One of the most common questions I get asked by architects is ‘How green is glass?’ As our cities are transformed with an abundance of glazed façades, stricter legislation on carbon emissions and energy efficiency means that architects need to be sure that the glass they use is fit for purpose in the 21st Century.
These legislative changes have been driven by concerns about global warming, fuel availability and pricing, and sustainability of natural resources. Recognising these issues, the glass industry has created ever more environmentally-beneficial products, combining the traditional benefits of glass with properties normally associated with other building materials, such as steel, brick and concrete, to address these needs. Modern glass ranges aren’t just there to let light in or make a building look pretty, they’re incredibly functional and versatile too.
For example, in warmer climates coated or tinted glass can now be used to block a higher proportion of infra-red and visible radiation, reducing the need for artificial cooling in buildings while still letting natural light in. In cooler climates, double- and triple- glazing and special coated glass units maximise the amount of passive heat entering the building, while at the same time preventing heat from escaping outwards.
In fact, the right glass can help save vast amounts of energy. In the typical British house, energy-efficient double glazing will save around 90kg of CO2 per year compared to single glazing, paying back the energy cost of the glass’s manufacture in just a few months (more on that in a later post). If all of the inefficient single glazing in existing buildings across Europe was upgraded, it could save over 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year, about a third of the EUs target for energy savings in buildings by 2020.
The possibilities that glass now offers to architects is not always a message that gets through. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll outline some of the ways architects can now use glass to achieve almost any desired effect, as well as some of the more interesting glass technology currently transforming the way we design buildings and cities.
So, in answer to the perennial question, glass is very green indeed. You just need to know how to use it.
Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.