Got Glass? Maybe Not

As expected, it’s happened and now that it has, you need to act. You need to act because it’s the right thing to do and besides, if you don’t, it will cost you money–not hypothetical, not theoretical but real and actual money. Please don’t avert your eyes because yes, I am talking to YOU.

As anticipated, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has proposed an amendment to its BSR/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Addendum 189.1am-201x, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings (addenda to ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1-2011) that, according to ASHRAE “tightens the prescriptive requirements for window-to-wall ratios from 40 percent  for all buildings to 30 percent for buildings less than 25,000 square feet and 40 percent for all larger buildings.”

So this addendum would reduce the permitted window-to-wall ratio (WWR) of glass from 40 to 30 percent in small- and medium-sized buildings.  And it would eliminate the conditions that had permitted WWRs of greater than 40 percent in larger buildings.

Let’s look at what that exactly would mean on a typical five-story office building with 5,000 square feet of façade surface of each of four sides. The amount of allowable glazing would be decreased from 8000 square feet to 6000 square feet—a net loss of 25 percent. That means 25 percent less glass will be permitted. It also means that 25 percent less glass needs to manufactured, fabricated, sold, installed, caulked and cleaned.

So you can see that such a change will affect everyone from those who make, or fabricate or install glass, to those who make adhesives and glass fabrication equipment or provide other supplies to the glazing industry.

Now what has glass done to deserve this punishment? Well, it’s biggest crime seems to be letting the HVAC guys at ASHRAE pick on it than their own inefficient equipment. And what has the glass industry done to fight it? Not enough.

Let me give you some perspective. In the early 1990s, ASHRAE came up with a new code, called 90.1P, that was extremely dismissive of glass. It called for wide-scale changes in the types and amounts of glass that could be used in buildings.

At that time, our industry was … dare I say it? … even more fragmented than it is today. We were much more divided along fabrication lines and much more public in our disputes. As a result, you would see temperers introducing one proposal before the code groups and laminators another completely at odds with the temperers.  Some of the fights over wired glass were particularly contentious. In short, the glass industry was not known for playing nice together. And since “glass is just glass” to most other people, code officials rarely understood what they quickly dismissed as infighting from an industry lacking cohesion.

All this gave the energy bullies just the opportunity they needed to step in and pummel us with a fistful of onerous codes. Oh, it’s all been done in the name of energy-savings of course and it’s saved a ton. It’s saved those heating and cooling guys a lot of energy because they didn’t have to invest time in developing new or more energy-efficient HVAC systems; they instead “found” energy-savings by requiring glass to perform more efficiently and by saying “hey, if it can’t we will just cut the amount of glass you can use.”

It all sounds too screwy to have worked, except that it did. ASHRAE was able to capitalize on the glass industry’s lack of organization and went to town. It took awhile for our industry to recognize a threat and even longer to get everyone on our side in the fight. By the time a fighting opposition was in place, all it could do was affect the content of the codes. It was too late to mount an offense against the purported legitimacy of ASHRAE to right codes outside their main scope. And then ASHRAE, now seen as the leader in these things, went out and got support for their energy code from groups such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

So we lost that legitimacy argument long ago. Now, I fear we will lose this important issue. And ASHRAE learned it had the glass industry to kick around.

So here is what you can do. There is an open comment period of 45 days which ends next month.  Please order a copy of the Standard and Addendum and  take the time to read the proposed changes.  There are a wide variety of good reasons why this is a bad proposal.  We need to provide those reasons to ASHRAE in writing by the deadline date.

ASHRAE says it can be obtained in electronic copy from:, although the link did not work for me Friday. It is free and can also be ordered by contacting Bert Etheredge at 404/636-8400 or emailing

Once you have read it, please submit comments via the ASHRAE website at, and if you feel like it, send a copy to me or Dr. Thomas Culp, who is representing the Glazing Industry Codes Council (the group formed to monitor and sync code action by the glass industry). Dr. Culp can be reached at

Get some architects and designer friends to talk about how the reduction of glass would affect buildings aesthetically. The more and distinct objections we have to this absurd proposal the better.

The industry was too busy fighting among itself to ward off the opening shot against it 20 years ago. Let’s be smarter this time because if glazing gets reduced again, eventually the buildings in our cities will look like the skyline of Sao Paulo, Brazil. They’ve had strict WWRs in place for quite some time. See much glass? See what I mean?





8 Responses to “Got Glass? Maybe Not”

  1. Michael McCown says:

    As an industry, we could make the arguement that this is the opposite direction that the marketplace should be headed. With some of the new technology on the horizon, glass will one day become a harvester of solar energy. “Smart Glass” will allow properties to reduce the artificial lighting and HVAC loads that are presently needed to operate a structure. Maybe ASHRAE has been looking into the crystal ball.

    • Deb Levy says:

      Thank you Michael for commenting. I believe I understand what you are saying, but the addendum as written does not distinguish among types of glass, so smart glass and/or dynamic glazing would be limited as well.

      • Michael McCown says:

        I understand that. We should be proposing that limiting glass square footage will in turn restrict the area of the building that can be used as an energy provider. Would they consider a bill that would limit the amount of solar panels – I don’t think so.

  2. Chuck K says:


    I’m confused: how does ASHRAE or any other industry group get to dictate to architects how the building has to be built? I get the thermal U-value side of this, but who holds them accountable to the whole of construction?

    That’s like ASHRAE not permitting balconies on Condos. The balconies are often directly linked structurally to the building frame, and thereby create a direct, unbroken line to the exterior in the winter, and vice-versa in the summer, bringing heat in the summer. I’ll bet a lot of condo owners / developers would argue they can’t live without balconies…

    Where are the architects on this? Why aren’t they resisting this?
    May I make a suggestion: run an article about this in the Architect’s Guide. Or bump it up to the folks at AR or Progressive Architecture???

    Somewhere there’s a blog for me here…

  3. Tom Culp says:

    Thanks for highlighting this Deb. This is a serious issue. However, let me make a couple of corrections and clarifications.

    We do need to organize as an industry, and the more public comments the better. However, we have to follow the process for filing comments, which is through a comment database on ASHRAE’s website. I will be sending out specific instructions on how to do this next week through GANA, AEC, and the other trade associations. But please do NOT email Bert Etheredge – he’s just ASHRAE staff, and the comment or email won’t be reviewed by the committee unless we follow the official process. Start drafting your comments but wait until I send more specific instructions (as well as some more background) next week.

    Also, I would ask that you focus your arguments on this specific proposal – which is highly flawed – but not necessarily on ASHRAE or the HVAC industry. While there may be some truth to what Deb said when ASHRAE got started in building standards, that was a while ago, and ASHRAE 90.1 is embraced as the main building energy standard for commercial buildings. The ASHRAE committees include members across the entire buildings industry, not just HVAC, and actually this harmful proposal came from other people, generally not the HVAC members. Don’t get me wrong – this is a bad bad proposal, but focus your rightful criticism against the proposal, not the organization.

    Thanks and Stay tuned!

  4. Deb Levy says:


    Thank you too for your comments. I believe yes, our focus should be the proposal, but that people should understand that any battle against the legitimacy of the organization creating these codes will ultimately be lost due to the history I mentioned.
    I again urge everyone to read the proposal and to focus on things such as the “arbitrary-ness” of the proposaed restrictions.

    Thank you for all your efforts in fighting against this, Tom. I know it’s a major undertaking and it’s appreciated.

  5. John D'Amario says:

    This looks like a job for the Curtain Wall Coalition!!!

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