Is Glass Really A Green Building Material?


If somebody says that Glass is a green building material, the straight and honest answer would be a big No! Just because in many high rise green rated buildings, glass has been used extensively, it doesn’t make it a green product in itself. One might have encountered with many architects and glass industry professionals who bluntly promote glass as a green product, then why is this article contradicting that belief? Here is an explanation on why glass is not a green product by itself, but why it is essential for a green rated building. This article is in context of float glass only, which is the most widely used in buildings.

Glass could earn a few green points for the fact that it could be recycled. Broken pieces of glass are added along with the raw materials while glass is manufactured so as to bring down the boiling point and there by reduce the energy consumption. Also if the manufacturing facility is near to the building in construction, that could also fetch a few points for green rating, as the material is locally sourced. Local sourcing of material means less energy consumed for transporting the material.

Glass is extensively used in green buildings to harvest maximum light inside and to reduce energy consumption for internal lighting requirements. When more natural light enters a building, equal amount of heat also enters the building. 50% of the Visual Light Transmittance (VLT) is direct solar energy (ER or DET). So when you are asking for 100% light transmittance, you are getting 50% of heat along with it! If in a building, which is centrally air-conditioned, and if it is clear glass which is being extensively used, energy consumption for internal lighting might get reduced to a significant level, but at the same time energy consumption by the air-conditioner would be enormously escalated. This is where solar control and thermal insulating glasses play a major role.

Solar control glasses let in maximum light and also cuts DET down to a great level. Since 80 to 90% of heat entering a building is solar heat, maximum energy could be saved on lighting and air-conditioning. Apart from direct solar energy, non-solar energy or indirect energy, could also be controlled by using double glazed/ Isulated glass units(DGU / IGU), and thermal insulating glass. A DGU cuts down the heat entering a building due to conduction (glass is a good heat conductor) and convection. A thermal insulating or a low emissivity (Low-e) coated glass can reduce the non-solar heat by cutting down the transmittance of Long Wave Infra Red Radiation (LWIR). LWIR is emitted by objects like trees and furnitures during the night time, which absorb the Short Wave Infra Red Radiation (SWIR). In moderate to cold climate conditions, where heaters are used in buildings, it is better to go for a very low u-value glass, so as to prevent heat loss from the building. In tropical climates, it is better to have a moderate u-value range.

In short, it is not an isolated pane of glass that is green rated or that helps you gain green points, it is the configuration of glass units installed in your building, based on the window to wall ratio, orientation of the building, total glazing area, energy efficiency of the building, and hours of operation of the building occupants.

(Originally written for Associatedcontent.com)

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