applied across the device. The glass can be tinted, opaque, clear or colored and has the ability to modulate light and heat transmission.
Traditional windows are comprised of either one vertical pane of glass or two panes, as in the case of double-glazed windows, which include air gaps to enhance soundproofing and improve heat insulation. There are also more sophisticated windows coated with a layer of metallic chemicals that keep homes cooler in the summer and warmer during the winter. Electrochromic windows are similar to this, except they include more sophisticated metal-oxide coatings, which are deposited through a process similar to those used to create integrated circuits.
While usually called “electrochromic glass,” these windows can be made of either plastic or glass coated with multiple thin layers. The basic principle involves lithium ions that migrate back and forth between two electrodes through a separator. This results in electrochromism, which allows materials to change color or opacity when a burst of charge is applied. While an electrical burst is required for altering the opacity, no electricity is necessary to maintain the color. With the flick of a switch, a homeowner is able to regulate temperature and privacy by controlling the amount of light or heat passing through the glass.
What Are the Benefits?
Smart windows can bring substantial environmental benefits that result in significant long-term savings. In its darkened state, ESG reflects nearly 98 percent of sunlight, which can dramatically reduce air-conditioning costs. Because they are controlled electrically, ESG windows can be manipulated through smart-home systems or automated sunlight sensors.
According to the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory smart windows can reduce a structure’s total energy consumption by 8 percent. Smart windows also offer convenient privacy, while improving security. They can even prolong the life of pictures and upholstery by reducing UV-related fading.
What Are the Drawbacks?
It should come as no surprise to learn that windows made with metal coatings and electrodes would be considerably more expensive than ordinary glass. Just one smart window can cost up to $1,000. Durability is also a concern, with current models degrading in performance after only one to two decades. It can also take several minutes for smart glass to change from clear to opaque. That said, this emerging technology is still in its early days, and most expect significant improvements in performance and durability in the coming years.
Is it Worth the Cost?
Smart glass brings a number of practical benefits, including lower lighting, heating and air conditioning costs. For certain types of businesses, ESG can also eliminate costs associated with installing and maintaining motorized blinds, curtains and light screens.
While it does come with big upfront costs, smart glass can ultimately provide big long-term savings. In the end, however, the return on investment will depend on unique factors, like a project’s available budget. It also pays to understand the type of buyer you will be targeting. Not everyone has the will or the wallet to equip every window with a brand new technology. On the other hand, for some demographics, smart technology brings an alluring element that can differentiate a house from similar properties.
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