“Superwindows” now coming on the market can attain high thermal resistance by combining multiple low-e coatings; low-conductance gas fills; barriers between panes, which reduce convective circulation of the gas fill; and insulating frames and edge spacers.
Also, optical properties such as solar transmittance can be customized for specific climate zones. The heat from even a small amount of diffuse winter sunlight will convert these super-windows into net suppliers of energy. This first generation of superwindows now available have a center-of-glass R-value of 8 or 9, but have an overall window R-value of only about 4 or 5 because of edge and frame losses.
Also under development are chromogenic (optical switching) glazings that will adapt to the frequent changes in the lighting and heating or cooling requirements of buildings. These “smart windows” will be separated into either passive or active glazing categories.
Passive glazings will be capable of varying their light transmission characteristics according to changes in sunlight (photochromic) and their heat transmittance characteristics according to ambient temperature swings (thermochromic). Active (electrochromic) windows will use a small electric current to alter their transmission properties. Both types should be on the market within 2 to 5 years.
No one type of glazing is suitable for every application. Many materials are available that serve different purposes. Moreover, consumers may discover that they need two types of glazing for a home because of the directions that the windows face and the local climate. To make wise purchases, consumers should first examine their heating and cooling needs and prioritize desired features such as daylighting, solar heating, shading, ventilation, and aesthetic value.