A Ready Warrior

Scott Thomsen just might be the Colin Powell of the glass industry.

He opened this morning’s session of the Building Envelope Contractors’ (BEC) Conference with a methodical, well-researched and persuasive case for the redefinition of the industry’s competitors and its future. Watching Thomsen reminded me of watching the well-respected and long-admired Powell systematically lay out evidence for action before the UN and other bodies. And, while the data upon which Powell relied was ultimately proved flawed, Thomsen’s won’t be. And the conclusions he drew from it will ultimately be shown to be prophetic. In little more than an hour, Thomsen logically showed the glass industry why it needed to change, or become inconsequential.

Thomsen took attendees through the effects of building code and energy codes upon the amount of glass that can be used in a building in a call-to-action presentation entitled “The Battle for the Wall.”

“How do we improve energy efficiency in glass so that it can compete with solids walls?” he asked rhetorically. “There are architects who already question if glass has a future. I have even heard them declare that ‘the day of the glass box is dead.’ And they blame our industry, saying we have not kept up with the development of new energy-efficient products. Our competitors are not each other, they are concrete and brick, as they battle with us for the wall.”

Thomsen talked about the efforts of the glass industry through GANA to turn back an attempt by the codes developed by the American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to reduce the window-to-wall ration (WWR) of glass. “That proposed reduction in the WWR from 40 percent to 30 percent would have resulted in a reduction of 25 percent in the use of glass,” he said, showing a picture of Rio de Janiero Brazil where the codes limit glass significantly. “All you can see in this cityscape is white,” he said, referring to the preponderance of concrete facades.

Thomsen then enumerated the weapons of war. He urged the audience to:

  • Complete a full migration to high performance coatings;
  • Embrace and utilize argon gas-filling;
  • Ditto for warm-edge space technology;
  • Utilize surface-four coatings and silk-screened patterns (this is especially helpful to reduce the solar heat gain coefficient);
  • Accept and use triple-glazed IG units.Thomsen said 80 percent of glass currently installed in Europe is triple-glazed;
  • Support emerging technologies such as switchable glass, vented facades, double skinned facades and BIPV.

“Using these strategies Europe has been success in holding or increasing the window-to-wall ratio,” he said. “They have strong code implementation and enforcement and there are strong undercurrents there for zero energy buildings. They are successfully using creative façade design soutions, argon gas-filling, triple glazing and double-skinned facades and it’s working.”

He challenged fabricators and glazing contractors to make changes in their business models in order to preserve the WWR.

“Fabricators should upgrade their capabilities to support argon gas filling and warm-edge technology. Large-sized insulating glass units are also growing in popularity and there are few suppliers of such here in the U.S. Their popularity is growing and they will continue to come from Europe if we don’t develop that capacity here,” he said.

Despite protestations from the audience that triple glazing is too expensive, Thomsen said energy code will drive its use and fabricators that can supply it will see their market share grow. “And fabricators with sales staffs who know how to sell these products will prosper as well. The days of the order-taker as salesperson are over,” he said.

Interesting food for thought from a wise warrior ready to do battle and working to rally an army of believers.