Smart Glass Windows, Costs, ROI and Benefits

(Released on August 1)
  Check out our article about dynamic glass. About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends


Check out our article about dynamic glass.

About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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Paul: Hello everyone, welcome back to the “Everything Building Envelope Podcast.” Today we’re going to be talking about dynamic glass, which is an emerging technology that I think is of interest to a lot of the listeners. I’d like to welcome our guest, Jeff Riley. Welcome, Jeff.

Jeff: Thank you very much.

Paul: Jeff is a Sales Executive in Florida with View Dynamic Glass. So he knows a lot about this. Jeff, could you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?

Jeff: Sure. I’ve been in commercial real estate in some capacity since 2004. I worked for owner and operator, developer of a multi-family office, worked in property management, worked for CBRE, largest brokerage in the world. And I’ve been working as a Sales Executive with View Glass, and kind of blown away with my experience there. So I’m excited to tell your listeners about it.

Paul: Great. So tell us a little bit about View Glass and also about View Dynamic Glass.

Jeff: Sure. So View Glass manufactures smart windows that tint electronically in response to the weather and the position of the sun. You can think of it like transition lenses for building. So we eliminate the need for interior blinds. We remove the functional need for exterior sun shade. We help reduce utility costs by about 20%. We shrink HVAC systems. We bring a whole bunch of leads or well-points in your project. We’re also one of the most economical ways to earn lead-points, if you’re thinking in terms of dollars per point. The product itself is electrochromic glass, which has been around for a decade. It’s actually in the rear view mirror of your car, but View Glass was the first company to mass produce it for use in commercial real estate.

What makes our glass really unique is the software system we use called “Intelligence.” Each individual window is programmed to tint just before the sun reaches it. So we know where that sun is gonna be on June 10th, 2045, in Miami, Florida at 10:00 AM. So we know that the windows on the east side of the building will need to be at Tint Level 4, which is our darkest tint. We’re getting ready to tint the windows in the south as the sun moves across the horizon. But on the north and west sides we’re at Tint Level 1, letting everyone enjoy the view and bringing in as much healthy daylight as possible.

We manufacture everything at our plant in Olive Branch, Mississippi, about 20 minutes from Memphis. It’s an 800,000 square foot massive facility that will blow you away if you get the chance to see it in person. I believe we have the largest clean room in the world in our factory, and a bunch of other really cool stuff that I can’t talk about because they are trade secrets. We’ve got some great clients, including a few Fortune 500 companies. If there’s one thing that they all have in common is that they are risk averse. So our company and our product have been vetted up, down, left, right, any way you can think of. And we’ve been selected by Delta, FedEx, Nestle, Ford,, Oracle, Google, Apple, Wells Fargo.

We’ve done convention centers, sporting arenas, and airports, including Levi’s Stadium where the San Fransisco 49er’s play, the Charlotte and San Fransisco airports. In hospitality space we’ve got Hilton, Marriott, Starwood. In house care, my favorite is probably the Humber River Hospital in Toronto. It’s the first all digital hospital in North America. We’ve got many more there. College campuses, we’ve got Duke, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Clemson, University of Texas, to name just a handful. We’ve got installations from Alaska down to Miami and hundreds more in the works.

Paul: Wow. So obviously this isn’t a fringe product, and this is obviously working its way into the mainstream. Let me ask you how the glass itself gets incorporated into a building. So you guys make the glass but not the frames, right?

Jeff: Yeah, we can work with just about any framing system. So punch out a current wall, we haven’t really run into any challenges where we haven’t been able to meet the architectural design requirement.

Paul: Does the glass come in different configurations? I mean can you get it in a laminated glass unit or an insulated glass unit or…?

Jeff: IGU is…eac insulated glass unit, we use double pane. There are some exceptions, but generally it’s double pane. We have a few different color options. Most people choose clear. We’ve had a slight bluish tint, and it’s a darker tint from the inside, which most people like. But we haven’t really had any… there aren’t many things that we haven’t been able to accomplish. We can do laminated glass, so we can meet Miani-Dade hurricane code requirements.

Paul: You said, let’s see if I pronounce this right, electrochromatic? Is that what it is?

Jeff: Electrochromic. A lot of people have [inaudible 00:05:04].

Paul: Electrochromic? Close, close. So is that a film that’s on the glass? Or it’s a coating obviously, what exactly is it?

Jeff: So it’s a coating that goes on the interior of the exterior pane of glass. And it’s an incredibly thin, I think it’s only five microns thick. That’s one-fifth of a human hair. So the background, you know, the company is based in Silicon Valley so these are semi-chip conductor guys by training. So the thing that sort of does the math is a semi-conductor chip. So it’s an incredible amount of technology. We’ve got 500 plus patents out there in the works. So the glass itself isn’t anything special, it’s the coating that goes on the glass. And we just have metal oxides which have opposing properties, and we send an electronic charge through them. We can transition ions from one side to the other. And so it’s clear on one side, dark on the other side, and we have a couple pit stops along the way, Tint Levels 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Paul: So you mentioned that the glass can be programmed to change properties as the times of the days change and solar exposure changes. So does it, I’m guessing it needs to be integrated with some sort of control system to basically tell it what to do. Is that a good way to say it?

Jeff: Yes, and that’s something that we provide. So we provide the software system that will run the entire operation. But we do have two additional overrides. So we’ve got a weather sensor on the roof that’s looking for cloud cover, and it feeds into daily or hourly weather updates.

Paul: So the glass changes properties depending on the solar exposure and the time of the day and whatnot. How does that work as far as what the system does, and how does the system work within the infrastructure of the building?

Jeff: Sure, so we’ve got a software system which we provide and program and can update remotely, if you ever want to make any changes or if we have a new version of the software, that can all be uploaded remotely. That’s something we configure for each individual project. There’s also a weather sensor on the roof so we can detect when there’s cloud cover. And we have weather feeds, which tell us whether this is a passing cloud, or if it’s going to be cloudy all day. And if it’s cloudy all day, we’ll clear the glass, so people are enjoying as much natural light as possible. And we also have an iPhone app or wall controls, so you can manually change the glass from different tint levels.

Most common use would be if you wanted to do a PowerPoint presentation, normally you’d close the blinds and turn off the lights. Instead you press a button on the wall to tint the glass. And that can actually be connected into Outlook to have it done automatically ahead of that. But each individual IGU has what we call Pig Tail. It’s a little cord that allows power to flow to the window. And each Pig Tail connects up with a trunk line which runs around the perimeter of the building. And a trunk line feeds into a control panel, which usually goes into the utility room. So that can be locked and secured, usually at the same place where you have your modem and IT equipment. So all that’s sort of self-contained.

Paul: So I just have to say, it really sounds great that you can program it, not only for weather patterns, but for real time weather that’s going on outside. And then like you were saying, if you need to darken the room for an audio/visual presentation or something like that, that sounds like, you know, technology at its finest.

Jeff: Yeah, thank you. I happen to agree. I’m a little biased but I agree.

Paul: Let me ask you this, are there interior applications for this technology as well?

Jeff: Nope, just exterior. Some people hear the phrase “electrochromic glass” and they think about that switchable privacy glass which kinda turns to a milky white, and that’s just for interiors. Likewise, our product is just for exteriors.

Paul: Okay. So I mean we talked about this a little bit, but lets sort of run through it again. What are the benefits to the occupants?

Jeff: So the tangible benefits that start on day one are the ongoing energy savings. The money saved from not purchasing any interior blinds, and the continuous views o the outside world. There’s a wow factor walking into one of our buildings where it’s wall to wall, floor to ceiling, just glass wherever you look. The intangible benefits, which are harder to quantify, but more valuable in the long term, in my opinion, come from health and wellness, productivity and recruiting retention. And we’ve got some great independent studies up on our website that show the remarkable benefits of natural light. How people that have access to natural light take fewer sick days, they use less pain medication in a health care environment, and are 6-15% more productive when they have access to natural light.

So if you were moving to a new building, and you had your first pick, you could pick any office you want, you’re gonna to pick the corner office, right? You just feel physically better when you have those views and natural light. And you might think 6-15% increase in productivity is unrealistic. Think about what 1% would do for most companies. The single largest expense for nearly every company is payroll, so if you can make your people just 1% more productive, less time adjusting the blinds or getting up to get water, then upgrading your windows pays for itself in spades.

And on that same note, recruiting and retention, the war for talent is a big issue. Ask anyone who works in the consulting or commercial real estate business, and they’ll tell you companies are doing everything they can to recruit millennials as the baby boomers start to retire. And we’re talking a major, major demographic shift. And if you can create an environment where people feel happy and healthy and valued like they do at, it makes the job of recruiting much, much easier. They actually have buses bring in MBA students, local universities bring buses of MBA students to see’s headquarters and to show students what it looks like when a company invests in its people and their environment. Tell me the CEO and HR folks don’t love that, MBAs being delivered to their front door.

And likewise look at WeWork, which is now valued at almost 20 billion dollars. They didn’t invent co-working, it’s been around for decades. All they did was create a better environment, and people are drawn to WeWork offices like a magnet. So it’s unbelievable. But that’s the type of environment that we help create.

Paul: So I mean you and I, obviously, and I know a lot of our listeners, we pay attention to things like the windows and day lighting and stuff like that. Can the average user tell that this is going on while they’re building, or is it sort of passive where it’s just optimizing the environment and maybe they don’t even notice it?

Jeff: It’s more of the latter. You know, the first week in any installation, people are sort of fixated on the glass and how the glass is transitioning behind them while they work. So they’re talking on the phone but looking out the window and watching the glass transition through different states. Then after the first week, it just sort of happens in the background and you forget it’s even there. So it’s very, very user friendly, self-sufficient, kind of the same way you don’t notice the air conditioner turning on and off, it just works. Our glass works in the same way.

Paul: So I know you’ve touched on this along they way also, but owners and developers like it? Now when I think of owners and developers, no offense to anybody, but they’re very focused on money, as well they should be. They’ve got budgets and pro formas and things like that. So you’ve obviously, to make the sale, to get over the, I’m assuming it’s more expensive than regular glass? I mean, maybe I’m wrong. And you’ve got to obviously get over that hurdle. But what are the benefits to owners and developers?

Jeff: Sure. I think you hit the nail right on the head. For owners and developers, they’re looking at us in terms of ROI, which really means NOI. Will your glass drive NOI? Because that’s how buildings are valued, just NOI, net operating income and cap rate. And the answer is yes, and we actually provide a double-bump to NOI, because we can impact both top-line revenue growth with faster lease-it times and improved vacancy, which allow you to start pushing rates, and the reduction in costs, because your utility bill on average will be about 20% less. That’s heating, cooling and lighting.

The University of Washington did a study on one of our buildings that was retrofitted in Seattle with View Glass, and the energy savings came out to 17.7%, about $28,000 per year added to the NOI. So if that building sells at a five or six cap, that’s somewhere between $460,000-$560,000 in added value, and that’s half a million bucks. And that’s in Seattle. You know, there’s not a lot of sunshine in Seattle, so think about what the numbers would look like here in Florida. So just on energy savings alone, when you translate it into NOI, which drives the building value at a 20x multiple in most Class A CBDs, we often pay for our self out of the gate.

And another way we add substantial value is since we do such a great job controlling heat and glare, in our darkest tint level which is Tint Level 4. We’ve got a heat gain coefficient .09, or not .9, .09. So we’re essentially blocking all the heat even in direct sunlight. So that means you’re able to use all of the space inside your office. In most buildings, the space around the perimeter of the building and by the windows is only used for file cabinets or walkways, because within eight feet of the windows, it gets too hot and uncomfortable. You know, interior architects will step back eight feet away before they put the first cubicle.

So you even may have an office or a conference room in your old building which is too hot to use at certain times of the day. The new guy, the new professor, gets stuck with that office. But in buildings with View Glass it’s all usable, and it’s not just regular space, but it’s actually the best space in the building, the area with the best use, and there’s a lot of it. If you’re talking eight feet around the east, south, and west sides of the building on each floor. That means that an occupant, even if you’re paying top of market rent, you’re getting a better deal, because you’re getting more usable space, more bang for your buck, and the flexibility to expand as your business grows. So you don’t need to find another 5,000 square feet to lease in three years because your company is growing or because your college has enrolled more students than expected, than you can just move desks around in your existing location.

Paul: Nice. Let me ask you this, you mentioned retrofit. So what’s involved with retrofitting an existing building with View Glass?

Jeff: Sure. So it’s not much more complicated than any time you’re pulling out on an older building, replacing single pane with double pane. The difference is that because each of our ICUs requires a Pig Tail, an electrical current, and that you need to run sort of a big, almost an extension cord around the perimeter, that’s an additional cost, you know, labor cost, the blazer cost, that needs to be accounted for. So blazers generally like us because they can charge a couple percentage points more to work with our glass, because it takes…they learn it pretty quickly, but they can charge a mild premium for it. And we have a low voltage electrician, which plugs everything in, which will plug everything and to make sure it’s connected.

Paul: Does that wire have to be like inside the wall or could you do something with, say, put it behind a baseboard or something like that?

Jeff: Yeah. We’ve gone up above. We’ve gone below. And actually Overstock left it all exposed, because they loved our glass so much they wanted to, when they’re giving tours they want to be able to point out, “Here, check out our windows. Here’s how they work. We get these beautiful views of mountains all day. And look at the cords above. Each individual window has its own special configuration, almost like its own IP address.” And actually that also allows us to do some pretty cool things like, on college campuses especially, that we can spell out letters using, if you think of each window as a pixel, so we’ve got some kind of cool creative school spirit type stuff happening.

Paul: When you say you can spell out letters, was that within an individual piece of glass or is that just sort of…

Jeff: No. No, if you think of…

Paul: Like the football game where everybody holds up different color placards?

Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, yep, or in Seattle, you can spell out the “12” for the 12th man, because that’s kind of the Seattle Seahawk’s rallying cry. So we’ve got buildings that can spell that out.

Paul: Yeah, is it possible to retrofit this glass into an existing frame? Has anybody done that?

Jeff: We can’t really drill, you need to drill a hole to account for the Pig Tails so we can make sure we get the wiring in. So there’s a little bit of extra attention required, but it is possible.

Paul: Yeah, because, you know, sometimes, when you look at retrofits, there’s a big difference if you can keep..and you can’t always do this, I mean most of the time you can’t, but if you can keep an existing frame, improve it, and put the glass in, obviously, it cuts down on schedule time, dirt, dust, all that. So it seems like that would be a good benefit if you could do that.

Jeff: Sure, yeah.

Paul: So let’s run through what some of the, I know you mentioned a lot of installations, but what are some of the applications and what kind of projects are fits for View Glass?

Jeff: Any larger building, preferably 100,000 square feet and up, which you might call Class A, or a building that’s pursing a lead or a well certification. So View Glass, you’re right talking about the cost earlier. We did the premium product, it’s an iPhone and not everyone has an iPhone budget. The markets where we’ve had the strongest demand are health care, office, college campuses, and airports and convention centers. And we’re starting to get more involved in high end hotels and high-rise residential. We don’t do single family, which is something nearly everyone asks for, because once they see it in person, they want it. And I always feel bad saying no, but I take it as a compliment that they like our windows so much that they want it for their families.

So if you meet those kind of broad criteria, we’re probably close enough in cost, once you account for our offset, to be interesting. And that’s just on cost, that’s not including the upside in having our glass in as a unique amenity to kind of differentiate your product.

Paul: You had mentioned at the beginning that it was an inexpensive way to get, or cost effective, I can’t remember what the exact word was, to get lead points.

Jeff: Most economical.

Paul: So how’s that?

Jeff: Because we can contribute points in several different categories. So the lead scorecard, there’s different categories and you add all the points up that you can achieve in each category and that’s how you get to silver, gold or platinum status. And we bring kind of a basket of points, especially if we’re in at the basis of design. So you can start off pretty strong if you’re going after a specific lead certification, and then you can kind of cherry-pick which additional products you want to use, low-flow water or LED lighting, to get to the status you want to get to.

Paul: So it takes you out of some categories you might otherwise be in, I guess?

Jeff: Yeah, it’s just we’ve got an unusually broad reach for a single product.

Paul: Can we talk a little bit more about cost? It sounds like it should be super-expensive. I know that’s one of the benefits is that it, in the big picture, it’s really not. Can you expand on that a little bit? Like what is the cost and the ROI again?

Jeff: Sure, sure, and you hit a floor. No developer is gonna give us the time of day unless they think they are going to get a positive ROI with our glass. And the reason we got 300 plus installations completed, another 300 in the works, and I’d probably guess another thousand or so in discussions, because we deliver a positive ROI, simply by driving NOI, especially if you think of us as an amenity. You know, developers spend money on an art sculpture in the lobby, or a rooftop bar or a nice gym. No one is calculating ROI on their gym equipment, right? You invest in those things to make your product more appealing. But those are amenities only used by some people.

Every occupant will experience the windows. CDRE did a study to see what building attributes people pay more for, and access to natural light was number one. And not just say they will pay more for, but actually pay for. I mean people love having a view, they love having natural light, and we essentially allow people to, developers to, double down on that sort of proven investment. So in terms of cost, we are roughly two to three times as much as your typical high-performance low-lead glass. So if all we were was a window, no one would ever pick us, right? That’s a big price difference. But much like an iPhone is not just a phone, it’s also a digital camera and a GPS and a portable computer.

We’re not just windows. We are windows plus interior blinds, plus exterior sun shade, plus a smaller HVAC system, plus smaller ongoing utility charges, plus happier, healthier occupants, and a whole bunch of lead points that you’d have to pay for elsewhere. So when you include all of our offsets and benefits, you meet the general criteria I mentioned earlier, you’re kind of large-scale Class A type products, we’re usually compelling. You know, our investors include Harbor, TIA, JP Morgan, USA Day, Citi, GE, blue chip investors. And they are only going to invest in companies that deliver genuine value to their customers. So they’ve seen us, vetted us, talked with our customers directly, and they agree, yeah, this is a product that deliver positive ROI, deliver what we promised and then some.

Paul: So not to mention, you know, that glass is only one part of the window system. You’ve got framing, installation, all that other stuff. So when you say it’s two or three times more expensive, it’s probably not really, when you talk about what you’re spending on your windows there may be some offsets. It’s only the glass, it’s not…you know, silicone costs the same, whether it’s your stuff or somebody else’s. What’s the warranty that comes with View Glass?

Jeff: We meet the standard warranty with other high performance loaded glass of 10 years and we have a 5 year warranty on the electronic components. Apple and Sony which are kind of the gold standard in electronics offer 1 year so we went to 5. We also have the option to extend those, both of those, both the electronics and the windows beyond that, depending on what the individual project’s, sort of, preferences are and that can be extended in an upfront pricing or that can be used as, you know viewed as a service which is sort of a subscription model which can be used in cam charges. So there’s a few creative ways to extend the warranty for those that are interested.

Paul: Just made me think, what’s the oldest, or what’s the longest running installation, I don’t know if it’s with you guys. I don’t even know if you have competitors actually. I’m guessing you probably do. But what’s the longest running application of this product currently in service?

Jeff: So I would say just under a decade. So the company itself had a predecessor company called SolaDyne. And so we’ve got sort of older installations under same people, just different name. But what might be more interesting is electrochromic glass, which like I mentioned, it’s the same glass that’s in the rear view mirror of your car, has AOCM testing standards. So it goes through kind of, I call it a hell chamber, it’s where they have high heat, high humidity, high UV exposure, and they cycle our glass through enough times to simulate a 30-year lifespan. And since our product has, it’s all inorganic, meaning it doesn’t degrade due to the weather, we passed 30-year lifespan simulation with zero degradation. First and only company to be able to do that. And we actually paid them to run it again.

So we ran it for a 60-year simulated lifespan, zero degradation. So the product itself is gonna last longer than the functional use of the building, in many cases, which is kinda nice to know.

Paul: So the only opportunities, or the repair and upgrade options along the way, would be with the electronics, not with the glass itself?

Jeff: Right, and then the software. You know, the more buildings we have in service, the better we can operate our windows. So we’re learning through feedback and experience from, and we’ve got installations out in Hawaii and installations up in Boston, and each one is a little bit different. So we’re learning that, you know, maybe Tint Level 2 should be just a shade lighter, and people seem to like it a little bit better. So we can remotely make that change and upload it so everyone has sort of the latest and greatest experience.

Paul: Very cool. Like a Tesla.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: So what do you see as the future of View Glass?

Jeff: Good question. I think on a big picture level, there are three megatrends in commercial real estate. You’ve got health and wellness, sustainability, and connectivity, sort of smart building. And View kind of sits at the intersection of those three megatrends. So in my opinion the future is very, very bright for us. On the West Coast where we’re headquartered, everyone knows us, and so we’re kind of popping up in new buildings left and right. And here in Florida I’ve got more than 50 projects that I’m working on, but we’re still making our way up the learning curve. But when, I know you had Ray Crawford on here a couple months ago, but when a veteran guy like Ray Crawford who leads Crawford Trading, the number one blazer in Florida, says he wants to work with us, you know, that’s a good sign that we’re here to say.

If you look at the new building codes and kind of the big picture macro-trend, I don’t think there’s going to be a Class A building in any sector that’s going to be coming out of the ground in two or three years time that doesn’t have View Glass.

Paul: Yeah, so the future is bright.

Jeff: Yeah, future is bright. I’m very happy to be in this industry, with this product, at this time.

Paul: So if someone wants to find out more about View Glass, where should they go? And if they want to contact you, how do they do that?

Jeff: Sure, so my email is, Riley, R-I-L-E-Y. I’m also on LinkedIn. You can follow us on Twitter, the handle is ViewGlass. Also follow us on LinkedIn. And we got, you know, folks across the country, across Canada, Europe, so wherever you might be, we have local folks on the ground that I’m happy to connect you with, you know, make sure that we’re seeing that View Glass can provide value to you.

Paul: Well, Jeff, really interesting, and it’s an exciting product. Let me just ask you one last question, do you guys call it a product or a technology or both, or how do you position it?

Jeff: Yeah, I mean it really depends on who we’re talking with. Because we talk with blazers, architects, GCs, developers, tenants, so we use both terms. So no, we don’t get too picky there.

Paul: I think I like technology. I’m a technology fan. So, anyway, really interesting technology, and thank you for sharing it with us, and thank you for coming on the podcast.

Jeff: Thanks for having me in. I really enjoyed it.

Paul: Really interesting topic today and I’d like to thank everyone for listening to the “Everything Building Envelope Podcast.” And with that, this is Paul Beer saying so long until next time.