Given the growing influence of macro-economic trends, changing labor markets, the digital revolution and the need to address climate change more rapidly, the construction industry will likely transform even more significantly in the 2020s than during the last decade. To mark the start of a new decade, here are some predictions for changes that the next ten years may bring for our glass, glazing and façade community.
The naming of Greta Thunberg as Time’s person of the year underscores the acceleration of the climate change movement and the urgency of global action needed. With 2030 and 2050 climate action goals in place in cities and states around the U.S., there will certainly be an increased drive towards yet more stringent energy codes.
And 20 years after the introduction of the LEED certification program, the sustainability conversation has moved beyond measuring energy performance and recycled content to lifecycle thinking, such as embodied carbon and end of life, and how the built environment affects people’s physiology and psychology.
Embodied carbon considerations will come to the forefront to counterbalance the current focus on in-use energy performance. We are already seeing a push for carbon emission accounting in building materials, and related code requirements will appear as we progress through the decade.
The focus on “building for people” will continue, especially with the U.S.’s continued reliance on the knowledge economy. Competition for knowledge workers and the need to increase productivity and creativity to remain competitive will increase, driving the demand for comfortable and well-daylit built environments.
These macro trends have cascading impacts on how we do business, and will drive manufacturing, design and construction to higher levels of performance:
Material transparency and embodied carbon reduction: Design teams will include embodied carbon in product selection decisions. As a result, how and where façade products are manufactured will become increasingly important – especially those with energy intense production. The amount and source of energy (renewable vs. fossil fuel), material toxicity and impacts of transportation will be drivers. Fabricators will need to improve the environmental impact of their processes and provide transparency to the market.
Outcome-based codes will drive durability and performance: There will be a focus on ensuring that buildings meet their design performance after they are in use. Outcome-based codes have the potential to radically change decision making, risk management and project delivery in very positive ways to achieve the desired higher performance, long lived buildings.
Less “value engineering” and more focus on specifying higher performing, durable fenestration upfront will result. Expect increased control of product and installation quality, and, importantly, education of users to monitor and adjust their building systems.
Window area versus window performance: With increased energy code stringency, buildings with higher glazed areas will be harder to design using current “business as usual” systems and budgets, increasing the tension between window area and building energy performance.
The drive for people centricity will provide some counterbalance. And, as economies of scale are captured and manufacturing innovations implemented, the costs of the highest-performance fenestration systems will reduce, promoting more widespread use.
Interface management – the edges matter: Interfaces are fast becoming the weakest links in the envelope. These interfaces are where heat loss can be much more significant than through the glazed areas. As a result, focus will move from simplistic window-to-wall ratio considerations to controlling interface distances.
Building resilience: Withstanding climate changes and severe climate event-causing power outages will become a key part of the design criteria, driving the specification of envelopes with higher insulative performance.
Integrative design: Collaborative “integrative design” will slowly replace the design-bid-build process, accelerating the speed of innovation and technology adoption, and managing the complexity of delivering higher performance. Digital design and construction tools will continue to improve efficiencies and allow the complex to become constructible. Outsourcing of curtainwall design to specialty consultants and delegated design to glazing contractors will become increasingly widespread. Modular systems will expand to panelized systems that make quality control easier, and improve speed and constructability.
Retrofits: Renovate rather than knock down and rebuild will be the focus to reduce embodied carbon. New technologies and installation processes that increase speed, reduce disruption and reliably improve thermal performance will be implemented.
The “roaring 1920s” shaped America through radical inventions (cars, planes, radios, assembly lines, etc.) and social change. The 2020s are looking to be as transformational.
Article author: Helen Sanders
Helen Sanders, PhD, is responsible for strategic business development at Technoform North America. She has more than 20 years of experience in the glass industry, focusing on coatings and insulating glass technology, market development and manufacturing. Sanders has a doctorate in surface science from the University of Cambridge, England, and extensive knowledge of sustainable design standards and requirements, energy modeling, and daylight modeling and design.
She is the president of the Façade Tectonics Institute (FTI); immediate past president of the Glazing Industry Code Committee (GICC) and member of its Executive Committee; vice president and board member of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance (IGMA), and chair of its Emerging Technologies and Innovation Committee; and chair of the Glazing Association of North America’s (GANA’s) Energy Division Advocacy Committee, as well as an active leader and participant in many subcommittees.