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Making Smart Investments in the Future of Glass

While they’re ubiquitous today, it wasn’t all that long ago that flat-screen TVs were an emerging technology. Compared to tube TVs, flat-screens offered crisp, widescreen pictures that were attractive to consumers everywhere—even if they weren’t so affordable for everyone.

Cut to today, and flat-screens are in most living rooms in America. Cost came down once economies of scale kicked in, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything other than a flat-screen in the market today.

Flat-screens are just one example of a cutting-edge technology that eventually came to widespread prominence, and I got to thinking about it following this year’s GlassBuild show in Atlanta. There’s something new to see at every show, especially as codes continue their march forward. We’re all responsible for keeping pace with innovative new technologies, and those technologies were out in full force this year. 

Something in particular stood out: I think we’re seeing the influence of triple-pane IGUs finally begin to make some real waves here in America due to their ability to provide outstanding thermal performance. Over the years, we’ve pushed dual-pane IG to increasingly better performance with low-E coatings and other methods. But the targets are getting even tougher to reach in some locations.

Consider that the California Energy Commission will begin requiring all new residential construction to achieve net zero energy starting in 2020 and push the maximum U-factor for windows down to 0.30 from a previous 0.32. Other regions of the U.S. require even lower maximum U-factors.

Adopting conventional triples to meet those goals, though, comes with some complications for manufacturers and installers. The extra weight of a third glass pane can add labor cost to the products and may require the window supplier to completely reengineer their system. Not to mention the added cost of more glass and more spacer.

Enter thin or “skinny” triples, which instead use a very thin, nonstructural center lite, allow the use of a single spacer, and create no significant weight changes compared with standard dual-pane IGs. Better yet, window suppliers can drop skinny triple units into existing framing designs with little or no change in the frame and/or sash components required. The cost of thin glass is pretty reasonable, too, due to the abundance of it currently being produced for use in—you guessed it—flat-screen televisions.

Could skinny triples become the flat-screen TVs of the fenestration industry? It’s certainly a question worth pondering. In a market like California, manufacturers are going to need cost-effective options to increase thermal performance and comply with new codes. Here’s one way to do it. Combined with some other technologies like warm-edge spacers, nonmetallic framing and more, manufacturers can drive thermal performance that much higher and truly differentiate in the marketplace.

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Eric Thompson

Eric Thompson

Eric Thompson is the national account manager for Quanex. Email him at